Hamburger, Michael (Peter Leopold)

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HAMBURGER, Michael (Peter Leopold)

Nationality: British. Born: Berlin, 22 March 1924; immigrated to England in 1933. Education: Attended schools in Germany; George Watson's School, Edinburgh; The Hall, Hampstead, London; Westminister School, London; Christ Church, Oxford, B.A. in modern languages, M.A. 1948. Military Service: Royal West Kent Regiment, then Royal Army Educational Corps, 1943–47: infantryman, non-commissioned officer, and lieutenant. Family: Married Ann File (the poet Anne Beresford, q.v.) in 1951 (divorced 1970, and remarried 1974); one son and two daughters. Career: Assistant lecturer in German, University College, London, 1952–55; lecturer, then reader in German, University of Reading, Berkshire, 1955–64; Florence Purington Lecturer, Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts, 1966–67; visiting professor, State University of New York, Buffalo, 1969, and Stony Brook, 1970, Wesleyan University, Connecticut, 1971, University of Connecticut, Storrs, 1972, University of California, San Diego, 1973, University of South Carolina, Columbia, 1973, Boston University, 1975, 1977, and University of Essex, Wivenhoe, 1978. Awards: Bollingen fellowship, 1959, 1965; German Academy Voss prize, for translation, 1964; Schlegel-Tieck prize, for translation, 1967, 1978, 1981; Arts Council translation prize, 1969; Levinson prize (Poetry, Chicago), 1972; Institute of Linguists Gold medal, 1977; Wilhelm-Heinse prize, 1978; European Poetry translation award, 1985; Goethe medal, 1986; Austrian State prize, for translation, 1988; European Translation prize, 1990; Holderlin prize, 1991; Petrarca prize, 1992. D.Litt.: University of East Anglia, Norwich, 1988. Honorary doctorate: Technische Universitat, Berlin, 1995. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1972 (resigned 1986).O.B.E., 1992. Address: Marsh Acres, Middleton, Saxmundham, Suffolk IP 17 3NH, England.



Later Hogarth. London, Cope and Fenwick, 1945.

Flowering Cactus: Poems 1942–49. Aldington, Kent, Hand and Flower Press, 1950.

Poems 1950–1951. Aldington, Kent, Hand and Flower Press, 1952.

The Dual Site. New York, Poetry London-New York, 1957; London, Routledge, 1958.

Weather and Season: New Poems. London, Longman, and New York, Atheneum, 1963.

In Flashlight. Leeds, Northern House, 1965.

In Massachusetts. Menomonie, Wisconsin, Ox Head Press, 1967.

Feeding the Chickadees. London, Turret, 1968.

Travelling: Poems 1963–68. London, Fulcrum Press, 1969.

Penguin Modern Poets 14, with Alan Brownjohn and Charles Tomlinson. London, Penguin, 1969.

Home. Frensham, Surrey, Sceptre Press, 1969.

In Memoriam Friedrich Hölderlin. London, Menard Press, 1970.

Travelling I-V. London, Agenda, 1972.

Ownerless Earth: New and Selected Poems 1950–1972. Cheadle, Cheshire, Carcanet, and New York, Dutton, 1973.

Conversations with Charwomen. Rushden, Northamptonshire, Sceptre Press, 1973.

Babes in the Wood. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1974.

Travelling VI. London, I.M., 1975.

Travelling VII. Luxembourg, Club 80, 1976.

Real Estate. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1977.

Real Estate (collection). Manchester, Carcanet, 1977.

Palinode: A Poet's Progress. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1977.

Moralities. Newcastle upon Tyne, Morden Tower, 1977.

Variations in Suffolk IV. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press 1980.

Variations. Manchester, Carcanet, 1981; Redding Ridge, Connecticut, Black Swan, 1983.

In Suffolk. Madley, Herefordshire, Five Seasons Press, 1982.

Collected Poems 1941–1983. Manchester, Carcanet, 1984.

Selected Poems. Manchester, Carcanet, 1988.

Trees. Llangynog, Embers Handpress, 1988.

Roots in the Air. London, Anvil Press, 1991.

Collected Poems 1941–1994. London, Anvil Press, 1995.

Late. London, Anvil Press, 1997.

