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This review is taken from PN Review 77, Volume 17 Number 3, January - February 1991.

THE WORK OF THE WAVES Friedrich Hölderlin,Selected Poems, translated by David Constantine (Bloodaxe) £5.95

As an 'elective affinity' the line from Hölderlin to Hamburger has always looked tremendously secure, as David Constantine is more than ready to admit. His own Selected Poems of Hölderlin, however, offers an affinity of a different kind, as a by-product of his much-praised recent critical introduction to the poetry of Hölderlin (OUP, 1988). It is in fact Hamburger's Poems and Fragments, and not this monograph, that Constantine mentions in the introduction to this selection, which is perhaps also a way of doffing a weighty mortar-board and indicating that, with three Bloodaxe books of poetry also to be reckoned with, it is as a poet-translator that he hopes to figure with the general reading public. Rather than seek to evade the inevitable, Constantine clearly prefers to encourage his readers to compare these versions with those of a very distinguished forbear, a bold move, albeit precisely the kind of courage that the most timid translator of Hölderlin would have to possess in some measure from the outset, if the rigours of the enterprise were not to prove overwhelming.

Ironically, Constantine succeeds so triumphantly that one reads his selection without feeling that any reflex recourse to Hamburger is necessary, as this example shows:

As upon seacoasts, when the gods
Begin to build and the work of the waves
Ships in unstoppably wave
After wave, in splendour, and the earth
Attires itself and then comes joy
A supreme, tuneful joy, setting ...

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