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This review is taken from PN Review 87, Volume 19 Number 1, September - October 1992.

REAL TREES Michael Hamburger, Roots in the Air (Anvil) £7.95

It's remarkable, but surely cause for congratulation, that several poems in Roots in the Air are finer than anything in Hamburger's bulky Collected (Carcanet, 1984). Nevertheless, they gain a dimension in the context of the poet's work as a whole, and it's instructive to review his roots, by no means all of which are in the air. The reader with no German finds himself from the outset on familiar terrain.

Hamburger is routinely apologetic about his '40s poetry, having 'long ceased to recognize most of it as mine', but there should be no need to cringe at revelations of an Apocalyptic past. It's high time the Movement's Nuremberg-trial verdicts on their predecessors and early selves were quashed, or at least reconsidered. Hamburger indulges in his share of rhetorical flights - 'On stones of fever I walked and wondered'; 'Bound for the perfect nowhere of desire' - and cadences derived from current standards, including Yeats, Eliot, Auden, Dylan Thomas ('Our eyes are maggots lusting after death') and Hopkins ('twisted saints seem nearer to us,/ Tuned to our pitch of pain'); but there are some fascinating poems, for all that. 'Reminiscences of a Voyage' is particularly memorable:
 
Cities and seas, aspects of the moon
Our parasite and decrees of the sun,
Patterns of cloud, climates, features of
    men,
Fishes and insects, houses, flowering
    trees,
Mountains pine-softened, mountains of
    stark stone,
Grottoes, lagoons, mere gestures - all
    these, ...


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