David Jones’s poetry is difficult to categorize, apart from saying that it is modernist and long. In some ways, it is not even poetry, as large sections are written in poetic prose and can be read more like a novel. Jones was inspired to use such a mix by medieval sources, in which the division between prose and poetry was more fluid than in the twentieth century. Like Eliot and Ezra Pound, he draws on whatever sources inspire him and quotes them, regardless of whether they are in English. Like Eliot, he relies on notes to explain the more private associations.
What is different is that Jones’s poetry is much more grounded in his personal experiences as soldier and artist and in his identity as a Londoner, Welshman, and Catholic. His speech makes his poetry dramatic, and like other modernists, he writes much of his work as dramatic monologue. The voices are typically those of London Cockneys or Welsh bards. The matter is epic and mythic, his imagination having been grounded as much in Celtic and Germanic mythology as in Roman or Greek. Though never having been taught Latin, Greek, or Welsh, Jones is prepared to write in them. His knowledge of the traditional Latin rites of the Roman Catholic Church pervades all of his writing, and his is profoundly religious and spiritual poetry.
It could be claimed that In Parenthesis is the greatest war poem to have come out of World War I, but it is long, difficult, and appeared well after the other war poets had published their poetry. In addition, it is not quotable, though it is eminently readable, demanding to be read out loud, hence its success as a radio poem.
In Parenthesis is divided into seven parts, covering a period from December, 1915, to the Battle of the Somme in the summer of 1916, which becomes its climax. At all stages, it seems autobiographical. At first, the poet’s persona is Private John Ball, named after a rebel priest who led an uprising against Richard II. At the end of the poem, Ball appears to be dying of wounds. The poet at times stands back from Ball and seems closer to some of the Welsh soldiers. The poet’s stance is thus made more ambiguous.
(The entire section is 907 words.)