Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The title page of section 7 quotes from a sixth century Welsh poem: “Gododdin I demand thy support. It is our duty to sing: a meeting place has been found.” This suggests the complex theme running through the “shape” of this poem and the war it records: As horrible as war is, there is something here to celebrate. This is not a classic antiwar poem in the same vein as that of a Rupert Brooke or a Wilfred Owen. In Parenthesis is graphic in its depiction of the horrors of war, of the mindlessness of much of the violence resulting from nationalistic pride, but it also speaks with an aesthetic voice and wonders if some beauty can be found even in the very instruments of human destruction. Jones is skeptical that this will be possible but sees the attempt as part of his responsibility as a poet in the twentieth century, an age that now must live with “increasingly exacting mechanical devices; some fascinating and compelling, others sinister in the extreme.”

Jones’s poem speaks with a profoundly humanistic voice, transcending the grotesque suddenness of individual deaths in battle and finding in history a common thread connecting all soldiers to the nobility of being a man or a woman. In Parenthesis deals with powers that tap into the life force itself, the incomprehensible energies that bring humans into existence and dispatch them just as quickly. The poem might be said to be basically religious, using the war as a metaphor for life itself—to Jones, each is a parenthesis. His poem suggests that war helps people become more aware of that larger parenthetical condition called life, a condition ultimately as sudden and individually...

(The entire section is 683 words.)