About Christopher Middleton
Christopher Middleton (1926 – 2015) is best known for his poems, short prose, essays, and translations. He served in the RAF from 1944 to 1948, then attended Merton College, Oxford. After a spell of teaching English at the University of Zurich (1952-55), he became Lecturer (eventually Senior Lecturer) in German at King’s College London (1955-65). From 1966 till 1998 he was Professor of Germanic Languages and Literature at the University of Texas, Austin; a further title was added in 1986, David J Bruton Centennial Prefessor of Modern Languages (he was active in the Comparative Literature Program). For Torse 3 he shared the Geoffrey Faber award, and was awarded in 1987 the Schlegel-Tieck Translation Prize. In the USA he is a “resident alien”.
This reading features poems from two sequences, Twenty Tropes for Doctor Dark (1999) and The Fossil Fish (1969), plus ‘Little William’, an exploration of the child Shakespeare’s responses to music and words. Middleton describes the first sequence as “A series written at the close of the century and during the East Timor massacres [that] finds no end to the purgatory ablaze under the vestiges of an Epicurean paradox”, and embraces a range of experience from the Kalashnikovs and the machete in ‘A Far Cry from Fear Island’ to the irresistible treats – ‘jellies, twists / / of sugar firming cream into a script’ – that are matched by the verbal exuberance portraying these details in ‘A Sybaritic Elegy’. ‘The Digging’ presents a speaker who looks with nostalgia at ‘A sunlit vault where the dead lay, smiling’ as a horrific mass grave is revealed; a quest for refined pleasures can offer no response but to “return … to simple tombs.” ‘Something Vesperal’ turns his acute attention to these details on itself, recording how the initial, spectral apprehension is later refined.
This recording is as happy with the quick delivery demanded by the earlier sequence, The Fossil Fish, consisting of brief imagistic texts, as it is with the longer cadences of Twenty Tropes. Middleton is a fine reader, and he is confident in performing the voices of different speakers (e.g., with a French accent for Charles Meryon in Twenty Tropes). His introductions contextualise the poems without restricting them. This reading presents clear proof that Middleton was, in Guy Davenport’s description, “an incomparable stylist, a wry ironist, a philosopher of words.”
Christopher Middleton’s Favourite Poetry Saying:
“Poetry shakes the laughter out of the apple tree” – Tristan Tzara
His recording was made on 2 June 2003 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.
Poems by Christopher Middleton
Christopher Middleton in the Poetry Store
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