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Memorials

Anachronism(of akindhe meant) andutopiawereat the heartof hispoetics. IfirstmetMichael’sworkinaCambridge lecture roomin 1975. Leonard Forster, Michael’s head of department at UCL in the 1950s, whomMichael later consideredtohavebeenquitejustifiedinweedinghimoutas lackinginscholarlymettle(refusingtogranthimtenurewhen his probationaryperiodhadcome toanend), hadlongsince made it up with Michael and was now, twenty years on, handingout Michael’s Höölderlintranslations to nonplussed first-yearstudentsof German. Thiswasoneof thosemoments when onefeelsan alter ego – theworld of before, whenonehad lived in ignorance of a prospect nowdawning – palpably peeling away. It wasn’t so much the translations that astonished me, it was the very fact and mystery of their existence, the notionthat a personwitha gift for it could become that kindof mediumfor the subtlest modulationof voices across the languages, cultures and centuries: an anachronist. Ittookmeyearstorealisethatthiswasnomorea qualityof translationthanof poetry. The poet-translator’s ‘negative capability’, a loss of self whichhesawattheoppositeendofthe scale fromappropriation of a foreign poet’s work, was a key to the mimetic that governed Michael’s translations. But was Höölderlin’s ‘long breath’, his encapsulating syntax – overflowing structures permittingthecumulative weavingof anidea or image over several linesorstanzas–theexplanation, asMichael hadcome to thinkof it, for the syntactic sinuosityof his ownlonger poems likeTravelling, InSuffolkandLate ?Or hadHöölderlin’s archinghypotaxis becomeabridgetosomethingmorefragile and‘lost tomeineveryother regard’, adimension‘between Day and Night’ (Höölderlin) – the missing link with a wholenessMichael hadlostsincehisnativelanguagehadbeen ‘overlaid’ byEnglish? It tookfour years after LeonardForster’s introductionto Michael the translator for me tofindMichael the poet. The phenomenonof Michael’ssyntax, atonceintenselystrangeand

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