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The Anathemata pt1: Rite and Fore-Time.

As the title of Part One suggests, this deals both with the liturgy and with prehistory. The poem opens (and closes) with a depiction of the Catholic Mass and it is fair to say that 'The Anathemata' is structurally connected to liturgical practice. Initially I thought that this was simply 'about' Jones' devout Catholicism but I now feel that its inclusion is saying something a bit more complex about time and timelessness. Taking the eucharist as the primary aspect of the liturgy, this is a celebration or ritual that has remained largely unchanged since the very beginnings of the Christian church and is therefore a significant part of the past that continues to exist in the present and it is this relationship between a variety of different kinds of 'past' and the here and now that, in part carries 'The Anathemata forward.

Part one begins with a priest performing the Mass:

    We already and first of all discern him making this thing
other. His groping syntax, if we attend, already shapes:
ADSCRIPTAM, RATAM, RATIONABILEM . . .' and by pre-
application and for them under modes and patterns altogether
theirs, the holy and venerable hands lift up an efficacious
sign.

Throughout these notes I have retained the prose line breaks as they appear in the Faber 2010 edition and have endeavoured to replicate the shape and the spacing of the verse.)

Jones provides two notes for the above:

The Latin is given "See the Roman Mass, the Prayer of Consecration, beginning 'Which oblation do thou . . . ascribe to, ratify, make reasonable....'"

The 'holy and venerable hands' is given "Cf. the same, ' . . . in sanctas ac venerabiles manus saus . . .'".

As well as a descrption of one aspect of this timeless rite as a framing device for the work, emphasis is also placed on "making this thing / other" which reflects Jones' belief that the actions of the priest transforms the bread and the wine and that the artist also 'makes other' in producing his or her work. Throughout 'The Anathemata' Jones insists on 'making' as being the essential characteristic of mankind.

The other central concept here is the importance of the 'efficacious sign'. In his introduction Jones implies that the poem is a collection of things or signs in his personal cultural background that are important to him and that he views as being in some ways effective or useful. This collection relates to figures from our mythical and prehistoric past, the workings of the Roman Empire and especially the activities of the imperial army, the life and teachings of Christ, Roman Catholic beliefs and practices, Welsh legends and history, London and seafaring. Some of these 'things loved' relate to the details of Jones' life, he was born in 1895 on the fringes of London to an English mother and a Welsh father, he served as a soldier in World War One and converted to Catholicism in 1921. As well as making poetry, Jones was also a successful artist who worked alongside Eric Gill in the 1920s.

These themes of timelessness and made objects are underlined with:

    The cult man stands alone in Pellam's land: more pre-
cariously than he knows he guards the signa: the pontifex
among his house-treasures, (the twin urbes his house is) he
can fetch things new and old: the tokens, the matrices, the
institutes, the ancilia, the fertile ashes - the palladic for-
shadowings: the things come down from heaven together
with the kept memorials, the things lifted up and the vener-
ated trinkets.

Jones provides the following notes-

Pellams land: "King Pellam in Malory's Morte D'arthur is lord of the Waste Lands and lord of the Two Lands."

things new and old: " Cf. 'Every scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like a man who is a householder, who bringethforth out of his treasure new things and old.' See the Common of a Virgin Martyr, Mass 2, Gospel.

For most of us, it would have been helpful if Jones had also glossed pontifex, signa, matrices, ancilia and palladic as most of these have multiple definitions, most of which would make some kind of sense. Nevertheless this can be seen as a statement of intent for the work as a whole, to bring together those holy things and those things kept in order to memorialise past events and lives. We also have the recurring notion of things being raised by the priest and venerated in this way.

There isn't space here to give a closer definition/understanding of the terms used, most can be discovered via google and/or wikipedia. There is one point that I probably need to make clear, many readers have reasonably assumed that the 'twin urbes' refers to Jerusalem and to Rome as the two foundational cities of Christianity but Jones (in correspondence with Rene Hague) denied this vigorously and indicated that he had the old and the new Rome in mind when he wrote this. He was also honest enough to write 'I think I wrote urbes because it sounded better on the ear'. Of course, this isn't much help to first time readers who are likely to jump to the obvious conclusion that both cities are intended.

The above passage gives an early indication as to the reasons for 'The Anathemata's' reputation for extreme difficulty as Jones makes frequent use of names and phrases that are packed with layers of meaning but that many of us would consider to be obscure. I would argue that the effort is worthwhile primarily because Jones is saying something important (crucial) about Western culture and the ways in which our beliefs and practices have brought us to this point in time. The work may be complex and, in places, gloriously obscure, but throughout its many deviations and meanderings it is making a number of quite consistent and forceful points about culture and about poetry. We may not agree with these points but we really musn't ignore them. The resources now available via the web have also made finding definitions and context much easier.

From this preamble Part One moves to the preparations for the Last Supper:

      There's conspiracy here:
Here is birthday and anniversary, if there's continuity
here, there's a new beginning.
By intercalation of weeks (since the pigeons were unfledged
and the lambs still young)
they've adjusted the term
till this appointed night
(Sherthursdaye bright)
Jones' note for the last line is-

See Le Morte d'Arthur, xvii, 20, 'Everyman' edition; modernised spelling: 'the holy dish wherein I ate the lamb on Sher-Thursday'.

The textual authority on Malory's works, Professor Vinaver, gives 'on Estir Day' for Caxton's 'on sherthursdaye' and notes the latter as a corrupt variant. A French source is given as le jour de Pasques.

