A laurel wreath for Frost hoisted by several Nobel laureates whose own poetry is published regularly by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. That said, the pickings are mostly good. Brodsky, Heaney, and Walcott reconsider the poet as a symbolic figure who did much of the work himself in promoting the evolution of his symbolism. As Walcott puts it, Frost seemed, and to some remains, ``the icon of Yankee values,'' suggestive of ``the smell of wood smoke, the sparkle of dew, the reality of farmhouse dung, the jocular honesty of an uncle.'' All three of the essayists complicate or refute this clichÇ through the act of criticism. The late, Russian-born Brodsky's piece, ``On Grief and Reason,'' included in his 1995 essay collection of the same title, is the most precise, unaffected, and clarifying of the lot, discussing two poems in detail to illuminate Frost's great reserves of inner ``terror.'' Irish poet Heaney, like Brodsky, calls on the metaphor of brimming over to observe, in ``Above the Brim,'' how Frost's poetic ``performance succeeded fully only when it launched itself beyond skill and ego into a run of energy.'' His comments on the Frost poem ``To Earthward'' are especially rousing. Walcott's piece, ``The Road Taken,'' is more facile and less scrutinizing. He generalizes about Frost's work as a whole, based on a long acquaintance with it, and tussles briefly with the poet's alleged racism, concluding, ``A great poem is a state of raceless, sexless, timeless grace.'' Perhaps, but won't some readers hold out hope nonetheless for a literary fate less fatuous? Bound together in one book, these accomplished poets and critics give off a strong whiff of cultural conservatism in an era also interesting for the critical adventures of Andrew Ross and bell hooks. A reader or a critic or a poet would be well advised to read more of Brodsky, Heaney, and Walcott—but also to consult and consort with some true icon-smashers.
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