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This review is taken from PN Review 148, Volume 29 Number 2, November - December 2002.

DARK STAR W.G. SEBALD, After Nature (Hamish Hamilton) £12.99

As if we needed convincing that the writer W.G. Sebald was essentially a poet, here is the English translation of his first major creative work, a long prose poem in three parts, originally published in Germany in 1988. Written before the celebrated prose books The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn, Vertigo and Austerlitz, After Nature was in its final stages of translation and had been approved by Sebald when, in December last year, he was killed in a car accident on the outskirts of Norwich. His translator and friend Michael Hamburger, about to discuss a few last points on the text with the author, was left to soldier on as best he could with the final drafts. The unqualified success of his translation, which reads so convincingly, is a testament to his intuitive skill and dedication. The first section is concerned with the German painter Matthias Grünewald; the middle one follows the eighteenth-century botanist and explorer George Wilhelm Steller and the third concerns Sebald himself. This includes a moving poem set during an outing to the East Suffolk coast with his daughter. Here, Sebald is ruminating on the bleak coastal hamlet known as Shingle Street:

... Tell me, child,
is your heart as heavy as
mine is, year after year
a pebble bank raised
by the waves of the sea
all the way to the North,
every stone a dead soul
and this sky so grey?
So unremittingly ...


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