RIP Christopher Middleton, early translator of Robert Walser

Poet and translator Christopher Middleton died last week at the age of 89. Middleton was the first translator to bring Swiss Modernist writer Robert Walser to an English-language reading audience. He translated many other writers, including Georg Trakl, Christa Wolf, and Friedrich Nietzsche. But for me, his translation of Walser’s Jakob von Gunten remains the most important, as it was the first Walser book I read, which lead to a reading love affair of epic proportions. Middleton also translated many of the works in Selected Stories of Robert Walser, a fine collection of Walser’s short fiction. I’ve included two favorite excerpts from that volume below. To read a remembrance of Christopher Middleton, check out this piece by his fellow Walser translator Susan Bernofsky. The Paris Review also posted a tribute with one of his poems.

The walk seemed to be becoming more beautiful, rich, and long. Here at the railway crossing seemed to be the peak, or something like the center, from which again the gentle declivity would begin. Something akin to sorrow’s golden bliss and melancholy’s magic breathed around me like a quiet, lofty god.

—from ‘The Walk’

Often I walked in the neighboring forest of fir and pine, whose beauties, wonderful winter solitudes, seemed to protect me from the onset of despair. Ineffably kind voices spoke down to me from the trees: ‘You must not come to the hard conclusion that everything in the world is hard, false, and wicked. But come often to us; the forest likes you. In its company you will find health and good spirits again, and entertain more lofty and beautiful thoughts.’

—from ‘Frau Wilke’

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