In Parenthesis, by David Jones

And how is man to know the habits of their God, whether He smites suddenly or withholds, if you mishandle the things set apart, the objects of His people He is jealous of. –David Jones

In Parenthesis is David Jones’ telling of the birth of the modern sensibility. Not modern as in contemporary, but that which is best represented in T.S. Eliot, characterized Pound, and to which Yeats adjusted.

The work is classified as a poem, but is mostly prose, though it rises often into the cadences of poetry; the lines break off like waves and it lies waiting, like the sea. If it is a sea, it is full of ancient fish: allusions, especially to Mallory–that work of failure and what might have been. What Jones does is to narrate along freely, then suddenly start juxtaposing, build into a rhythm of incantation and at that point deliver his poetic insight, which, Jones’ being Catholic, is sacramental. Sacramental: when ordinary objects are suddenly caught up and set apart by becoming luminous in an otherworldly light that shines through with Christian meaning. (That’s my own definition and, I suspect, defective, but perhaps still adequate.) He has such a remarkably sensitive ear for the cadences of language, for juxtaposing ancient expression with modern and for establishing a continuity of sense in a bewildering variety of expression.

You should read this book if your ear is not of tin and you at all care about the wider world. It leads you with the soldiers into the experience of the trenches, and seeks even in what many made into meaningless desolation, meaning. It really is an astonishing work of art, and you do not need me to endorse it; just check with Eliot, Yeats and Auden.

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