Randall Jarrell is well known and perhaps best known as a poet but this second volume of ""essays and fables"" should find a discerning, discriminating readership for their extremely sensitive insights and graceful guidance. The Intellectual in America, The Taste of the Age, and the title essay all attest to and protest against our cultural devaluation. ""At this moment of our power and success, our thought and art are full of a troubled sadness, of the conviction of our decline."" There is little of what Matthew Arnold found- namely beauty and elevation, only ease and accessibility, and this is again the theme of his witty dialogue-The Schools of Yesteryear. There are introductions (from other volumes) to Kipling, to a short story collection, to a little known Southern poet; there's his essay, reprinted on the writing of his poem- The Woman at the Washington Zoo, and there's a longer piece on Malraux's Voices of Silence.... A perhaps minority market here, but Jarrell's commentaries, in turn rueful, disquieting, inviting, represent a tasteful, thoughtful critic.