Peter Dale (b. 1938) studied English at Oxford University where he became friends with the poets Ian Hamilton and Kevin Crossley-Holland, and William Cookson with whom Dale went on to edit the influential poetry quarterly Agenda. Dale’s first collection, Walk from the House, was published in 1962 and has been followed by a further ten collections including Edge to Edge: New and Selected Poems (Anvil, 1996). Dale’s translations of the French poet Villon has been continuously in print since 1973, and his versions of Jules Laforgue and Dante’s Divine Comedy are also highly regarded, not least for the technical skill he displays in matching the original verse forms. Dale has conducted this hectic literary career alongside thirty years of teaching in secondary schools, and a busy family life.

In his poem ‘Old Poet on a Rainy Day’, Dale describes writing as “the solitary art” but whilst this might imply isolation, the poems themselves characteristically address another person – a father, wife, daughter or friend – using an intimate imperative. His frequent use of sequences – extracts from which appear on this CD – allows his essentially lyric voice the space for emotional exploration. The tension in the poetry is generated by the attempt to communicate and a frustration that such efforts are never wholly successful, as implied by the title of his acclaimed sonnet sequence ‘One Another’. The “I” of the poems is predominantly an “eye”, watching the world, often through the separating frame of a window, as in the observation of an ex-schoolgirl in ‘Eighth Period’ or the woman tending her roses in ‘Gift of Words’. This desire for connection finds particularly beautiful expression in ‘Vigil’ where the narrator watches his sleeping lover and almost escapes the solipsism of the self through love: “Some nights I came near,/my lips in touch/with your pulsing lids/to catch the drift of your dream.”

Dale’s lyric style is intensely intimate whilst avoiding the histrionic pitfalls of the confessional mode. His formidable formal control is similarly understated, living up to his own injunction that “a poet shouldn’t draw attention to his stylistic self; the poem should be a lens through which something crucial is seen.” Dale’s measured, softly-spoken reading complements this reticence, achieving a cumulative power to, as he says in his sonnet ‘Window’, “make the darkness personal.”

Peter Dale’s Favourite Poetry Sayings:

“When you see a giant, look at where the sun is. You may only be seeing the shadow of a dwarf. ” – Novalis

“Parnassus has many mansions.” – W.H. Auden

“The arts are our only means of communication with the dead and without that a truly human life is not possible.” – W.H. Auden

“Not things I have felt but things felt” – Rilke

“Every man skin his own skunk” – Ted Hughes

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 20 January 2005 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Poems by Peter Dale

Peter Dale in the Poetry Store

The free tracks you can enjoy in the Poetry Archive are a selection of a poet’s work. Our catalogue store includes many more recordings which you can download to your device.

Books by Peter Dale


1970 Arts Council Bursary

Prize website

2005 Poetry Book Society for Translation (Recommendation), Wry-Blue Loves (Les Amours Jaunes) (orig. Tristan Corbi?re)

Prize website