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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 ...

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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... some of which, like ‘Last Visit to 198 Cathedral Road’, gain a good deal from their context. Michael Hamburger, 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-known paediatrician, and was awarded the Iron Cross ...

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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... can endure this tension every day of his life is a fool and changes the world.’ It is, as Michael Hamburger 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 change while insisting on art’s autonomy he was ...


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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... where he had been unable to do anything for the wounded. He is introduced and translated here by Michael Hamburger, 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 last poem is somehow not adequate to its nature, any ...


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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... Poems and published by North Point in 1986, was made by Katharine Washburn and Margret Guillemin. Michael Hamburger 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 Anvil and Persea. All the English editions ...

At the Royal Academy

Eleanor Birne: Tacita Dean, 7 June 2018

... old men. Her exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery was full of them. She visits the elderly Michael Hamburger 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. She watches as he inspects his apple orchard, the ...

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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... whose simplicity bore little resemblance to the odes, elegies and hymns of his middle years. Michael Hamburger’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 1842’, and is typical of the poems dedicated by ...


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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... loves. He is a superb praiser, so it is a pity that he should ever be driven beyond his patience. Michael Hamburger’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 inspiration, that a poet’s words are what ‘some power ...

At Dulwich

T.J. Clark: Poussin and Twombly, 25 August 2011

... studio in Virginia. The film moves (rather in the same way as Dean’s tremendous portrait of old Michael Hamburger 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 exhibition one turns off into Soane’s strange shrunken ...

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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... which he, a Jew, had experienced at first hand, in Austria, Germany and Holland. As his friend Michael Hamburger 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 him. And yet what brought him over was the most ...

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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... In Part III there is an admirably condensed and comprehensive survey of translations of Goethe by Michael Hamburger. 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, incidentally, is the one contribution in which any ...

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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... the fetching. More engaging is a visit to the village of Middleton, and to the poet and critic Michael Hamburger, 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, in every ...


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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... of machine guns’ or Céline’s bombs ‘like giant blossoms’. Celan’s poetry, at least in Michael Hamburger’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 English readers might recognise as the Hughes ...

You can have it for a penny

Malcolm Gaskill: ‘Agent Sonya’, 6 January 2022

Agent Sonya: Lover, Mother, Soldier, Spy 
by Ben Macintyre.
Viking, 377 pp., £25, September 2021, 978 0 241 40850 6
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... read Die Rote Fahne and kept a Luger hidden inside a cushion. Among her new acquaintances was Rudi Hamburger, a Jewish architecture student keen on modernism, a progressive but not a communist. She quit the bookshop for a publishing firm, where she trashed her prospects by writing an article for Die Rote Fahne denouncing the working conditions there. She ...

This happens every day

Michael Wood: On Paul Celan, 29 July 2021

Under the Dome: Walks with Paul Celan 
by Jean Daive, translated by Rosmarie Waldrop.
City Lights, 186 pp., £11.99, November 2020, 978 0 87286 808 3
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Microliths They Are, Little Stones: Posthumous Prose 
by Paul Celan, translated by Pierre Joris.
Contra Mundum, 293 pp., £20, October 2020, 978 1 940625 36 2
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Memory Rose into Threshold Speech: The Collected Earlier Poetry 
by Paul Celan, translated by Pierre Joris.
Farrar, Straus, 549 pp., £32, November 2020, 978 0 374 29837 1
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... the camp inmates call the milk ‘you’ throughout. In other translations (by John Felstiner and Michael Hamburger, for example) and in the German text, they start by calling the milk ‘it’ and then move to ‘you’. I like the (incorrect) intimacy from the start, and confess that I had to look at several editions to find out what is happening. I ...

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