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The Divorce

Hans Magnus Enzensberger, translated by Michael Hamburger

18 February 1982
... At first it was only an imperceptible quivering of the skin – ‘As you wish’ – where the flesh is darkest. ‘What’s wrong with you?’ – Nothing. Milky dreams of embraces; next morning, though, the other looks different, strangely bony. Razor-sharp misunderstandings. ‘That time, in Rome –’ I never said that. A pause. And furious palpitations, a sort of hatred, strange. ‘That’s ...

Making up

Julian Symons

15 August 1991
Lipstick, Sex and Poetry 
by Jeremy Reed.
Peter Owen, 119 pp., £14.95, June 1991, 0 7206 0817 1
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A poet could not but be gay 
by James Kirkup.
Peter Owen, 240 pp., £16.95, June 1991, 0 7206 0823 6
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There was a young man from Cardiff 
by Dannie Abse.
Hutchinson, 211 pp., £12.99, April 1991, 0 09 174757 0
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String of Beginners 
by Michael Hamburger.
Skoob Books, 338 pp., £10.99, May 1991, 1 871438 66 7
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... stories in Part Three, and the whole book has a nostalgic feeling for Wales emphasised by a few poems, some of which, like ‘Last Visit to 198 Cathedral Road’, gain a good deal from their context. MichaelHamburger, born 1924 in Berlin Of German-Polish Jewish origin, but brought up in ignorance of Jewish traditions, is an example of the blessings and problems of mixing cultures. His father was a well ...

Take a pig’s head, add one spoonful of medium rage

Iain Bamforth: The poetry of Günter Grass

28 October 1999
Selected Poems: 1956-93 
by Günter Grass, translated by Michael Hamburger.
Faber, 155 pp., £9.99, February 1999, 0 571 19518 0
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... be a jester. ‘Poems allow no compromises,’ he said in that lecture, ‘though we live by them. Whoever can endure this tension every day of his life is a fool and changes the world.’ It is, as MichaelHamburger remarked in his survey of postwar German writing, After the Second Flood, an earnest of Grass’s sophistication as a dialectician: by putting his shoulder to the wheel of gradual social ...


John Bayley

2 February 1989
The Lost Voices of World War One: An International Anthology of Writers, Poets and Playwrights 
edited by Tim Cross.
Bloomsbury, 406 pp., £12.95, November 1988, 0 7475 0276 5
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by Paul Celan, translated by Michael Hamburger.
Anvil, 350 pp., £15.95, January 1989, 0 85646 198 9
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Flights of Passage: Reflections of a World War Two Aviator 
by Samuel Hynes.
Bloomsbury, 270 pp., £13.95, November 1988, 0 7475 0333 8
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... access to drugs, died of a cocaine overdose after experiencing the horrors of a dressing-station where he had been unable to do anything for the wounded. He is introduced and translated here by MichaelHamburger, who gives the German originals, including the last two war poems, ‘In the East’ and ‘Grodek’. Grodek was the place at the front where Trakl had his traumatic experience, but this ...

At the Royal Academy

Eleanor Birne: Tacita Dean

7 June 2018
... still from Tacita Dean’s film portrait of David Hockney (2016) Dean clearly has an affinity with old men. Her exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery was full of them. She visits the elderly MichaelHamburger at his Suffolk farmhouse with her movie camera, zooming in on the wonky doorways, the rotting window frames, the overgrown garden, the teetering piles of books – an old poet’s props ...

Breathing in Verse

Theodore Ziolkowski: A rich translation of Hölderlin

23 September 2004
Poems and Fragments 
by Friedrich Hölderlin, translated by Michael Hamburger.
Anvil, 823 pp., £19.95, March 2004, 0 85646 360 4
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... his poems. Until his death in 1843 he continued to accommodate visitors by turning out rhyming quatrains whose simplicity bore little resemblance to the odes, elegies and hymns of his middle years. MichaelHamburger’s obsession with Hölderlin goes back more than sixty years. The first piece in his Collected Poems 1941-94 (1995), written when he was 17, is entitled ‘Hölderlin. Tübingen, December ...


Denis Donoghue

21 June 1984
Selected Essays 
by John Bayley.
Cambridge, 217 pp., £19.50, March 1984, 0 521 25828 6
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Collected Poems: 1941-1983 
by Michael Hamburger.
Carcanet, 383 pp., £12.95, March 1984, 9780856354977
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Poems: 1953-1983 
by Anthony Thwaite.
Secker, 201 pp., £8.95, April 1984, 0 436 52151 2
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... Verve is the particular merit of Bayley’s criticism, especially when it is lavished upon a book he loves. He is a superb praiser, so it is a pity that he should ever be driven beyond his patience. MichaelHamburger’s poems have always been in the shadows of his translations and critical essays: mainly, I think, because he has acute misgivings about the autonomy of language. He believes in ...


