Born in Tilsit, East Prussia, the son of a railway official. Spent much of his boyhood in the village of his grandparents on the Lithuanian border. Moved to Königsberg (modern Kaliningrad) in 1928, where he learnt to play the organ and clavichord and developed an interest in Baroque music. Studied classical literature and later art history in Berlin. Called up in 1939 and saw war service in Poland. A prisoner of war in Russia until 1949. Later became a publisher's reader in East Berlin, and wrote many of his poems whilst thus employed between 1952-63. Thereafter wrote two novels and a considerable amount of short prose. Corresponded with Paul Celan. Died suddenly of peritonitis in East Berlin.
The most impressive of the poets to have written in German since the Second World War are Johannes Bobrowski and Paul Celan, both of whom were brought up on the periphery of German proper, and both of whom were conscious that they were using a language that the rest of Europe had little reason to feel affection for. In Bobrowski's case he had begun (like Pasternak, whom he later translated) to express himself in the wordless realms of music and painting, and only as a prisoner of war in Russia did he see the possibilities of forging a poetic language with its own peculiar painterly and musical qualities. Bobrowski's place of' origin, memorably captured in his novel Levin's Mill, was in a region of Poles with German names and Germans with Polish names, which also offered him an intimate acquaintance with the large number of Jews and gypsies who lived on the borders