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essay‘Man ofLetters’. For meheembodied thattitle, itseemed ahighoffice, aprofessionyouwouldbehonouredtoservein. So Höölderlin styled himself in Lyons in January 1802 in revolutionary France when the police asked himwhat he did: ‘Homme de lettres’, andso they enteredhimintheir records. Michael diedonthesamedayasHöölderlin, 7June, having spentmuchofhislifepreoccupiedwithhim. Attheageof16, after onlysevenyears inEngland, onlysevenyears speaking English, he was looking for a publisher for his Höölderlin translations.Theycameoutthree years later, in1943; by which timeMichael, theGermanJew, was inBritisharmyuniform. ThePoetrySocietyinvitedhimtocomeandtalkonHöölderlin, andreadfromhis translations. He declined. His Company Commander ordered himto accept, for the honour of the regiment. Buthisnervefailedhim, hehidintheaudienceand got two friends to read and talk for him. That invitation and the occasion, like the translation and the publication themselves, were anabsurdandbeautiful act, against hatred andevil. Michael commented: ‘If I hadaskedmyself at the time why that war was worthfighting, I shouldhave said, becausesuchabsurditiesarepossibleinBritain, andtherewas nothingIwouldn’tdotokeepthempossible.’ Poems are breadonthe waters, messages inbottles, they may landanywhere. I founda copy of Poems of Höölderlin in Llangollen, onlylastyear, publishedbyNicholson&Watson: nearly 100 pages of introduction, then 140 of poems, the German facing Michael’s English, page by page. Quite something, inthemiddleof awar against thenativelandof poet andtranslator! Germansoldiers were sent to the front withaspecial editionof Höölderlin, theso-calledFeldauswahl , intheirpacks. LikeMichael’svolume, itcameoutin1943. A friendfoundmeacopyinOxfordin1968. TheNazishijacked Höölderlin for a while.You might say that Michael helped himshake themoff. They rot in ignominy and his verse sailson. Editorial
I first met and corresponded with Michael because of Höölderlin. Iaskedhimwouldhereadmyversions, andhedid. Irememberhiskindness. HeandItranslatedverydifferently, as we both acknowledged. It moves me to think of that now:verydifferently, and thebeloved text incommonbetween us. Michael wasfamouslylugubrious. Everyonewhoknewhim hasastory. Oursisthis. Visitingusonce, hecasthiseyeover our small son’scactuscollection. ‘Ahyes,’ hesaid, intonesof glumsatisfaction, likeapreacherlightingonyetanotherproof of original sin, ‘I seethey’vegot themealybug.’ Mostthings have, either the mealybugor some equivalent, andMichael always spottedit. I likedhimfor that, for the exact tone of voiceinwhichhesaid, ‘I seethey’vegot themealybug.’ He remindedmeof mymother, mygrandmother, twoorthreeof myaunts, withtheirheroicallydolefulMonaLottcatchphrase, ‘It’sbeingsocheerful askeepsmegoing.’ Michael kept going, against melancholy, against theusual ills. And against fashion, trend, the many spreading duplicities. It was easytothinkhewouldgoonfor ever and wouldalways be rootingout somethingelse for us fromthe Aladdin’sCaveatMarshAcres. TheGermanword‘üübersetzen’ has amoreliteral oramore figurative sense according to whether that prefix ‘üüber’ is separable or inseparable. Separable, the wordmeans tocarry overoracross, fromonesidetotheother, itmightbeanobject or a person. Inseparable, it means totranslate. Celan, whom Michael translated and who was himself (like Höölderlin) a great translator, and a poet who strove desperately to get himselfacross, playson that dual sense in morethan one poem. Hehas theimageof aferry, thatbearsthings –oftenterrible things–across. SaintJeromeisthe usualpatronoftranslators, but Christopher might be too, or JuliantheHospitaller, the onecarryingyouoveronhisshoulders, theotherferryingyou across in his boat. And since translators and good literary criticsenablethepoetsintofurtherandfurtherlife, wemight