David Constantine

David Constantine © summonedbyfells, (David Constantine at Durham Book Festival), CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons David Constantine, born 1944 in Salford, Lancs, was for thirty years a university teacher of German language and literature. He has published a dozen volumes of poetry (most recently – 2014 –  Elder); two novels, Davies (1985), The Life-Writer (2015); and five  collections of short stories.

He is an editor and translator of Hölderlin, Goethe, Kleist and Brecht. For his stories he won the BBC National and the Frank O’ Connor International Awards (2010, 2013).The film ‘45 Years’ was based on his story ‘In Another Country’. With Helen Constantine he edited Modern Poetry in Translation between 2003 and 2012.


Three questions to David Constantine

Why did you choose to become a translator? Is it the profession you always wanted?

First I was a writer and still am. I’ve translated, principally from German and French, for many years and have done so, in the first place, because it helps me understand my own language better – I learn what English can do and can be made to do by bringing it into very close dealings with a foreign tongue. Of course, as a professional translator I also wish to see works I think excellent put into circulation in English, to share my enjoyment of them and in the hope that a continual confrontation with foreign writings will combat an English insularity which, today, seems horribly resurgent.
Which German book do you like the best and why?

At present I’m translating the poetry of Brecht and of Hölderlin, and they preoccupy me entirely.
Is there a particular book you would like to translate?

I can’t think ahead of what I’m doing now.

  • Friedrich Hölderlin, Selected Poems. Bloodaxe, 1990.
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Elective Affinities (Die Wahlverwandtschaften). Oxford University Press, 1994.
  • Heinrich von Kleist, Selected Writings. Dent, 1998.
  • Friedrich Hölderlin, Hölderlin's Sophocles (Übersetzungen von Hölderlins Übersetzungen von Sophocles' Oedipus and Antigone). Bloodaxe, 2001.
  • Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Lighter than Air (Leichter als Luft). Bloodaxe, 2002.
  • Bertolt Brecht, Antigone and The Days of the Commune (Die Tage der Kommune). Methuen, 2003.
  • Bertolt Brecht, Love Poems (gemeinsam mit Tom Kuhn). Norton, 2014.
  • Volker Braun, Rubble Flora (Selected Poems) (gemeinsam mit Karen Leeder). Seagull, 2014.
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, Parts I and II. Penguin Books, 2005 and 2009.
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther (Die Leiden des jungen Werthers). OUP, 2012.