Monday, January 30, 2023

David Jones*

David Jones (1895—1974) is a painter and the author of two major works of modernist poetry: In Parenthesis (1937) and The Anathemata (1952). Guy Davenport, in the New York Times Book Review, said, “For David Jones art was a sacred act and he expected the reading of his work to be as much a rite as he performed in the composing of it.”

The Poetry Foundation describes The Anathemata as “modernistic, allusive, and fragmented…” which as I see it contributes to making it one of the most difficult major poems of the twentieth century. The poem is more than 200 pages in length, and leaps from theme to theme, place to place, and from time period to time period ― including ancient Greece and Rome, Western Europe and England, and by the end reflects on the Last Supper and Christ’s Crucifixion.

The David Jones Society webpage concedes that “Jones's style has been considered 'densely allusive,' 'fragmented' and 'palimpsestic…'” It says The Anathemata “traces the course of Western culture in light of its various geographical, mythical, historical and religious roots, using the Roman Catholic Mass as a significant framework.”

According to Robert Knowles, “The achievement, then, of The Anathemata is that it is an extended metaphor of what it is to be, uniquely, modern: for Jones, old forms of faith exist alongside present forms of explanation and the difficulty remains the association or integration of this apparent duality.”

What follows are the closing stanzas of The Anathemata.

From The Anathemata

At the threshold-stone
------------------------------lifts the aged head?
can toothless beast from stable come
----------------------------------discern the Child
in the Bread?

------------But the fate of death?
Well, that fits The gest:
How else be coupled of the Wanderer
whose viatic bread shows forth a life?
------------― in his well-built megaron.
If not by this Viander’s own death’s monument
by what bride-ale else lives his undying Margaron?
------------― whose only threnody is Jugatine
and of the thalamus: reeds then! And minstrelsy.
------------(Nor bid Anubis haste, but rather stay:
for he was whelped but to discern a lord’s body).

He does what is done in many places
What he does other
------------he does after the mode
of what has always been done.
What did he do other
------------recumbent at the garnished supper?
What did he do yet other
------------riding the Axile Tree?

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about David Jones: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.