Modern German poetry can plausibly be divided into two main lines of descent. At the head of one tradition stands Friedrich Hölderlin, initiating, at the turn of the 19th century, a poetry of subjective inwardness, metaphysical intensity and syntactical compression that finds its most important 20th-century expression in the work of Rainer Maria Rilke and Paul Celan. At the head of the other tradition stands Heinrich Heine, inaugurating, from his Parisian exile of the 1830s and 1840s, a political poetry of satire, irony and mordant cultural commentary. Descendants of this latter tradition include Bertolt Brecht, Peter Rühmkorf – and Hans Magnus Enzensberger.
Enzensberger, who was born in 1929, began his career as an angry young man typical of the postwar generation, but his critical lucidity marked him out from the start. Published in 1957, his first collection, Verteidigung der Wölfe (‘In Defence of the Wolves’), insisted, to paraphrase Burke, that the ‘wolves’