Twentieth-Century German Poetry An Anthology

Edited by Michael Hofmann

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

544 Pages


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A Newsday Best Book of the Year

Editor Michael Hofmann has assembled translations of the major German poets, from Rilke and Brecht to Durs Grünbein and Jan Wagner, in an approachable, readable collection. Here we find poetry as a living counter-force to socio-political reality; poetry of dissent and fear and protest; poetry of private griefs and musics. From the subtlety and elegance of Brecht, to the extraordinary jargon-glooms of Gottfried Benn, to the oblique and straightforward responses to the country's villainous history, to the bitter, cleansed, and haunted poetry of the postwar years, the anthology ends with a reunified country looking at itself and its neighbors in new ways. This is a collection of verse from a tumultuous, violent, tragic, and hopeful century, written in the language of those who were at the heart of the matter.


Praise for Twentieth-Century German Poetry

"Michael Hofmann has a skeptical intelligence, an observant eye, a compulsion to speak the unspeakable, and the useful wariness of the displaced person."—Helen Vendler, The New York Review of Books

"This collection is so sterling it makes even a poetry challenged person such as myself appreciate poetry."—Roger Miller, The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Says the editor: 'Who had the best poets of the twentieth century? For the size of their population, the Irish and the Poles, absolutely, without hesitation. And under open rules? Well, then it's more like the usual suspects, the Americans and the Russians, the Spanish (particularly if you throw in Latin America) and (beefed up by the Austrians and the Swiss and a few Czechs and Balts and Romanians), the Germans.' His collection eliminates any doubts."—Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News

"Michael Hofmann's eclectic and inspiring anthology is going to be a touchstone for readers like myself of European poets whose works, even though known to us only in translation, have formed an essential element of our contemporary sensibility. There is a special pleasure in finding among his choices translations that one has responded to intensely in comparison with others collected over the years—in my case, for example, J.B. Leishman's version of Rilke's 'Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes.' And there's the fresh interest of discovering translations never before come across, of poems thought of as finally known. The German originals side-by-side are a stimulus to us, the lovers of words. Though one doesn't know the language, these are words whose mouthed cadence makes itself understood in enhancement of the English word and phrase. A wonderful source to return to, again and again."—Nadine Gordimer

"Except for a few famous names, modern German poetry is sadly unknown to most Anglophone readers. Poet Michael Hofmann and his team of gifted poet/translators have done much to right the situation with this brilliant and amazing collection."—John Ashbery

"This handsome, hearty, dual-language volume will vastly expand what most American readers know of contemporary German poetry . . . Well-known poet and translator Hofmann gathers a varied range of poems from the German canon—better-known poets and writers meet many poets who deserve a larger following outside Germany, like Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Durs Grünbein . . . Hofmann also brings together an unlikely host of translators . . . creating dissonances that underline the vast subjectivitiy of translation. This is a wonderful introduction to an amazing century of work."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Edited by Michael Hofmann

  • The poet Michael Hofmann has translated many German-language authors, among them Ernst Junger, Franz Kafka, Wolfgang Koeppen, and Joseph Roth. Ashes for Breakfast, a translation of Durs Grünbein, was published in 2005. He lives in London.

  • Michael Hofmann Thomas Andenmatten © Stiftung Leuk