The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The 187-page poem In Parenthesis is in seven sections, and it tells the story of a group of British soldiers of all ranks as they proceed from England to the trench warfare at the battle of the Somme. The action, therefore, is set during World War I but extends only from December, 1915, to July, 1916.

The preface and the thirty-five pages of footnotes, both written by David Jones, should be considered a part of the poem. In the preface, David Jones explains that the title refers, first, to the war itself as a “space between,” a turning aside from the regularity of one’s ordinary business. Second, he implies that life itself, “our curious type of existence here,” is a space between nonexistence and the future.

T. S. Eliot’s “A Note of Introduction” was added in 1961 and suggests that readers will have to “get used to” this unusual poem. Eliot puts his literary mantle over Jones by including him in a quartet of modern writers (Eliot himself, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound being the other three) whose lives were altered by the war, but he singles Jones out as the only one of the four who had actually been a soldier.

The first section introduces the reader to the principal characters: Major Lillywhite, Captain Gwynn, Lieutenant Piers Jenkins, Sergeant Snell, Corporal Quilter, Lance-Corporal Aneirin Lewis, and Private John Ball. They, and others, are members of the Royal Welsh Regiment, 55th Battalion, “B” Company, No. 7 Platoon. They are somewhat clumsy and apprehensive of the new role that has been thrust upon them, as they move across the Channel and disembark from...

(The entire section is 667 words.)