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.

Suggested Topics
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
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot