Thursday, June 14, 2007

Michael Hamburger (1924–2007)

Since no-one in the alt-poetry world has to my knowledge noted his passing, I’ll say a few things on behalf of the fine English poet Michael Hamburger, who used to joke that all his introductions began “Better known as a translator…” Yes, that’s true: his Sebald and Hölderlin translations are excellent, and his Celan translations are philologically speaking still among the very best: indeed, one might argue that one reason Celan translations in general have been as aggressively exploratory as they’ve been over the past two decades is the very high benchmark Hamburger set with Paul Celan: Poems. The Truth of Poetry: Tensions in Modern Poetry from Baudelaire to the 1960s is a scrupulous, even-handed study of European poetry in the best comparatist tradition, by a poet who is by no means hostile to modernism, but who is at the same time skeptical of messianic claims on behalf of any given movement or tendency.

From his Collected Poems 1941–1983 (Carcanet 1984): Two bits of Martialism:

Take rhetoric and wring its neck.
Ditto, with anti-rhetoric.
Then, poet, all temptation gone
To fake or posture, wring your own.

Poor Performance

Why is your tone so low, so low,
Why is your tone so thin?–
Because I’m playing solo, solo
On a plastic violin.
And the final piece, “Dying”:
So that’s what it’s like: hearing them talk still
In a whisper, and letting your love pick up
Crumbs in response from the bare table
Till – there are crumbs left, things to be said
And their voices are audible still and their faces
Clearer than ever – another need
orders withdrawal, silence.
A bad joke, you think, this pretending not to be there –
And are gone, where they will follow.
Going, have punctured the bubble, time,
So that your wide-open eyes insist:
Speak louder, my near ones, laugh, and rejoice.


Amy said...

"Progress" is delicious! I did not know of his existence until today, but nonetheless I will miss him now!

Sam said...

Thanks for this post.

Archambeau said...

Strangely, I'd been reading his The Truth of Poetry the week before he died. I'm starting to get a bit spooked -- Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe passed after I'd been reading him, too. So maybe I shouldn't pick up your bio of LZ...