This highly regarded second volume of Brodsky's prose includes, in addition to his Nobel lecture, essays on the condition of exile, the nature of history, the art of reading, and the idea of the poet as an inveterate Don Giovanni. We also encounter an homage to Marcus Aurelius and an appraisal of the case of the double agent Kim Philby, both of which were selected for inclusion in the annual Best American Essays volume.
The title essay is Brodsky's celebrated study of the poetry of Robert Frost, and the book also features a fond appreciation of Thomas Hardy, a "Letter to Horace," a close reading of Rilke's poem, "Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes," and a memoir of Stephen Spender. Among the other pieces are Mr. Brodsky's open letter to Czech President Vaclav Havel and his "Immodest Proposal" for the future of poetry, an address he delivered while serving as U.S. Poet Laureate.
In his Nobel lecture, Brodsky declares that "verse really does, in Akhmatova's words, 'grow from rubbish'; the roots of prose are no more honorable"—but the flowering of Brodsky's own prose in these fine essays gives us both thought and language at their noblest.
"In On Grief and Reason, the same sort of toughness that led the outcast in Russia to become the poet laureate in America manifests itself more generally: the enormous expense of effort needed to become bilingual reveals itself as just an instance of Brodsky's overall way of taking any risk that, in his eyes, was necessary to say what he had to say . . . From his vision of poetry's tasks to his compassion for human suffering, everything that Brodsky's mind produced bore the indelible mark of a life lived through, not beside or around, its unprecedentedly difficult time."—Stanislaw Baranczak, The New Republic
"On Grief and Reason [is] a magisterial volume of essays to which Brodsky had put the finishing touches shortly before his death. But no, 'magisterial' is too settled and august a word for what Brodsky had ventured. Though he was laden with all of the public honors, the Nobel Prize among them, the writer remained vital and volatile in the best ways. And the reviewer, while mourning the death of the man—and friend—cannot greet the freshness of these 21 essays with a past tense verb form."—Sven Birkerts, The Boston Sunday Globe
“Brodsky has the reputation of being one of the best essayists in the English language, and it doesn't take many pages of reading this new collection to realize why. Whether he's stepping back into his own history, as he does in ('If anybody profited from the war, it was us: its children. Apart from having survived it, we were richly provided with stuff to romanticize'), or giving a commencement address, as in In Praise of Boredom, a metaphysical litany of warning and assurance to a graduating class ('Everything that displays a pattern is pregnant with boredom'), Brodsky shows an extraordinary flair for language.”—Raul Nino, Booklist