David Jones: Christian Modernist (?) and the shape of the Poem.

I gave a paper last week at the David Jones, Christian Modernist conference in Oxford last week and what follows are the main thoughts that the proceedings kicked off for me butnI’d like to start by thanking all those who were so welcoming and gracious to this self-taught interloper. I also want to express my gratitude for the personal support and encouragement given to me by Tom Dilworth, Tom Goldpaugh and Brad Haas.

I also have to report that my contribution was very well received which is odd because I was gently pointing out that they were talking about the wrong things in the wrong way and should instead focus on the work itself (poem as poem) rather than these external flummeries (technical term). Having said that, the papers that were given were full of thought-provoking material once your humble servant had waded through some of the bigger words.

unsurprisingly, given the title of the conference, there was an emphasis on Jones’ faith and I’m exceptionally grateful to Fr John David Ramsay who took time to explain to me (a non-Dawkins atheist) the relationship between the making of art and the Passion which Jones emphasises in his notes to The Anathemata.

However, the stand-out events for me were those papers given by Tom Goldpaugh and Francesca Brooks, both of which set off a whole train of thought in my head that is still running. Whilst preparing the talk I came across Jones’ indication that he had made a shape from words and I’d been wondering since then about what kind of shape this might be. Francesca talked about the way the ‘look’ of the text (including the notes), the inscriptions and the sounds of the words combined to make something multi-dimensional, in the physical sense, and gloriously complicated. Tom then went into some detail about how various parts of The Anathemata were put together, he used carpentry analogies to describe these splitting and joining processes.

What was particularly intriguing for me was to what extent Jones was trying to make a three-dimensional ‘thing’ and whether or not he succeeded. I started with the inscriptions included in the work because I know little about these and because Paul Hills had given me a gentle push into thinking about the violences and energies involved in both engraving and inscribing. The first and most obvious thing to state is that you can’t place a stone inscription into a book, you have to make do with an image of one. The problem with an image is that it is two-dimensional whereas a real inscription has three, the letters are cut into the stone which is in itself a tangible object. I think I also need to point out that this kind of incising, digging out can also bring forth blood. The idea/impulse to make this shape with words leads me to think again about the complex relationship between prose and verse especially as this appears in The Anathemata which I’m now thinking about visually as well as lingually.

I’m now going to use the joys of the pre tag to try and illustrate what I might be getting at. This is a randomly selected section of The Lady of The Pool:


       And does serene Astronomy carry the tonic Ave to the
created spheres, does old Averroes show a leg?2 -for what's
the song b'seine and Isis determines toons in caelian consis-
tories - or so this cock-clerk3 once said.
             Do all in aula rise
and cede him his hypothesis: 
             Mother is requisite to son?
Or would they have none
                  of his theosis?
He were a one for what's due her, captain.
Being ever a one for what's due us, captain.
He knew his Austin!4
                                                   But he were ever
at his distinctions, captain.
They come - and they go, captain.



1 Cf. the division of the Seven Liberal Arts into the Trivium: Grammar Dialectic, Rhetoric; and the Quadrivium: Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, Music. 2 He held matter to be uncreate and from all eternity. 3 Pronounced to rhyme with 'lurk'. 4Cf. Augustine. 'God created man that man might become God'.

(If you are reading this on bebrowed then I apologise for the grey colouring above- wordpress can be obstinate, it also fails to render some html special characters- the long dash in this instance. Arduity is a better copy with consistent colouring but the dashes are still too short. Sorry.)

I now have several questions:

  • Is there a deliberate visual relationship between the poem and its notes?
  • Should we consider the notes as part of the poem?;
  • Is part of the reason that the notes don’t work that this concern with shape took precedence over utility?
  • Might this explain the odd punctuation in note 1 and ‘uncreate’ instead of ‘uncreated’ in note 2?
  • Does the Faber edition preserve the line breaks in the prose or do I need to go back to the original?

Of course, all of this is the most tentative and provisional guesswork and. I’d also like to throw in the aural dimension and ask if ‘fitting’ how the poem sounds into how it looks was one of the reasons that Jones had so much trouble constructing his work.

On a final note, Jasmine Hunter-Evans deserves the gratitude of all us Jones completists by discovering and persuading the BBC to digitise a 1965 television interview of Jones by his friend Sinclair Lewis. It is a revelation, the transcript has been published by the New Welsh Review.

