Obituary: Patric Dickinson

Patric Thomas Dickinson, poet: born Nasirabad, India 26 December 1914; married 1945 Sheila Shannon (one son, one daughter); died Rye, East Sussex 28 January 1994.

BROADCASTER, playwright, golfing blue and freelance man of letters, Patric Dickinson was above all a lyric poet who stayed the course.

Dickinson produced much of his finest work in his later years when failing health limited his other activities but gave an edge to an imagination which had always dwelt on mortality. Dropped by his main publisher in the early 1980s - a case of the new broom sweeping away gold-dust if ever there was one - he continued to write beautifully crafted poems, at once idiosyncratic and in the tradition of Housman, de la Mare and, more recently, Geoffrey Grigson. Like Robert Graves, he was something of a maverick classicist - with an inviolable core of stubbornness, writing against the fashionable grain, outside the academy in every sense but producing acclaimed translations of Aristophanes and Virgil as well as the immaculately unsentimental poems of love and loss on which his reputation will almost certainly come to rest. It might be said that he began as an imitator, heavily under the influence of Yeatsian and Audenesque rhetoric, but what he became was unmistakably himself.

In 1965 Dickinson published his autobiography, The Good Minute, proudly subtitling it 'Autobiography of a Poet-Golfer' as witness to an abiding passion. Dedicated to his wife, Sheila Shannon, it is a book very much of a piece with the poetry: celebratory, full of gratitude and studded with literary quotation but again with that sardonic, quirky touch which rescued even his most whimsical poems from sentimentality. And as for the golf, his passion was fully informed. He was awarded his blue at Cambridge in 1935, where he studied at St Catharine's College, and 15 years later wrote A Round of Golf Courses in which he made a selection of what he regarded as the best 18 courses in Britain. The book is a delight for the general reader as well as the specialist, packed with history, anecdote and vivid topography. It was recently reissued as a paperback 'Classic' and this gave Dickinson much pleasure although if was impossible not to feel a rueful sense of irony in the fact that then, and subsequently, nearly all his other books, written before he began publishing his later verse with the Mandeville Press, were out of print.

Described on the dustjacket of The Good Minute as a 'poet and impresario of poetry', Dickinson will perhaps be best remembered by many as a radio editor and producer of distinction. After a spell of prep-school teaching (almost mandatory, it would seem, for aspiring English poets in the 1930s) and service at the beginning of the war from which he was invalided out in 1940, he joined the BBC where, between 1942 and his resignation in 1948, he set standards for the broadcasting of verse which became a benchmark for his successors.

This was the heyday of radio drama and features when poets worked at the BBC; when the young Dylan Thomas read the part of Satan in a presentation of Paradise Lost over which there was much argument at a planning meeting as to whether it was a drama, a feature or a talk. That it was, in fact, a poem caused confusion among the categories, and only served to increase Dickinson's determination to carry the torch for poetry. All his work was fired by a commitment to presenting the widest possible range of poems and to having them read in a way that was 'direct, wholly unhistrionic, the discovery to others of the poem'.

Many well-known actors and actresses, among them Robert Donat, Flora Robson and Stephen Murray, gave him what he wanted, and the popular Home Service programme Time for Verse did much to bring poetry to a wide audience. It was of the greatest importance to Dickinson that the BBC's poetic output should have coherence, and he fought with a characteristic and often acerbic tenacity to achieve this. Later radio producers, particularly George MacBeth and Fraser Steel, owed much to his pioneering work, but his wry recognition that the authorities would never be convinced that poetry was poetry and make an unequivocal commitment to the art has been borne out by the piecemeal programming of recent years.

His father, a regular officer in the Indian Army, was killed in 1915, and he became to Patric 'not ever a blank in our lives, but a living absence. Mama loved him all her life long and that love gave her the most wonderful quiet and self-effacing courage.' Such a quality sustained Patric Dickinson throughout his own life, and was the essence of what he admired in others. From the time of his marriage to Sheila, in 1945, he and the family lived in a delightful house in Church Square at Rye, a town to which he became devoted and which reciprocated his affection. In later years he took particular pleasure in his grandchildren, and one of his very last poems, entitled 'Generations', and sent to friends as a Christmas card, is at once a celebration and a valediction:

I might survive

As an echo, a whisper,

A whispering echo, an echoing whisper

You didn't quite catch:

O dear ones, everyone, listen

While you live your lives;

Latch on to every morning

A way of loving and leaving

You can give to the unborn.

For the true poet, everyone is a dear one, and, for a poet who places the emphasis where Patric did, home is both where one starts from and where one comes to rest.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back