But as the words 'Thursday' and 'the holy dish' are, by gospel, rite, calendar, and cultus, connected, I regard Caxton's variant as most fortunate. Hence the use of 'sherthursdaye' here and in the title of section 8 of this book.

Jones was largely self-taught and sometimes this shows through in his anxiety to provide too much detail/academic context in some places and ignore others that might have been more help (ancilia, palladic for example). Incidentally, the OED has two definitions for 'intercalation - "The insertion of an additional day, days, or month into the ordinary or normal year; the result of this, an intercalated day or space of time" and- " The insertion of any addition between the members of an existing or recognized series; interposition or interjection (of something additional or foreign); the occurrence of a layer or bed of a different kind between the regular strata of a series; also with an and pl., the thing or matter thus interjected: an interpolation" so I'm guessing that the first of these is meant although the second might be just as appropriate.

There is this remarkable description of the Last Supper itself:

    In the prepared high-room 
he implements inside time and late in time under forms in-
delibly marked by locale and incidence, deliberations made
out of time, before all oreogenesis
on this hill
at a time's turn
not on any hill
but on this hill.

This particular piece of brilliance captures a great deal of insight and depth. Jones came to the view that the Eucharist and the Passion are in fact one single event which embodies the essence of Christian faith, the 'inside time and late in time' resonates with the more profound elements of belief and the repetition of 'this hill' captures the ongoing immediacy of the Passion. I'm reading 'oreogenesis' as orogenesis which relates to the movenment of techtonic plates and makes much more sense, especially as 'orogeny' occurs later in 'Rite and Fore-Time', as in Chirst's self-sacrifice was foreseen long before ('out of time') the planet was properly formed.

The other element to note here is the forms that are marked by circumstance in a way that cannot be changed. This again is an echo of Jones' thinking on the interplay between the object and the circumstances of its creation and of the proximity of 'timeless' to 'indelible'.

With regard to 'fore-time', Jones deals with a number of early cultures and one of his concerns about man as maker comes into focus:


    Twenty millennia (and what millenia more?)
Since he became yet
man master-of-plastic.

Who were his gens-men or had he no Hausmane yet
no nomen for his fecit-mark
the Master of the Venus?
whose man-hands god-handled the Willendorf stone
before they unbound the last glaciation
for the Uhland Father to be-ribbon die blaue Donau
with his Vanabride blue.
O long before the lateen'd her Ister
or Romanitas manned her gender'd stream.

O Europa!
how long and long and long and
very long again, before you'll maze the waltz-forms in gay
Vindobona in the ramshackle last phases; or god-shape the
modal rhythms for nocturns in Melk in the young time; or
plot the Rhaetian limits in the Years of the City.
But already he's at it
the form making proto-maker
busy at the fecund image of her.

This kind of passage is what gives 'The Anathemata' its reputation for difficulty, the use of foreign words and phrases, the reliance on less than familiar place names could be thought of as unnecassarily obscure but 'The Anathemata' is about aspects of our cultural history and lanscape and these aren't just English or British.

We are also given assistance from the notes. This is the gloss to the first stanza:

The first examples of visual art so far (1940) dicovered date fromabout 20,000 BC. There is evidence of artefacture, of a sort, twenty thousand years earlier still, e.g. flints and marked stones, but these are hardly 'visual art' in the accepted sense.

This is the note to 'for the Uhalnd . . . Vanabride blue':

In Northern myth, Uhland is the abode of the gods of the atmosphere, the Luftraum. Vanabride is Freyja, a kind of Teutonic Venus. White cats draw her car across the blue sky and her myth seems in part confused with that of Frigg the wife of Odin. She is the most beautiful of the Vanir and half the departed (who die bravely) are hers.

'Melk' is also glossed, as is 'Rhaetian limits:

The reference is to the Benedictine abbey of Melk, in Austria, which I am told was one of the great centres of church music.

Cf. the Limes Raetiae, which marked the limits of the civilised world in the Danube district.

Of course, not all of us are fluent in either Latin or German but most readers will be able to make sense of the phrases that are used without the assistance of google translate. The mazing of "waltz forms" will suggest that Vindobona was the Roman name for Vienna. The Willendorf Venus is an iconic part of European culture and most people with an interest in 'serious' poetry will know of 'Ister' from Holderlin's poem and the central place that this continues to occupy in both German and European literature.

We also have here a number of 'times'- as well as the fore-time of Willendorf, the 'Years of the City' and the 'ramshackle' present but I think that it is important to recognise that this is not a history poem even though all of it refers to the past, it is much more a collection of our culture and the items and images that each of us carry in our heads and inform our inate sense of who we are. Jones makes clear in his introduction that 'The Anathemata' is about his own cultural clutter and is an attempt to work through this sense of himself. One of the greatest rewards that I get from reading this is the prods that it gives me in thinking about my own cultural clutter and into finding out more about Jones' interests, especially the liturgy and Welshness.

There are also passages of lyrical strength and great beauty, Pat One ends with:

                              Through the same Lord
that gave the naiad her habitat
which is his proto-sign
How else from the weathered mantle-rock
and the dark humus spread
(where is exacted the night-labour
where the essential and labouring worm
saps micro workings all the dark day long
for his creature of air) should his barlies grow
who said
I am your Bread?

You do not need to share the religious element of Jones' clutter, nor do you need to know Darwin's observation on earthwroms (this is in the notes) to feel the absolute sincerity of this and recognise the technical and poetic skill that went into (as Jones would say) the making of it.