Hamburger, Michael 1924–
Hamburger is a German-born English poet, translator, and critic. Hamburger has achieved a solid reputation as a poet; in addition, he is the outstanding translator and interpreter of German poetry for English readers. His collected translations of Hölderlin and Hugo von Hofmannsthal are considered definitive. (See also CLC, Vol. 5, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev, ed.)
[It] is the combination of poet and critic which makes the special interest of Mr. Hamburger's book [Reason and Energy]. Whether he is analysing Hölderlin's "Patmos" or the fifth Hymn of Novalis, Kleist's Die Marquise von O … or Büchner's Woyzeck, or the hysteria of the German Expressionists, it is a poet's preoccupation with their characteristic use of language which provides the insight and the illumination.
At first sight the poets assembled between these covers seem strange bedfellows, and one may well ask what they have in common. The answer is implied in the title—Reason and Energy—taken from an aphorism by Blake which states that "without Contraries there is no progression." All these German poets were the victims of—and were often obsessed with—contraries and contradictions, dichotomies and dualisms….
It is clear that none of these poets ever gets any farther by his "progression" through contraries. And from the Novalis motto which also stands sponsor to his book, it is doubtful whether Mr. Hamburger would have wished them to. He evidently has little liking for the real "progress" through contraries made by the one great German poet who, like Blake, knew this to be a law of existence and acted on the knowledge throughout his life and work—Goethe. From the essay on Hölderlin it might even seem that Mr. Hamburger envisages contraries being resolved, not by accepting them, but rather by denying or abandoning them. But in all fairness it should be noted that the unity of his book is "a theme discovered in retrospect, rather than a thesis driven towards a foregone conclusion," and this, as we know from similar collections of essays brought under a single head, does not always make for clarity of argument at every point….
An important contribution to Hölderlin scholarship is Mr. Hamburger's interpretation of "Friedensfeier," for the discovery and identification of which he was mainly responsible….
[Mr. Hamburger] is not only poet and critic but scholar as well, and these three often warring persons seem in him to live in harmony. The outward and visible signs of their fruitful collaboration are the accurate and poetic translations with which he is able to set the seal on his critical interpretations.
"Studies in German Poetry," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1957; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 2883, May 31, 1957, p. 337.