Mr. Littlejoy: Rattlebag for the New Millennium. London, Katabasis, 1999.

Intersections: Shorter Poems 1994–1999. London, Anvil Press, 2000.


The Tower, adaptation of a play by Peter Weiss (produced New York, 1974).

Out of Estrangement, adaptation of a play by Ernst Jandl (produced Edinburgh, 1985). Published in Comparative Criticism (Cam-bridge), vol. 9, 1987.

Radio Play: Struck by Apollo, with Anne Beresford, 1965.


Reason and Energy: Studies in German Literature. London, Routledge, and New York, Grove Press, 1957; revised edition, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971; as Contraries: Studies in German Literature, New York, Dutton, 1971.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Zwei Studien. Göttingen, Sachse & Pohl, 1964; Hofmannsthal: Three Essays, Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1970; Cheadle, Cheshire, Carcanet, 1974.

From Prophecy to Exorcism: The Premises of Modern German Literature. London, Longman, 1965.

Zwischen den Sprachen: Essays und Gedichte. Frankfurt, Fischer, 1966.

The Truth of Poetry: Tensions in Modern Poetry from Baudelaire to the 1960's. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969; New York, Harcourt Brace, 1970.

A Mug's Game: Intermittent Memoirs 1924–1954. Cheadle, Cheshire, Carcanet, 1973.

Art as Second Nature: Occasional Pieces 1950–1974. Manchester, Carcanet, 1975.

Literarische Erfahrungen: Aufsätze (essays). Darmstadt, Luchterhand, 1981.

A Proliferation of Prophets: Essays on German Writers from Nietzsche to Brecht. Manchester, Carcanet, 1983; New York, St. Martin's Press, 1984.

After the Second Flood: Essays on Post-War German Literature. Manchester, Carcanet, and New York, St. Martin's Press, 1986.

Testimonies: Selected Shorter Prose 1950–1987. Manchester, Carcanet. 1989.

String of Beginnings: Intermittent Memoirs 1924–1954. London, Skoob Books, 1991.

M.H. in Conversation with Peter Dale. London, Between the Lines, 1998.

Editor and Translator, Beethoven: Letters, Journals, and Conversations. London, Thames and Hudson, and New York, Pantheon, 1951; revised edition, London, Cape, 1966; revised edition, Thames and Hudson, 1984.

Editor, and Translator with others, Poems and Verse Plays, by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. New York, Pantheon, and London, Routledge, 1961.

Editor and Translator, with Christopher Middleton, Modern German Poetry, 1910–1960: An Anthology with Verse Translations. London, MacGibbon and Kee, and New York, Grove Press, 1962.

Editor, and Translator with others, Selected Plays and Libretti, by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. New York, Pantheon, and London, Routledge, 1963.

Editor, Das Werk: Sonette, Lieder, Erzählungen, by Jesse Thoor. Frankfurt, Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 1965.

Editor and Translator, East German Poetry: An Anthology in German and English. Oxford, Carcanet, and New York, Dutton, 1972.

Editor, Selected Poems, by Thomas Good. London, St. George's Press, 1973.

Translator, Poems, by Hölderlin. London, Nicholson and Watson, 1943; revised edition, as Hölderlin: His Poems, London, Harvill Press, 1952; New York, Pantheon, 1953; revised edition, as Selected Verse, London, Penguin, 1961; revised edition, as Poems and Fragments, London, Routledge, 1966; Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1967; revised edition, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1980; revised edition, as Hölderlin: Selected Verse, London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1986; enlarged and revised edition, 1994.

Translator, Twenty Prose Poems of Baudelaire. London, Editions Poetry London, 1946; revised edition, London, Cape, 1968; San Francisco, City Lights, 1988.

Translator, Decline: 12 Poems, by Georg Trakl. St. Ives, Cornwall, Latin Press, 1952.

Translator, The Burnt Offering, by Albrecht Goes. New York, Pantheon, and London, Gollancz, 1956.

Translator, Egmont, by Goethe, in Classic Theatre 2, edited by Eric Bentley. New York, Doubleday, 1959.

Translator, with Yvonne Kapp, Tales from the Calendar, by Bertolt Brecht. London, Methuen, 1961.

Translator, with Christopher Middleton, Selected Poems, by Günter Grass. London, Secker and Warburg, and New York, Harcourt Brace, 1966.