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16 responses to “David Jones: Christian Modernist (?) and the shape of the Poem.

  1. Small thoughts: 3-dimensionality formed between text and notes, perhaps? Odd punctuation in note 1? I don’t see that. An old-fashioned over-punctuation, yes. ‘Uncreate’ on the same basis as (e.g.) incarnate? Though it’s probably just a typo…

    i do like the parallel drwn with stone engraving: text never really does that, dos it – it tends to proliferate, ramify, evaporate. But not stand still.

    Thanks for thinking.

    • Thanks for writing, when I was typing it out, the mix of punctuation, the insertion of ‘and’ just seemed odd. Of course I have a bias because I think self-annotation should be read as part of the poem.

      • In the way that Jones, Eliot and Mallarme, among others, self-annotate I think that there is a curious thing going on. And it’s hard not to encroach on Derridean territory – the logic of the supplement and all that – in trying to see what’s happening. But again, it does set up a kind of three-dimensionality: the poem is the object that is ‘held in space’ and for proof, here’s a set of footnotes to it which are ‘clearly’ not part of the poem. Of course, it IS part of the work – but not quite of the poem. But I suspect we’re saying a similar thing ultimately.

      • That’s a v astute distinction which I will need to think about some more- will report back.

  2. drwn should be drawn, of course, and dos does…

  3. From John Matthias: ” On p. 32 of David Jones Man and Poet. i,e., the prose is prose and should be justified right and left. If jagged right margins try to maintain what was a coincidence of design in original editions, it looks like bad verse. It shouldn’t be done”

  4. Some good questions. As someone who has edited David Jones several times — 23 Modern British Poets, Introducing David Jones, David Jones Man and Poet — I’ve tried to explain before that the prose passages are and should be prose, with justified right margins so there is no confusion. If one tries to respect non-existent “line endings” of these passages, one is simply following the design set-up of an early printing. With a different type size and a different page size the prose passages would have had different line endings. To try to “fix” this is a mistake. The prose passages would then, with ragged right margins, look like bad verse lines. I try to explain this on page 32 of David Jones Man and Poet.

  5. thanks, John, for pasting in my Facebook message, but you’ll see above that I changed the password and was able to get the full comment in. What would be interesting would be to hear from anyone who thinks the prose passages ought to maintain original “line endings”. I’m sure there are ambiguous instances in the mss — which were mostly hand written — where it might be difficult to decide. But there ought to be some kind of consensus among DJ critics and scholars on this point. If not, quotes in critical writing are likely to take different forms, which is an altogether bad thing.

  6. Sorry to keep coming back, but no one has mentioned that the preface to The Anathemata is a kind of popularization of the full-scale aesthetics/poetics of “Art and Sacrament,” to which “Past and Present” and “The Utile” serve as a frame (as originally published in DJ’s Epoch and Artist). These pieces are basic reading. They also ask the reader pretty much how he/she thinks DJ’s position, deriving a good deal from Maritan,
    stands up with/to/against contemporary theory. At this point, a good essay to read is Thomas Whitaker’s “Homo Faber, Homo Sapiens” in David Jones: Man and Poet.

  7. I agree with John Matthias that prose passages always be justified right and left for the reasons mentioned. The real problem I face is with works like The Roman Quarry where in the absence of explicit directions Rene Hague assumes almost all of the lines are prose. One result is that – since the original project was a long dramatic work – Hague sometimes gets speakers confused ( Rene Hague also didn’t have access to all of the mss. Some were already In the NLW with the Ana material). I also find it a bit of a visual mess. In looking at the manuscripts to the RQ it is often impossible to tell which is intended on a given sheet. However, in looking at multiple drafts ( and he kept his drafts), it becomes little clearer in which direction Jones was moving, particularly in the Celtic material. In a letter to Saunders Lewis, he says he was trying to move away from prose in order to employ the material in a way that was, he said, “more evocative and recalling.” As far as when Jones’s work is anthologized, personally I think that it try to be as close visually to the original Fabers as it is possible. Jones was very concerned about the exact visual look of the page – some of his comments on exactly how he wanted The Wall to look in Poetry on that issue (in Burns Library at Boston College) are fascinating. If work was not published while Jones was alive and there are not multiple drafts, Tom Dilworth’s solution with The Wedding Poems seems pretty spot on to me. Sorry if I am going on, but i am currently facing this issue on a section of Jones’s manuscripts I am editing and it is kind of frustrating. I have some ideas about the footnotes and also about the Preface, but I will stop back tomorrow. John, thanks for the kind things you said about the paper.