Michael​ Hofmann

23 May 1996
Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew 
by John Felstiner.
Yale, 344 pp., £19.95, June 1995, 0 300 06068 8
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by Paul Celan, translated by Pierre Joris.
Sun & Moon, 261 pp., $21.95, September 1995, 1 55713 218 6
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... was the fifth; three more appeared posthumously. A selection from these posthumous books, called Last Poems and published by North Point in 1986, was made by Katharine Washburn and Margret Guillemin. MichaelHamburger has published translations from Celan in increasing volume since a 1972 Selected from Penguin; Poems of Paul Celan, containing work from every one of Celan’s nine volumes, is published by ...

Comparative Everything

Geoffrey Strickland

6 March 1980
Comparative Criticism: A Yearbook 
edited by E.S. Shaffer.
Cambridge, 327 pp., £12.50, November 1979, 0 521 22296 6
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... of the contributions to this volume, and, as a principle of selection, from the volume as a whole. In Part III there is an admirably condensed and comprehensive survey of translations of Goethe by MichaelHamburger. There is also, for those not in the know, an essay by Richard Gordon on the recent research and polemics in France relating to Greek tragedy and the history of ancient societies. This ...

At Dulwich

T.J. Clark: Poussin and Twombly

25 August 2011
... a short film by Tacita Dean of Twombly a year or so ago, puffy and slow and sly, fumbling round his studio in Virginia. The film moves (rather in the same way as Dean’s tremendous portrait of old MichaelHamburger fondling his apples) from a world of light and vitality, glimpsed through the studio blinds, towards a final montage of grey trees against a storm-warning sky. Halfway through the ...

Praying for an end

Michael​ Hofmann

30 January 1992
Scenes from a Disturbed Childhood 
by Adam Czerniawski.
Serpent’s Tail, 167 pp., £9.99, October 1991, 1 85242 241 6
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Crossing: The Discovery of Two Islands 
by Jakov Lind.
Methuen, 222 pp., £14.99, November 1991, 0 413 17640 1
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The Unheeded Warning 1918-1933 
by Manes Sperber, translated by Harry Zohn.
Holmes & Meier, 216 pp., £17.95, December 1991, 0 8419 1032 4
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... called Counting My Steps and Numbers). What influenced him was the outcome and conduct of the war, which he, a Jew, had experienced at first hand, in Austria, Germany and Holland. As his friend MichaelHamburger wrote, ‘no wonder Jakov Lind has become a specialist in the monstrous!’ The Continent was insupportable, he couldn’t live in Israel, indomitable Churchillian England was the place for ...

The German Ocean

D.J. Enright: Suffolk Blues

17 September 1998
The Rings of Saturn 
by W.G. Sebald, translated by Michael​ Hulse.
Harvill, 296 pp., £15.99, June 1998, 1 86046 398 3
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... moth’. Nothing in this lengthy excursus is unduly far-fetched, though not all of it seems worth the fetching. More engaging is a visit to the village of Middleton, and to the poet and critic MichaelHamburger, whose dreams and memories might have been created expressly for this book. ‘Why it was that on my first visit to Michael’s house I instantly felt as if I lived or had once lived there ...


Claude Rawson

1 October 1981
The Sinking of the Titanic 
by Hans Magnus Enzensberger.
Carcanet, 98 pp., £3.95, April 1981, 0 85635 372 8
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Paul Celan: Poems 
translated by Michael Hamburger.
Carcanet, 307 pp., £7.95, September 1980, 0 85635 313 2
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Talk about the Last Poet 
by Charles Johnston.
Bodley Head, 78 pp., £4.50, July 1981, 0 370 30434 9
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... the axe has flowered’, may be set beside the garrulous ecstasies of Marinetti’s ‘fiery orchids of machine guns’ or Céline’s bombs ‘like giant blossoms’. Celan’s poetry, at least in MichaelHamburger’s superb rendering, has an unluxuriating desolation which is quite extraordinary. To speak of agonised lyricism is for once to mean agonised rather than lyricism. There are poems in what ...
7 August 1980
The Memoirs of Bridget Hitler 
edited by Michael​ Unger.
Duckworth, 192 pp., £4.95, March 1979, 0 7156 1356 1
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The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. 
by George Steiner.
Granta, 66 pp., £1.50
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Young Adolf 
by Beryl Bainbridge.
Duckworth, 174 pp., £6.95, November 1978, 0 7156 1323 5
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... yielded a work of some stature in Peter Weiss’s The Investigation, and even the sub-genre of the memoirs of Hitler’s dog has achieved ironic elevation in Grass’s Hundejahre. Closer to home, MichaelHamburger has devoted himself to bringing German poetry before us and to maintaining its unity over time, space and civil warfare. Where, we must ask ourselves, do the books under review belong in ...

In the Graveyard of Verse

William Wootten: Vernon Watkins

9 August 2001
The Collected Poems of Vernon Watkins 
Golgonooza, 495 pp., £16.95, October 2000, 0 903880 73 3Show More
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... United States, but his passing – a heart attack on a Seattle tennis court in 1967 – was the more salubrious. In due course Faber issued a volume of tributes. Friends and fans, including Larkin, MichaelHamburger and Kathleen Raine, wrote well and sometimes movingly of a poet who had inspired them by exhortation and example. With Dylan Thomas dead, it was left to George Barker, that other bad boy ...

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