February 20, 2013

David Jones


David Jones [England]
1895-1974

Born Walter David Michael Jones on November 1, 1895 in Brockley, Kent, now a suburb of South East London, David Jones was the son of a Welsh-speaking family. However, Jones was discouraged from speaking Welsh, his father who oversaw printing at the Christian Herald Press and his London-born mother fearing that it might impede his career. Jones had two siblings, Harold and Alice, the first of whom died in his teenage years of tuberculosis.

     Jones showed great talent early for drawing, and was encouraged to enter several children’s artwork exhibitions. In 1909, he insisted that he abandon his traditional education in order to attend the Camberwell Art School, taught by Reginald Savage, Herbert Cole, who introduced him to the work of Impressionists and Pre-Raphaelites, and A. S. Hartrick, who had studied with Van Gogh and Gaugin.

      During World War I, Jones enlisted in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, serving on the Western Front from 1915 to 1918, producing experiences that would later become significant issues in his painting and poetry. Upon his military completion, Jones won a government grant to study in London’s Westminster School of Art, where he worked with artist Walter Sickert and other influential teachers.

     It was there is also came to be attracted to Roman Catholicism, joining the church in 1922, soon after working with Catholic artist Eric Gill who ran the Guild of St. Joseph and St. Dominic, based on the medieval guild model. There he learned wood and cooper engraving and experimented with wood carving, ultimately working on book illustrations for St. Dominic’s Press. In 1925 Jones also did illustrations for Gulliver’s Travels for the Golden Cockerel Press. In 1927, however, when Gill broke with the Guild, Jones moved, Gill and others of Gill’s followers to a village in southern Wales in order to pursue a rural way of life. Living in a former monastery outside Capel-y-ffin, Jones became engaged to Gill’s daughter, Petra, whose face would become the model for his female creations for the rest of his artistic career. Throughout the 1930s he continued to produce wood engravings for editions of The Book of Jonah, The Chester Play of the Deluge, and a Welsh translation of the Book of Ecclesiastes, as well as copperplate engravings of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

     In 1937, in an attempt to express his war-time experiences, Jones wrote his first work, In Parenthesis, a mixture of poetry and prose, which might be described as both a fiction and a long poem. Published, with an introduction by T. S. Eliot by Faber and Faber, the book earned praise from W. B. Yeats and won, the following year, the distinguished Hawthornden Prize. Although written in a high modernist style, the book also incorporates literary influences from the 6th-century Welsh epic Y Gododdin to Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur.

     Inspired by a visit to Palestine, during which Jones discerned historic parallels between the British and Roman occupations of the area, he wrote The Anathemata, published by Faber and Faber in 1952. This collection received mixed reaction, but was highly praised by W. H. Auden, Kathleen Raine and William Carlos Williams. BBC produced dramatized readings of both In Parenthesis and the The Anathemata.

     For the remainder of his life Jones would work on a long poem of which he conceived The Anathemata was part. Some sections of the poem were published in the magazine Agenda, and in 1974 were published by Faber and Faber as The Sleeping Lord and Other Fragments. After Jones’ death that year a posthumous volume of materials, edited by Harman Grisewood and René Hague was published as The Roman Quarry. Jones also wrote essays on art, literature, religion and history.

     In 1985, Jones was commemorated as one of the sixteen Great War Poets on a slate stone in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner.

     In 2002 a text of three short poems (“Prothalamion,” “Epithalamion,” and “The Brenner,” the last about the meeting of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler on the Brenner Pass) was published, edited by Thomas Dilworth, as Wedding Poems.

BOOKS OF POETRY

In Parenthesis (London: Faber and Faber, 1937); The Anathemata (London: Faber and Faber, 1952); The Sleeping Lord and Other Fragments (London: Faber and Faber, 1974); The Roman Quarry and Other Sequencdes (New York: Sheep Meadow Press, 1981); Selected Works of David Jones: from In Parenthesis, The Anathemata, The Sleeping Lord (Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation/Cardiff, Wales: University of Wales Press, 1992); Wedding Poems (London: Enitharmon, 2002)

 

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