October 7, 2022

Christopher MIddleton (England / lived USA) 1926-2015

Christopher Middleton (England / lived USA)



Middleton is one of most noted translations of German literature of the 20th and 21st centuries, having translated Robert Walser, Hugo von Hoffmannsthal, Christa Wolf, Paul Celan, Gottfried Benn, Elias Canetti, Günter Grass, Gert Hoffman, and numerous other major writers. He is also a noted poet and prose writer.

     Middleton served in the Royal Air Force from 1944 to 1948, before attending Merton College in Oxford. After teaching English at the University of Zürich, be became Lecturer and afterwards, Senior Lecturer in German and King's College London (1955-1965).

     The following year he was invited to be Professor of Germanic Language and Literature at the University of Texas in Austin, later becoming the David J. Bruton Centennial Professor of Modern Languages at Texas.

      His first book, Torse 3: Poems 1944-1961 was published by Harcourt in 1962, for which he shared the Geoffrey Faber award. Thus followed numerous volumes of verbally exuberant poet texts, including Twenty Tropes for Doctor Dark and The Fossil Fish. His Collected Poems was published in England in 2002.

     Middleton also wrote brilliantly written prose works, most notably Pataxanadu & Other Prose (1977), Serpentine (1985), In the Mirror of the Eighth King (Green Integer, 1999), Crypto-Topographia: Stories of Secret Places (2002), and Depictions of Blaff (Green Integer, 2010)





Torse 3: Poems, 1949-1961 (New York: Harcourt, 1962); Penguin Modern Poets 4 [with David Holbrook and David Wevill] (New York: Penguin, 1963); Nonsequences: Selfpoems (New York: Norton, 1966); Our Flowers and Nice Bones (Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Press, 1969); The Fossil Fish: 15 Micropoems (Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck, 1970); selections in John Matthias, ed. 23 Modern British Poets (Chicago: The Swallow Press, 1971); Briefcase History: 9 Poems (Providence, Rhode Island, 1972); Fractions from Another Telemachus (Frensham, England: Sceptre Press, 1974); Wild Horse (Frensham, England: Sceptre Press, 1975); The Lonely Suppers of W. V. Balloon (Boston: David R. Godine, 1975); Razzmatazz (Austin, Texas: W. Thomas Taylor, 1976); Eight Elementary Inventions (Frensham, England: Sceptre Press, 1977); Anasphere (Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck, 1982); Carminalenia (Manchester, England: Carcanet Press, 1980); Woden Dog (Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck, 1982); 111 Poems (Manchester, England: Carcanet Press, 1983); Two Horse Wagon Going By (Manchester, England: Carcanet Press, 1986); Selected Writings (Manchester, England: Carcanet Press, 1989); The Balcony Tree (Manchester, England: Carcanet Press/Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York: Sheep Meadow Press, 1992); Some Dogs (London: Enitharmon Press, 1993); Intimate Chronicles (Manchester, England: Carcanet Press/Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York: Sheep Meadow Press, 1996); Twenty Tropes for Doctor Dark (London: Enitharmon, 2000); The Word Pavilion and Selected Poems (Riverdale-on-Hudson: Sheep Meadow Press, 2001); Collected Poems (Manchester, England: Carcanet Press, 2008)



For an obituary of Christopher Middleton, go here:






The Thousand Things


Dry vine leaves burn in an angle of the wall.

Dry vine leaves and a sheet of paper, overhung

by the green vine.

From an open grate in an angle of the wall

dry vine leaves and dead flies send smoke up

into the green vine where grape clusters go

ignored by lizards. Dry vine leaves

and a few dead flies on fire

and a Spanish toffee spat

into an angle of the wall

make a smell that calls to mind

the thousand things. Dead flies go,

paper curls and flares,

Spanish toffee sizzles and the smell

has soon gone over the wall.


A naked child jumps over the threshold,

waving a green spry of leaves of vine.




China Shop Vigil


Useful these bowls may be;

what fatness makes the hollows glow,

their shadows bossed and plump.


Precisely these a wheel whirling backward

flattens them. Knuckles whiten on copper:

headless men are hammering drums


Cup and teapot may be such comforters:

small jaws mincing chatter

over the bad blood between us once.


When baking began, the air in jugs frothed

for milk, or lupins. Now mob is crushed

by mob, what fatness but in wild places,


where some half dozen dusty mindful men

drinking from gourd or canvas huddle,

and can speak at last of the good rain.



Disturbing the Tarantula


The door a maze

of shadow, peach leaves

veining its wood colour,


and cobwebs broken

breathing ah ah

as it is pushed open—


two hands

at a ladder shook

free the tarantula, it slid


black and fizzing to a rung

above eye-level,

knees jack knives,


a high-jumper's, bat mouth

slit grinning

into the fur belly—


helpful: peaches

out there, they keep growing

rounder and rounder


on branches wheeled low

by their weight over

roasted grass blades; sun


and moon, also, evolve

round this mountain

terrace, wrinkling now


with deadly green

emotion: All things

are here, monstrous convulsed


rose (don't anyone

dare come), sounding through

our caves, I hear them.




