Michael Hamburger

Image by Caroline Forbes

Michael Hamburger

b. 1924 d. 2007

...as both poet and translator he has succeeded over many decades in placing the best silences in the best order. - Dennis O'Driscoll

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 Büchner, Celan, Enzensberger, Goethe, Grass, Hölderlin, 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.

Selected bibliography

Mr Littlejoy's Rattlebag for the New Millennium,...


String of Begnnings (memoir), Skoob Seriph, 1991


Michael Hamburger in Conversation with Peter Dale,...


Circling the Square, Anvil Press, 2007


Wild and Wounded, Anvil Press, 2004


W G Sebald, Unrecounted (translator), Hamish Hamilton,...


W G Sebald, After Nature (translator), London, Hamish...


From a Diary of Non-Events, Anvil Press, 2002


Philip Larkin: a retrospect, London, Enitharmon, 2002...


1977 Medal of the Institute of Linguists

Prize website

1978 Schlegel-Tieck Prize

Prize website

1981 Schlegel-Tieck Prize

Prize website

1986 The Goethe Medal

Prize website

1990 European Translation Prize 1990 European Translation Prize

1991 Hölderlin Prize

Prize website

1992 Petrarca Prize


Buy album £4.45

1From a Diary of Non-Events - December

2From a Diary of Non-Events - January

3From a Diary of Non-Events - February

4From a Diary of Non-Events - April

5From a Diary of Non-Events - July

6From a Diary of Non-Events - August

7From a Diary of Non-Events - September

8From a Diary of Non-Events - November

9Tautological Ode to a Cat

10Redundant Epitaphs


11Conversation with the Muse of Old Age






14Beech Hedge in Winter


15Muted Song

16Snowed In


18Ave atque Vale

A tour of the Archive with Louise Joy

Since I spend much of my time rooting around in the eighteenth century, this is where I headed first. Hearing poems...

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Books by Michael Hamburger