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This review is taken from Poetry Nation 3 Number 3, 1974.

THE CHRONICLER AND THE POET: MICHAEL HAMBURGER AT 50 Michael Hamburger, Ownerless Earth: New and Selected Poems, Carcanet, £2.75 - cloth, £1.25 - paper.
A Mug's Game: Intermittent Memoirs, Carcanet, £3.25.

IT is always a landmark, sometimes a watershed, to write an autobiography, just as it is to look back and choose out of a lifetime's works those poems that seem to their maker worth perpetuating. Michael Hamburger has reached some such crest of the hill. He has of late done both, and in both tasks confessed to the difficulty of relating his present self to an altogether different earlier one. But that self wrote those poems and lived that life; that soil was fruitful, though it has no present owner now - his most recent poems bear the title 'Travelling'. So he puts a milestone on the roadside and moves on ('a place called rest and be thankful', noted Keats, another proud walker reaching a mountain pass, 'which we took for an Inn - it was nothing but a Stone').

Both volumes are selections. Mercifully, the autobiographer does not set out to Tell All. But what principle of selection has governed a poet's tale of a poet's life? The sceptical prose title - Eliot's view of the job - gives one some indication: he may have wasted his time and messed up his life for nothing. And indeed, it is in some respects a sad book. Hamburger seems to have gone out of his way to look for the regrets, the sins of omission, the opportunities lost, the time he wasted, the lives he helped drably or dramatically to mess up: the homosexual school friend, a glamorous ...


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