In Parenthesis by David Jones (Folio Society edition, 2016)
Introduced by Ewan Clayton for The Folio Society
Defying all genres, In Parenthesis is one of the First World War’s greatest works of literature. This special Folio Society edition includes an introduction by T S Eliot and a foreword by Harold Bloom. The artwork is by calligrapher Ewan Clayton, who here introduces today’s book.
When I began to work on my illustrations for David Jones’s In Parenthesis I was acutely aware that I was treading on hallowed ground. Jones’s reputation as a poet and a painter has grown throughout the last 50 years and he is now recognised as one of the principal British artists of the 20th century. He approached his work as a poet with an artist’s sensitivity; the visual arrangement of the text mattered to him.
It was for this reason that I wanted my intervention to be minimal. It was important that no painted imagery, other than his own original frontispiece, appeared alongside his words. So it was that the use of lettering seemed appropriate. Jones had himself been a maker of painted inscriptions, and in his later work, The Anathemata, he reached towards a new integration of text and lettered panels. I decided to follow this approach, working with the blank pages opposite the dedication page and part-title pages of the seven sections. I worked only with the text that appeared on those pages, and structured the illustrations as a set, working outwards from the central fourth section, creating, as Jones does with the imagery in the work itself, bracketed pairs around that point. So the illustrations for parts 3 and 5 echo each other, as do 2 and 6, 1 and 7.
I had been familiar with In Parenthesis for many years. In fact I had grown up with ‘Jones’ – both my grandparents knew him. By coincidence, during the year leading up to this project I had been living in the very house at Ditchling that Jones had once occupied. I had a five-foot long mural painted by him on my kitchen wall. The commission could not have been more timely.
In Parenthesis is considered one of the greatest ever literary works about war. TS Eliot called it a work of genius and WH Auden said it did for the British and Germans what Homer did for the Greeks and Trojans.
First published in 1937, it is based intimately on the wartime experiences of its author David Jones, a Londoner who volunteered to fight when he was just 19. Unlike many war poets, Jones remained a private throughout the war, and he fought for longer than any other British writer.
For BBC4, Welsh poet and author Owen Sheers traces the story of In Parenthesis, from an English parade ground to the carnage of the Somme offensive. Through readings of key passages, insights from poets such as Simon Armitage, and interviews with David Jones experts, he pieces together the similarities between the poem and David Jones’s own war.
He explores how In Parenthesis came to be written, and just what makes it such a supreme work. His journey culminates, like the poem, at Mametz Wood in northern France, where David Jones went into battle and encountered terrifying violence first hand.
Available to watch on BBC iplayer until August 10th: