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A C.H.Sisson Reader

C.H. Sisson was born in Bristol in 1914 and studied at the University of Bristol, followed by stays in Hamburg, Berlin and Freiburg in 1934–35 and in Paris in 1935–36. On his return he married, and entered the Civil Service, rising to Under Secretary in the Ministry of Labour. In 1937 he began publishing essays and the odd poem in the New English Weekly, but it was not until the war, when he served in the Army in the British Other Ranks in India (in what was then known as the North West Frontier Province), that he began writing more verse, while at the same time translating Heine. His first book of poems – The London Zoo – did not appear until 1961, but by then he had published, besides a large body of essays on political and literary subjects, a novel based on his wartime experiences (An Asiatic Romance, 1953) and a study of the civil service, The Spirit of British Administration (1959). In 1965 Methuen published a second collection of poems, a book of essays and a novel, Christopher Homm, which begins with the protagonist’s death and pursues his life back to the moment of birth. The early sixties had seen his association with the short-lived but influential magazine X. In 1973 he took early retirement, moved to Somerset, the West Country of his childhood, and entered into a period of great productivity, inaugurated by In the Trojan Ditch: Collected Poems & Selected Translations, his first book with Carcanet. Many others followed, including the major gathering of essays The Avoidance of Literature (1978), two volumes of Collected Poems (1984 and 1998), versions of Virgil and Dante among many others, Collected Translations (1996), and further books of critical, polemical and autobiographical prose. Until 1984 he was co-editor of PN Review. In 1993 he was made Companion of Honour for services to literature. He died in 2003.

Charlie Louth teaches German at Queen’s College, Oxford. He has translated Hölderlin and Rilke, and in 2010 edited a special issue of Agenda devoted to C.H. Sisson.

Patrick McGuinness teaches French and Comparative Literature at Oxford University, and is the author of two books of poetry, The Canals of Mars and Jilted City; a novel, The Last Hundred Days; and a memoir, Other People’s Countries. He has also edited, for Carcanet, the Selected Writings of T.E. Hulme and translated Mallarmé’s For Anatole’s Tomb.

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