Christopher Middleton Analysis

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

In addition to collections of poetry and short prose, Christopher Middleton has published an impressive number of translations, edited volumes, and critical essays. His translations from German cover a wide variety of genres, including poems by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Hölderlin, Eduard Mörike, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Georg Trakl, Paul Celan, and Günter Grass. He has also translated Friedrich Nietzsche’s letters and such major works of modern German prose as Robert Walser’s The Walk, and Other Stories (1957), Jakob von Gunten (1969), and Institute Benjamenta (1995) Christa Wolf’s autobiographical novel The Quest for Christa T. (1970), and Elias Canetti’s critical study of Kafka’s letters to his fiancé, Kafka’s Other Trial: Or, The Letters to Felice (1974).

Middleton has also edited or coedited several anthologies of verse and prose in translation: No Hatred and No Flag, Twentieth Century War Poems (1958), which was published a year later in German as Ohne Hass und Fahne; Modern German Poetry, 1910-1960: An Anthology with Verse Translations (1962, with Michael Hamburger); and German Writing Today (1967). He has also published German translations of his own works, including two pieces from Pataxanadu, and Other Prose, “The Pocket Elephants” (1969; Der Taschenelefant) and “Getting Grandmother to Market” (1970; Wie wir Grossmutter zum Markt bringen). He is also the author of a libretto for a comic opera, The Metropolitans (1964, music by Hans Vogt).

Middleton’s critical essays have appeared in numerous journals, and many have been collected in Bolshevism in Art, and Other Expository Writings (1978), The Pursuit of the Kingfisher (1983), and Jackdaw Jiving: Selected Essays on Poetry and Translation (1998).


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Christopher Middleton’s main achievement is that of a mediator among the disparate worlds of poetry, translation, and academic scholarship. He frequently includes translations in his volumes of poetry and regards the act of translation as a preeminently poetic endeavor, while his critical works appear as the natural by-products of his familiarity with the history and the direct practice of literature.

Middleton has gained wide recognition as a translator, which is to say that he is recognized for his absence, for not being obtrusively present in the works he reproduces in English. Good translators are always difficult to recognize: On the one hand, they are denied the glory of the first creator of the text (after all, the translators’ words are not their own), while on the other hand, those bilingual readers best able to appreciate the merits of a translation are precisely the same readers who have no need of one, since they can always read the work in the original. Middleton’s many translations, together with his essays on translation, stand as major contributions to a difficult, challenging, and often underestimated art.

Middleton’s combined efforts in poetry and translations have attracted much critical attention and honors. He was awarded the Sir Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize for Poetry in 1963, and a selection of his works was anthologized that same year in Penguin Modern Poets Four. He accepted a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1974-1975, served as a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow in 1980, and won the Schlegel-Tieck Translation Prize in 1986, and the Max-Geilinger-Stiftung Prize for translations in 1987-1988. He was nominated for a Neustadt Prize in 1992.


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Bête Noire (Spring, 1991). A special issue of this British literary magazine, focusing on Middleton.

Chicago Review 51, nos. 1-2 (Spring, 2005). This issue is devoted to making Middleton better known, through tributes, critical appreciations, portraits, and dialogues. Contains numerous articles, including an interview and portrait by Marius Kociejowski.

McCarey, Peter. “The Wooden Dog Fun Club Presents: Christopher Middleton.” PNReview 34, no. 1 (September/October, 2007): 34-39. Article introduces Middleton to the new reader from his earliest work through Woden Dog.

Mann, John. Review of Of the Mortal Fire. World Literature Today 79, no. 1 (January-April, 2005): 89-91. Praises the work, calling it “superbly crafted and linguistically demanding.”

Young, Alan. “Christopher Middleton.” In Poets of Great Britain and Since 1960, edited by Vincent B. Sherry, Jr. Vol. 40 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1985. A thorough and sympathetic account by one of Middleton’s best critics. Young stresses Middleton’s challenge to the reigning assumptions of contemporary British poetry; he sees Romantic as well as high modernist elements in Middleton’s work. Includes a primary bibliography and references to secondary sources.