Michael Hamburger

Michael Hamburger OBE (22 March 1924 – 7 June 2007) was a noted British translator, poet, critic, memoirist and academic. He was known in particular for his translations of Friedrich Hölderlin, Paul Celan, Gottfried Benn and W. G. Sebald from German, and his work in literary criticism. The publisher Paul Hamlyn (1926–2001) was his younger brother.

Life and work

Michael Hamburger was born in Berlin into a Jewish family that left for the UK in 1933, and settled in London. He was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford and served in the British Army from 1943 to 1947 in Italy and Austria. After that he completed his degree, and wrote for a time. He took a position at University College London in 1951, and then at the University of Reading in 1955. There followed many further academic positions in the UK and the US.

Hamburger published translations of many of the most important German-language writers, particularly poets. His work was recognised with numerous awards, including the Aristeion Prize in 1990, and the Order of the British Empire in 1992. Hamburger lived in Middleton, Suffolk, and appeared as a character in W. G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn.

Representative works included The Truth of Poetry (1968), a major work of criticism. His Collected Poems, 1941–1994 (1995) drew on around twenty collections. Hamburger himself commented unhappily on the habit that reviewers have of greeting publication of his own poetry with a ritualised "Michael Hamburger, better known as a translator...". Perhaps ironically, his original poetry is better known in its German translations, by the Austrian poet and translator Peter Waterhouse.[1] He often commented on the literary life: the first edition of his autobiography came out with the title A Mug's Game, a quotation from T. S. Eliot, whom Hamburger greatly admired, and to whose sixtieth-birthday biblio-symposium he contributed an eponymous poem of four stanzas[2] which tells its own story.

Michael Hamburger was honoured with the Johann-Heinrich-Voß-Preis für Übersetzung in 1964 and with the Petrarca-Preis in 1992. He died on 7 June 2007 at his home in Suffolk.


  • String of Beginnings: Intermittent Memoirs 1924 to 1954 (Skoob Books Publishing, 1991), his autobiography, edited by Lucien Jenkins
  • Michael Hamburger in Conversation with Peter Dale by Peter Dale (ISBN 0-9532841-1-5)

Selected bibliography


New Poems Günter Grass (translator) English Translation Harcourt,Brace,& World, Inc. Copyright 1968

  • Charles Baudelaire, Twenty Prose Poems (translator), London, Poetry London, 1946 (revised ed. San Francisco, City Light Books 1988)
  • Flowering Cactus: poems 1942–1949, Aldington, Hand and Flower Press, 1950 – out of print
  • Poems of Hölderlin (translator), Poetry London 1943, (revised ed. as Holderlin: His Poems, Harvill Press, 1952) – out of print
  • Ludwig van Beethoven, Letters, Journals and Conversations. London, Thames & Hudson, 1951 – out of print.
  • Trakl, Decline (translator), St. Ives, Guido Morris/Latin Press, 1952 – out of print
  • A. Goes, The Burnt Offering (translator), London, Gollancz, 1956 – out of print
  • Bertolt Brecht, Tales from the Calendar (translator), London, Methuen, 1961 (reissued London, Lion & Unicorn Press 1980) – out of print
  • Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Poems and Verse Plays (translator with others), Routledge & K. Paul, and New York, Bollingen Foundation, 1961 – out of print
  • Modern German Poetry 1910–1960 (translator with C Middleton), Routledge, and New York, McGibbon & Kee, 1962 – out of print
  • J C F Hölderlin, Selected Verse (translator), Harmondsworth, Middlesex, Penguin, 1961 (latest ed. London, Anvil, 1986)
  • Nelly Sachs, Selected Poems (translator), Jonathan Cape and New York, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1968 – out of print
  • Hans Magnus Enzensberger, The Poems of Hans Magnus Enzensberger (translator with J Rothenberg and the author), London, Secker & Warburg, 1968 – out of print
  • H M Enzensberger, Poems for People Who Don't Read Poems (translator), Secker & Warburg, 1968 – out of print
  • An Unofficial Rilke (translator), London, Anvil Press, 1981 – out of print
  • Paul Celan, Poems (translator), Manchester, Carcanet, 1972 (new enlarged ed. as Poems of Paul Celan, New York, Persea, 1988 and 2002, and Anvil Press, 2007)
  • Friedrich Hölderlin, Selected poems and Fragments (translator), Penguin Classics, 1998 (new ed. 2007)
  • W. G. Sebald, After Nature (translator), London, Hamish Hamilton, 2002
  • W. G. Sebald, Unrecounted (translator), Hamish Hamilton, 2004


  • Reason and Energy, London, Routledge & K. Paul, 1957 – out of print
  • From Prophecy to Exorcism: the Premisses of Modern German Literature, Longmans, 1965 – out of print
  • The Truth of Poetry, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, First published in 1969, (latest ed. Anvil, 1996)
  • Testimonies, Selected Shorter Prose 1950-1987, New York, St Martin's Press, 1989
  • A Mug's Game (memoir), Carcanet, 1973, (revised ed. as String of Beginnings) – out of print
  • String of Beginnings (memoir), Skoob Seriph, 1991
  • Philip Larkin: A Retrospect, London, Enitharmon Press, 2002 — edition limited to 90 copies plus 20 hors commerce


  • Poems 1950–1951, Hand and Flower Press, 1952 – out of print
  • Weather and Season: New Poems, London, Longmans, 1963 – out of print
  • Collected Poems 1941–1994, Anvil Press, 1995, (new ed. 1999)
  • Circling the Square, Anvil Press, 2007
  • Taccuino di un vagabondo europeo (Poesie 1941–1999) Cura e traduzione di di Maura Del Serra, Roma, Fondazione Piazzolla, 1999


  • Hamburger, Michael. "T. S. Eliot." In T. S. Eliot: A Symposium, edited by Richard March and Tambimuttu, 178. London: Editions Poetry, 1948.



  • Theo Breuer, Still He is Turning – Michael Hamburger; in: T.B., Aus dem Hinterland. Lyrik nach 2000, Edition YE 2005.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.