  8. Thank you all for your detailed and fascinating responses. I remain concerned about this idea of ‘shape’. I think I’m now at the point where I accept that the notes were not intended to be part of the poem and that Jones regretted providing them for The Anathemata. We then come to the difference between intention and reception. I read/experience all of both IP and TA as a long poem, this may well be because of my own cultural ‘deposits’ but it seems to me that the passages that look like prose ‘work’ better if they are read with the kind of attention that we pay to poetry rather than prose.
    My original concern was about the three ‘dimensions’ that TA presents, what the words say, what the text looks like on the page and how the words sound. Listening again this week to the recordings that Jones I placed on bebrowed earlier this year, has convinced me that the work needs to be read aloud to fully experience its resonant brilliance.
    So, I’m currently reading out loud and looking at the arrangement of the words on the page whilst making an attempt not to look at the notes. The other thought that has been triggered this week is the difference(s) between self-annotation and that carried out by others and why I’m fascinated by the former but mostly annoyed by the latter. With regard to reading aloud, this is really quite tricky because Jones doesn’t give enough help with his notes, as he indicated he would in the notes.
    I’ff finish this with a few sentences from the Preface. “I intend what I have written to be said. While marks of punctuation, breaks of line, lengths of line, grouping of words or sentences are visual contrivances, they here have an oral and aural intention. You can’t get the intended meaning unless you hear the sound and you can’t get the sound unless you observe the score…..” That’s ‘observe’ rather than ‘read’.

  9. I have been thinking quite a bit about the notes, and part of the answer for me is in the difference between the notes to IP and The Ana. With IP the notes were written well after the composition of the work and were added later. More to the point, I think, is that almost half of the notes are to the things of the trenches: the slang, the rituals, the developing mythos, the objects of warfare and what the men used and encountered. In that, I think Jones was motivated by a twofold desire: the first was that those things not be lost insofar as they were significant to those men at the time; the second is part of his desire to at least try “ennoble our new media as we have already ennobled and made significant our old – candle-light, fire-light, Cups, Wands and Swords.” The notes to the Ana were done immediately – or very closely to – the time of composition of the lines to which they refer. In some ways, many of their points regard sources where he has gathered the information. Their use seems a bit different. It is, at times, almost as though he is providing the sources for the reader so that he or she can go and engage on the work and participate in an act of recovery for herself. He also, i think is indirectly making a case for the continued validity of the material. I think of them as part of the text but in a slightly attenuated way. I think, and i could be wrong but it is how I think of them, that they are part of Jones’s larger project of inclusion and recovery. In a number of cases, he will have gotten his material from a particular academic source, but the academic source is citing a poem or song or classical text and Jones will then cite the poem or song or, for example, classical text and not cite the work of scholarship. It is almost as though he wants to provide a road map back for us. The notes sometime help me at a moment in the Ana, but far more often they serve to move me to try and recover for myself the deposit that is in danger of being lost. He regretted, and often said so, not that he put them in, but that he felt compelled to do so because of civilizational conditions. He has a wonderful few lines in “Past and Present” where he writes “I think we can assert that the poet is a “rememberer” and that it is part of his business to keep the lines of communication open. One obvious way of doing that is by handing on such fragmented bits of our inheritance as we have ourselves received.'(E&A 141). I take his notes as part of that project.

    • Tom,

      Thank you again for this ‘first hand’ detail, I think you’re absolutely correct about the Ana as memorial, in the wider sense of the word. What has always been most fascinating to me is how this function is made to work. The problem I still have with the notes is their failure to assist in this process in that many of them don’t add to my understanding but complicate things further. There are also passages that require at least one note but but don’t have any at all.
      With regard to the differences with IP, it occurs to me that I don’t think of these as integral top the poem and this might be due to their position at the end of the poem. My other thought / hunch is that the notes to the Ana make it into a different work (which may be better or worse) than it would be without them.
      Incidentally, the reading out loud is producing some fascinating ‘stumbles’.

