Monday's book: Homage to Robert Frost by Joseph Brodsky, Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott
None of the pieces was intended for this book, having previously appeared elsewhere (Brodsky's has just been republished by Penguin in his collection of essays, On Grief and Reason). Hence it feels slightly contrived as Faber cleverly "repurposes" some casual work by three star writers. But that's a quibble: all these essays are tremendously valuable, not just for what they reveal about Frost, but as object lessons in the art of reading.
Brodsky was a master at the close reading. He reminds us that "poetry is a dame with a huge pedigree and every word comes practically barnacled with allusions and associations". He examines each barnacle with great gusto.
His brilliant examinations of "Come In" and "Home Burial" locate Frost far from the homely whittler of verses, laying bare the terror of immense space, undefined wilderness and silence that lurks behind much of his finest work.
Such interpretations are not wholly new, but these essays don't primarily concern themselves with thematics. Rather, they focus on the poet's necessary obsession with language. All three authors display their acuity in sounding out the tonality of a line, or a word. And since it is reading that teaches us how to write, there is a great deal to learn from the way good poets read good poems.
Heaney stresses Frost's musicality, exulting in his poems as "events in language, flaunts and vaunts full of projective force and deliquescent backwash, the crestings of a tide that lifts all spirits". Frost's own theory of "the sound of sense" is a frequent reference-point in appreciating how he managed to force the straitjacket of pentameter verse to fit his New England vernacular as comfortably as an old coat.
Walcott, great technician that he is, is particularly skilled at anatomising a stanza. He explains the exact location of a vital caesura, showing how lines articulate around the joint of an end-stopped rhyme, and how Frost's tightly sculpted rhythms work to animate the whole frame.
Whatever Frost's personal shortcomings - vanity, vindictiveness, provincialism, racism - they become irrelevant here. "Poetry," Walcott writes (and his dictum could be applied far beyond the present case), "is its own realm and does not pardon. There is nothing to forgive Frost's poetry for. There are instead many poems to be grateful for... since poetry pronounces benediction not on the poet but on the reader." The reader of these essays, too, will find much reward.
Faber & Faber, pounds 7.99
Life & Style blogs
The mother who never gave up on her child abused by the Oxford child sex ring
Britain scrapes into top 25 countries in the world to be a mother in Save the Children report
What do the emoji on Snapchat mean?
The 12 most sexually satisfied countries in the world revealed
Uploading pictures to find out how old you are gives Microsoft the right to post them wherever they want
In defence of liberal democracy
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: Clegg warns of second election before Christmas without Lib Dems
- 1 'Fire at every person you see': Israeli soldiers reveal they were ordered to shoot to kill in Gaza – even if the targets may have been civilians
- 2 Italian police 'reveal' what Jesus looked like as a young boy
- 3 General Election 2015: 14-year-old boy asks Nick Clegg – 'can you kill Katie Hopkins?'
- 4 Garland shooting: Isis claims attack on Prophet Mohamed cartoon contest in Texas as its first action on US soil
- 5 Met Gala 2015: Beyoncé manages to out-skimp Rihanna, Miley and Kim Kardashian combined with near-naked ensemble
£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...
£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Do you want to get in...
£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...