Translator, Poems, by Hans Magnus Enzensberger. Newcastle upon Tyne, Northern House, 1966.

Translator, Lenz, by Georg Büchner, with Immensee by Theodor Storm and A Village Romeo and Juliet by Gottfried Keller. London, Calder and Boyars, 1966; in Leonce and Lena, Lenz, Woyzeck, 1972.

Translator, with others, O the Chimneys, by Nelly Sachs. New York, Farrar Straus, 1967; as Selected Poems, Including the Verse Play "Eli," London, Cape, 1968.

Translator, with Jerome Rothenberg and the author, Poems for People Who Don't Read Poems by Hans Magnus Enzensberger. New York, Atheneum, and London, Secker and Warburg, 1968; as Poems, London, Penguin, 1968.

Translator, And Really Frau Blum Would Very Much Like to Meet the Milkman: 21 Short Stories, by Peter Bichsel. London, Calder and Boyars, 1968.

Translator, Journeys: Two Radio Plays: The Rolling Sea at Setubal, The Year Lacertis, by Günter Eich. London, Cape, 1968.

Translator, with Christopher Middleton, Poems, by Günter Grass. London, Penguin, 1969.

Translator, with Matthew Mead, The Seeker and Other Poems, by Nelly Sachs. New York, Farrar Straus, 1970.

Translator, Stories for Children, by Peter Bichsel. London, Calder and Boyars, 1971.

Translator, with Christopher Middleton, Selected Poems, by Paul Celan. London, Penguin, 1972.

Translator, Lenz, Leonce and Lena, Woyzeck, by Georg Büchner. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1972.

Translator, Selected Poems, by Peter Huchel. Manchester, Carcanet, 1974.

Translator, German Poetry 1910–1975. Manchester, Carcanet, 1977; New York, Persea, 1981.

Translator, with Christopher Middleton, In the Egg and Other Poems, by Günter Grass. New York Harcourt Brace, 1977; London, Secker and Warburg, 1978.

Translator, Texts, by Helmut Heissenbüttel. London, Boyars, 1977.

Translator, with André Lefevere, Seedtime (La Semaison): Extracts from the Notebooks 1954–1967, by Philippe Jaccottet. New York, New Directions, 1977.

Translator, Poems, by Franco Fortini. Todmorden, Lancashire, Art, 1978.

Translator, Poems, by Paul Celan. Manchester, Carcanet, and New York, Persea, 1980.

Translator, An Unofficial Rilke: Poems 1912–1926. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1981; as Poems 1912–1926, Redding Ridge, Connecticut, Black Swan, 1982.

Translator, Urworte Orphisch: Five Poems, by Goethe. London, Klaus Meyer, 1982.

Translator, Selected Poems, by Marin Sorescu. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1983.

Translator, Poems and Epigrams, by Goethe. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1983; as Roman Elegies and Other Poems, Redding Ridge, Connecticut, Black Swan, 1983.

Translator, The Garden of Theophrastus and Other Poems, by Peter Huchel. Manchester, Carcanet, 1983.

Translator, with Marlis Zeller Cambon, The Blue Man and Other Stories, by Adolf Muschg. New York, Braziller, 1985.

Translator, Thirty-two Poems, by Paul Celan. Norwich, Embers Handpress, 1985.

Translator, Poems of Paul Célan. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1988; New York, Persea, 1989; enlarged and revised edition, 1994.

Translator, Pigeons and Moles. Selected Writings of Günter Eich. London, Skoob Books, 1991.

Translator, with Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Selected Poems: Hans Magnus Enzensberger. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1994.

Translator, Wolf's-Bean, by Paul Celan. Birmingham, Delis Press, and New York, William Dienttel, 1997.

Translator, Novemberland: Selected Poems 1956–1993, by Günter Grass. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1996.

Translator, Selected Poems, by Günter Grass. London, Faber, 1998.

Translator, Kiosk, by Hans Magnus Enzensberger. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1998; New York, Sheep Meadow Press, 1999.

Translator, Selected Poems and Fragments, by Friedrich Hölderlin. London, Penguin, 1998.


Manuscript Collections: University of Texas, Austin; Lockwood Memorial Library, State University of New York, Buffalo; University of Reading, Berkshire; Brotherton Library, University of Leeds.

