On Grief and Reason collects the essays that Joseph Brodsky wrote between his reception of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1987 and his death in January 1996. The volume includes Brodsky's Nobel lecture; essays on the condition of exile, the nature of history, the art of reading, and the notion of the poet as an inveterate Don Giovanni; his “Immodest Proposal” for the future of poetry, written when he was serving as Poet Laureate of the United States; a consideration of the poetry of Robert Frost; his searching estimations of Hardy, Horace, and Rilke; an affecting memoir of Stephen Spender; and a moving meditation on the figure of Marcus Aureilus. The essays, composed in Brodsky’s distinctive, idiomatic English, are inventive and alive.
The Nobel laureate, himself branded a “pseudo-poet in velveteen trousers” by Soviet authorities and expelled from his home country in 1972, writes boldly of the poet’s place in society: “By failing to read or listen to poets, a society dooms itself to inferior modes of articulation—of the politician, or the salesman, or the charlatan—in short, to its own. It forfeits . . . its own evolutionary potential . . .” This edition, reissued on the occasion of the late author’s eightieth birthday, prompts the reader to consider Brodsky’s words with renewed contemplation of the current state of literature and the society in which we read it.