This article examines the intellectual and social context of S. V. Petersen (1914–87) with respect to its dialogical tensions. Three key features of his biography are discussed, namely his position as one of only a few coloured boys in the Union of South Africa to have completed his secondary schooling; his relationship to the small but significant Cape elite and his ambivalence towards
Afrikaans, his language of choice as a poet. The underlying theoretical impulse provides a reading influenced by Bakhtinian notions of dialogism and the reconstruction of the circumstances in which the initial utterings were made. It is found that
Petersen’s creation of the lonely aesthete is influenced by nineteenth century notions of Romantic authorship, and the social tensions between the coloured elite and the Cape or rural underclass. In spite of his Afrikaans childhood, academic training and authorship Petersen’s ambivalence towards the language was fostered by his insertion into the coloured elite in Cape Town.