Critical Studies: "The Subject beneath the Subject" by the author, in Christian Science Monitor (Boston), 31 January 1967; "Across Frontiers: Michael Hamburger as Poet and Critic" by Jon Glover, in Stand (Newcastle upon Tyne), 1970; "Rhythm" by the author, in Agenda (London), 10 (4)-11 (1), 1972–1973; "More New Poetry" by Terry Eagleton, in Stand (Newcastle upon Tyne), 1973; "Forward, Ay, and Backward" by Martin Dodsworth, in The Guardian (London), 5 April 1973; "Ownerless Earth" by Donald Davie, in New York Times Book Review, 28 April 1974; "Travellers" by John Matthias, in Poetry (Chicago), April 1974; "The Chronicler and the Poet: Michael Hamburger at 50" by Joyce Crick, in Poetry Nation 3 (Manchester), 1974; chapter on Michael Hamburger, in An Introduction to Fifty Modern British Poets, edited by Michael Schmidt, London, Pan, 1979; Michael Hamburger issue of Agenda (London), 35 (3), 1997.

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Michael Hamburger's is a poetry of ideas made as sensuous as possible by being passed through images of nature, tinged frequently with a decent, uncloying melancholy. The turning point in his poetry is made in Weather and Season, in which the traditionally metrical and rhyming forms have almost entirely been disbanded. As he stated in a reading he gave at the University of Iowa in 1969 (and I paraphrase), "In my previous books I used the traditional forms to protect myself from the pressure and intensity of my feelings; whereas I subsequently came to feel that, in writing the later poems, I no longer wished to evade or mask these feelings." This frank, direct criticism of an earlier stance, together with his decision to shuck off the incrustations of such forms, has brought rewards.

The poetry has two contexts. One is that of men socialized into a dilemma that may be resolved only by using the charged moral conscience ("In a Cold Season"); the other context is nature. Although one critic has justly pointed to some affinity with Edward Thomas, I suggest that Hamburger is no more a nature poet than Thomas is. In New Bearings Leavis indicated that for Thomas nature was used as the arena of delicate and scrupulous psychological reenactments, and for Hamburger this is also valid. Many of the poems in his pamphlet In Flashlight cohere to form an exploration of the use and stamina of memory. A capacity for valuation, issuing directly from responsive memory that absorbs the two nodes of experience, seen here as change through exploration and settled recurrence, is examined in "Tides" and "The Road" (Weather and Season). In the latter memory is the recognizing faculty by which the conscious mind penetrates its unconscious to find natural images built there into an ideal country—an absolute, alluring and unattainable—and one that the teller does "not look for … when awake."

The question of identity, subsumed in the role of the poet in "Man of the World" (Weather and Season), is more inclusively embodied in "The Search" (Weather and Season). In the search, "as commanded," the familiar country of the man's origins is discovered as alien, and when, through tracts of nature, he reaches the village, the symbolic ideal is released to him, to be discovered as actual, in its quality as "Why, Mors, need we tell you, mors, MORS." As expected, this is the last poem of Weather and Season.

The extrapolation from biography to criticism is dubious, but I think it is relevant here to indicate that Hamburger is a Jew of German birth and that with most of his family he emigrated to England in the year of Hitler's rise to power, thus averting the Nazi Holocaust. Hamburger is acutely fitted to write such a poem as "The Search," with all of its narrower, more defined implications. It is the Jewish component of this poet that hiddenly but with integrated power explores the landscape of nature and village and finds that the searcher discovers his origins and death to be identical. The same qualification permits him to write of the issues of conscience in relation to Adolf Eichmann.

Eliot has declared in another context that "humankind cannot bear very much reality," but it is Hamburger's alert and intelligent contention that it is the burden of humanity as well as its necessary precondition for survival that it use language as searchingly as possible, with a faithful rendering of the referents in experience and interpretation of them. Mercy, honesty, and perception are in this context integral: "Dare break one word and words may yet be whole." Hamburger's language is quiet and naturally spoken, even when he speaks of violence. The intensity of the poetry is in the unextraordinary and seemingly nonmanipulative but exact use of ordinary language—"the sea, that basher of dumb rock"—and its unassumingly painful exploration of painful experience ("For a Family Album"). Metaphoric imagery is used rarely. The images are visually referential, or else the metaphors live in consideration of the metaphysical data as if the data were actual or physically tangible. They are fed through hovering, tentative but persistent rhythms fitted to their unrhymed, speech-molded cadences.

