About Michael Hamburger

Michael Hamburger (1924 – 2007) was born into a German family of Jewish descent in Berlin, emigrating with them to England in 1933. He attended Westminster School and read Modern Languages at Christ Church, Oxford where his contemporaries included Philip Larkin and John Heath-Stubbs. His studies were interrupted by the Second World War and army service. He then worked as a lecturer in German at University College, London and this was followed by a succession of academic posts, both in the UK and America. Hamburger’s work as “a meticulous translator” (TLS) made available to English-language readers a host of German writers including Buchner, Celan, Enzensberger, Goethe, Grass, Holderlin, Rilke and Trakl and did much to pioneer a greater understanding of German Literature at an inauspicious time. He wrote over twenty volumes of his own poetry as well as highly regarded criticism and autobiography. His work was recognised by many awards including the Medal of the Institute of Linguists, the Goethe Medal and the European Translation Prize. He was awarded an OBE in 1992. Michael Hamburger died in June 2007.

The critic Stephen Romer has detected a fascinating “dividedness” in Hamburger’s work, on the one hand steeped in European culture and engaged in the socio-political issues of the day, on the other a nature poet in the English tradition, absorbed in the atmosphere of his rural Suffolk home. The two impulses reflect Hamburger’s mixed inheritance and the fruitful tension between them informs his long sequence ‘From A Diary of Non-Events‘. Meticulously observed descriptions of weather, flora and landscape (Hamburger was a keen and knowledgeable gardener) are juxtaposed with his outrage at the mono-culture of big-business capitalism. Like a modern-day Lear, Hamburger storms at this “junk age” and the damage it’s inflicting on “the maimed globe”, mourning England’s vanished birds or the hedgerows “slashed” to allow trucks “grown cottage-sized” to pass unhindered. The energy of his anger is tempered by a strong sense of elegy in these late poems which frequently commemorate dead friends as well as his own past. His magisterial reading style is in tune with the rolling latinate syntax and finely-honed structures of the poems which form an eloquent argument against a literary culture that values hype over history.

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 17 April 2003 at the poet's home in Suffolk, UK and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Poems by Michael Hamburger

Featured in the Archive

Books by Michael Hamburger

Awards

1964

Johann-Heinrich-Voß-Preis für Übersetzung

Prize website
1990

Aristeion Prize

Prize website
1992

Petrarca-Preis

Prize website
1992

Order of the British Empire

Prize website

Medal of the Institute of Linguists

Prize website

Goethe Medal

Prize website

European Translation Prize

Prize website
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