  10. Increasingly from the mid-1950s on, Jones regretted putting notes in The Anathemata and In Parenthesis. He had included them out of ‘mere politeness’ but people considered them pedantic (to Peter Orr, The Poet Speaks, p. 100). He would several times tell Stanley Honeyman, ‘I wish sometimes I’d never made any notes at all.’ Or ’I wish I’d been like Joyce and just thrown it at them and let them sort it out’ (interview with Honeyman 9 October 1987).
    This ought to trouble future editors of his works, if there are any. The ‘sometimes’ in the penultimate quotation above seems irresolute. But Jones’s final wish seems to have been for no notes. Clearly he did not intend the notes to be in any sense integral to the poems. Moreover , they are prose, not poetry, whereas even the non-verse bits of In P and Ana are poetry, if poetry is especially rich language (rich in various ways and to various degrees). It astonishes me that there are still people who equate poetry with verse—is this a peculiarly British mistake? (There is a lot of verse that is not poetry.) Back to notes: if your chief or only interest is the poetry and the notes are helpful in reading it, then they are helpful, i.e. valuable as notes. That value is (unlike that of poetry) temporary. Initially some of the helped me, now I ignore them. To keep on being interested in the notes (for their own sake?) is like looking at a finger instead of what it’s pointing to.

  11. Tom, thank you for entering the debate, I think there a couple of points that I need to make. The first is that, of course, the sections that look like prose must be read as poetry. My ‘point’ continues to about how we see rathee than read the patterns on the page. Of course this interest is v spexulative but it isleading to look at the poem in different ways.
    With regard to the notes, I am aware of Jone’s regret but the fact remains that They are there. Like you, I’ve stopped reading them but, as a Jones newbie in2010 I followed his advice in the preface. So I don,t think they can be ignored when thinking about the work whilst accepting that they are very much secondary to the poem as a whole. Does any of this make any kind of sense?
    I’d like to finish by thanking you for your personal support and encouragement over the past couple of weeks.
    John .

  12. Tom Dilworth and John,

    First a major thanks to Tom. I hadn’t realized that he was so regretful regarding that he put them in. I was only aware that he felt he had to and regretted that. Did he also feel that way regarding the notes in The Sleeping Lord, either when they appeared in The Sleeping Lord or elsewhere? I am not referring to those regarding pronunciation which he felt important. If you have any insights on that I would really appreciate them. You say that the notes should give pause to any future editors of IP and The Ana. Do you mean to say that whether they should be included or excised ( or something in between) needs to addressed – or possibly that they should all be placed at the end? I have to admit that I enjoy that there are no notes in the original typescript of Balaam’s Ass. As you know I am working on a very different edition of the project on which David Jones was still engaged than that presented in The Roman Quarry, and what I thought I had figured out regarding notes might need more figuring out ( at least i have to address the issue now somewhere).
    I would like to clarify something. When I said that the notes pointed back, I meant that they served the purpose of letting me know of works of which i had little or no knowledge but that were works that informed the work in various ways and that were part of the deposits. They rarely helped me puzzle through something about the poem on which I was engaged, and like you, I know longer read them (or i read them just because I like them). At first they rarely helped me because I didn’t know so many of the authors, art works, aspects of the Church that they were noting. So the note was to something that I didn’t know. But those notes – and the authors listed in the Preface – did send me to those earlier works/ rites/artifacts and to other works because they proved to be important themselves. What I found was that having then read or viewed ( or whatever) that to which they referred, Jones’s work informed them and they informed Jones’s work. I see them as part of, attached to, whatever The Ana but not in the same way or sense or of the same necessity or status as everything else between “IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT, WE SAT BY THE CALCINED WALL” to “What did he do yet other/riding the Axile Tree? ” I do agree that when engaged on the the Ana be engaged on The Ana. In any case, thanks for helping me think more on this.
    John, again thanks for raising these issues, and at some point soon ( after I finish grading 57 first-year themes) I would really enjoy going back to the issue of David Jones’s “Preface” and “Art and Sacrament” raised by John Matthias. To say nothing of the issue of shape.

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