Hamburger has shown a preference for the comforting rural (or even cultivated) natural phenomena of creature and plant. This desire for their presence has continued. It is this poet's matrix on which everything else is sounded and often judged. Perhaps such a preference accounts in part for the slow-moving rhythms of much of his verse.

With the possible exception of "In a Cold Season," the title poem of Travelling is the seed of Hamburger's most interesting, ambitious, and sustained poem. In this early version the poem is in two sections. In Real Estate the poem has a third section, and the whole has become the first of a suite of eleven poems under the same title. In the "Envoi" to Travelling Hamburger wrote, "Goodbye, words … /Go out and lose yourselves in a jabbering world, /Be less than nothing." The injunction is only half true for Hamburger. The "jabbering world" of which he complains has in the full version of "Travelling" become more acutely judged, an earth committed to human acquisition and possession. It is a human world that must give up what it possesses in order to enter into what cannot be possessed although supremely desired—love given to and received from another: "The place that, holding you still, /Could fill and affirm your name." "Still" means both unmoving and a condition continuous in time. Travelling involves the need for a fixed point of return, as with the compasses image in Donne's "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning." At this point one realizes that to be in this "place" is not to possess it ("Ownerless Earth"): "Last of my needs, you /I'll unlearn, relinquish /If that was love. Too late, /Let you go, return, stay /And move on."

The close-grained, almost possessed energy of Hamburger's earlier poems tends in "Travelling" to become something other. There is an almost invariably direct syntax and a greater rhythmical assurance both in line length and enjambments. Some of this assurance is obtained by a "likeable" repetition; there are pairs or triads of things—"sand, pebble, rock"; "On cobbles, on brick, on slabs"—or of verbs—"Propel, transmute; and create /again." In the last example development is described, not enacted. This triadic formation also tends to occur in the rhythmic structure of a line, producing a wavering, wavelike movement at once "tentative and persistent," and therein lies Hamburger's enacted argument with himself. Linguistically, the argument tends to get dissolved in a resolute search for and an achievement of clarity. The clarity sometimes irons out, or expunges, what one senses as greater tensions or antagonisms beneath the surface. The achievement of "Travelling," and its version in Real Estate, is, nevertheless, high and consistent. The long poem, a risk these days, sustains itself around the paradox of going and staying, of being fixed and moving, where abnegation and love form the field of the drama. Even the determination to be plain and understandable has for the reader a moving vulnerability; it may not be a central part of the poem, but it is a bonus, although surely not what the poet had meant us to observe—a struggling to "get it right."

In response to the 1995 poem "Surgical Ward" I would like to suggest three things. First, it is a poem of open sympathy for people confined, those who suffer disability, face long-term illness, or are near death. (There are possible analogies with these sufferers and the inmates of the camps.) Second, the tenacity implicit in Hamburger's work, but which is sometimes in danger of being diffused, emerges in exemplary fashion and more strongly than ever in this poem. It is a personal poem expressed with such compassionate drive as to make its localized experience widely applicable and to give the effect of distributing its care. It is also a personal expression of an impersonal apprehension and thereby acquires unusual strength. Third, this tenacity is expressed in the instinctual drive of the rhythms in the form of a norm of mixed trochaic and anapestic pentameter. Although the length of line is variable, the overall effect is of a metrical not a free verse poem.

Thus, the experience of others' suffering appears to have urged out lines of greater length than had earlier been the case with Hamburger, indicating a new range of possibilities for the poet:

   That's inmate small-talk when histories are exchanged,
   Men drink again from the mouth, risen again from their
   One ventures out in quest of a cigarette
   Grown monstrous, mythical here, like spirit, like fire,
   In celebration of freedom, not health, regained
   After the dead meat of thighs trussed for knife or laser….

That "Men drink again from the mouth" is an exact notation of personal response to others' predicament, yet the definite article "the" against "mouth," rather than "their mouths," makes the single orifice into synecdoche, representative and sympathetic in the registering of its living operation.

—Jon Silkin