The Laundress


Bothering us for a long time,

This laundry woman: Beneath

A blue segment of sky she is

All brown and profiled against

A cliff so laboriously hewn

That it resembles a rampart.

Like a baby mask her face,

Black crescent moons for eyebrows

And greys to streak her bodice,

But yellow or brown the rampart

Towers behind the woman, as if

Its gravity propelled her—darkly

Her combed hair clings to the head

She launches forward, stooping.

Awkward skirts impede her,

Surely now she has to be hurrying

Somewhere. A little daughter

Runs at her left side, one foot

Lifting off the shadowy ground,

Hurled stooping forward she

Mimics her mother, and the labour

Extracted from the mother, that

She will inherit too. Still,

Goya’s glimpse of them has put

Happy family bonding into question:

Are they running to the fountain

Or to the river at all? Are they

Running away from something

Hidden? Their velocity

Must have to do with bread. Yet

Won’t they have had to scoot,

In those times, across the picture,

Basket on the mother’s haunch

Bumping up and down on it, because

Shirts coiled in the wickerwork

(Where bristles dashed, dripping

White, the profile of a billygoat)

Had been stiff with blood, or wet?

The next up for execution

Needed snowy linen, so the French

Bullets could be met with decent

Spanish gestures, death be dignified,

You now conjecture, whereupon

Some villagers in bleached

Apparel sign to us how best not

To die, if only, in Bordeaux,

Goya, to assuage despair, stands

Candle-crowned for half the night,

Imagining, him, in grief and detail,

Horrors he had likely never seen.




Judge Bean


Of him or her who placed it there, and why

No one knew anything. —Thomas Hardy


Judge Roy Bean of Long Ago

Beheld once in a magazine

The face of Lily Langtry,

And in the twilight often

Judge Bean upon his porch

Rocked in a rocking chair,

Upon his porch he’d rock

And dream and dream of her.


A distant blue, how it pulls

The flesh to Long Ago

And far away, although

Judge Bean had hopes:

Lily Langtry just might come,

Passing through, and sing to him.


Not far from where the judge

Had sat and rocked and hoped

There was a tree festooned

With bottles that were blue.

Over the tips of many twigs

Somebody had been slotting

Milk of Magnesia (Phillips),

His empties, by the dozen.


Well-water there is hard;

Deep canyons through the rock

The Rio Grande, a trickle now,

Had had long since to carve.

There too the mountains host

Various flocks of birds,

Yet not a one would choose

To nest in such a tree.


The tree, so dead its twigs

That pronged the bottles, have

They in the meantime broke?

A striking sight against the sky,

An image not to be forgot,

So many bottles of blue glass

And sips of milk drunk up,

It still explodes to mark

Dimensions in the mind,

A horizon in the heart.


Long before the twigs had pronged

Blue bottles for my sight,

Like Tao it had for sure

No name at all, that place

Where Judge Bean rocked;

But Lily Langtry’s face

Nothing airy in his mind,

Not despairing of his dream,

One stormy day he took his pen

And wrote:


Now Langtry is its name



felo de se


When he had pulled upright his jingle-jangle cart,

he said he hoped he would not be disturbing me.

He unpacked his kit from the cart and lost no time

but baited his lines with worms from a box of dirt

and made a long cast for the lead to plop in mid-river.


When he says he in Tex-Mex but spoke as a child

no Spanish, he explains that he took himself soon

to school, learning the way they speak it in Spain.


When he was little his father died, says he.

So he helped in the house, cleaning and sweeping,

cooking the beans, washing dishes for mother.


When he had a family of his own, two boys

and a girl, he told them, one by one, as they grew,

there’ll be no lazy nobodies in my house,

told them when it was time to grow up

and that it won’t be easy but here’s your support,

grow up to be somebody with an education:


Now there’s my boy in the marines (this war, it makes

no sense) but then his line is aviation, the mechanics,

in law-school the girl, the other boy in medicine,

and all three speak Spanish as well as they do English.


When he’s et to make a cast with this third rod,

he says his father-in-law’s funeral cost ten thousand,

but his own uncle’s was cheaper for he was cremated.


And when he has cast with a fourth rod far out

into mid-river, he says that he’ll be tonight

in Marble Falls where the catfish bite better,

that because of the funeral he has a week off.


But when he went to Mexico he didn’t like it,

didn’t like the Mexicans, a crooked lying crowd,

says he, they look down on us, call me a gringo.


Me, I’m a carpenter, he says, I can build you

a pretty house, restore, where wood has gone to rot,

repair, adapt, install any kind of cabinet:


anything to do with wood, I can do it with finish,

fishing is just a pastime when you’re needing it,

and it has clouded over now, the fish like that.


Yes, he says, any kind of wood, I can handle it,

and we were standing under a water-cypress,

a very tall tree that has gone brown by March,

the tangle of its roots ran in long looped

cylinders out under water, while he talked.


wearing a cobalt gimme cap with NY in a monogram,

an olive-green tabard (pockets in place of emblems),

drainpipe trousers and spongy-soled suede boots,


yet all I had asked was if he knew perhaps

a meaning of felo de se, supposing it Spanish.

Not theft, he said, thieving is robar, robo;

what you said, might that be in a book?




Poetry copyright © by Christopher Middleton

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