Michael Hamburger

British translator, poet, critic, memoirist and academic

Michael Hamburger (22 March 19247 June 2007) was a German-born British translator and poet. He came to Britain in 1933 as a refugee from Nazism.


  • The ploughman ploughs, the fisherman dreams of fish;
    Aloft, the sailor, through a world of ropes
    Guides tangled meditations, feverish
    With memories of girls forsaken, hopes
    Of brief reunions, new discoveries,
    Past rum consumed, rum promised, rum potential.
  • Being pre-eminently a moralist, he needed a medium that enabled him to illustrate a moral insight as briefly and vividly as possible. Being an artist and sensualist, he needed a medium that was epigrammatic or aphoristic, but allowed him scope for fantasy and for that element of suggestiveness which he considered essential to beauty.
  • It is impossible for a poet to characterize his own work. From other people I gather that I am a gloomy poet, if not a tragic one.
  • I was invited to Romania at least once, but was warned that I should not be free to travel where I pleased in the country, but should be more or less confined to the Writers' Union. Because I ceased long ago to be an urban poet and feel claustrophobic in literary conferences, I could not accept such an invitation.
  • Translation came naturally to me because as a child I was translated from Germany to Britain.
  • I suppose that I am a very serious poet – except for satirical verse, which I have also been compelled to write, though much of it may be inferior to my more serious poems – perhaps because I am not playful enough by nature, and even my satirical or polemical verse is not entertaining.


  • He was out of tune with what a younger generation of poets were writing, and railed against the shallowness and commercialisation of the modern world, from his fastness: a farmhouse surrounded by orchards in Middleton, Suffolk.
  • * Obituary in The Guardian
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