HOME / THE POETS / ESSAYS / THE NUTS AND THE BOLTS / RESOURCES.


David Jones' The Anathemata pt IV: Redriff.

We are now in the process of moving from sea to land and we have moved forward in time by at least one thousand years. The narrative is brief, a ship has docked in the Thames and needs some repair work before it can set sail again but the shipwright will not be rushed because he takes a pride in his craft.

By now it's possible to detect a further deepening of Jones' interests. In his introduction he says that it is the task of the poet to gather up and recall our cultural 'mythus, deposits, matiere, ethos, whole res of which the poet is himself a product'. It can be argued that Jones has identified both our seafaring past and the role of the artist/craftsman as significant deposits which must be recalled so that we can in some way measure our own times and mythus against/with those of the past.

It's difficult now to realise how much of our past has been so completely intertwined with the past, that the British Empire was made possible by our navy's mastery of the sea, that our merchant fleet was essential in promoting nd accelerating wht is known as the English Revolution, that the arms race that was cause of World War I was centred on the size of ships and the firepower of the fleet.

Another element that runs through our sense of ourselves is the English greenwood and the timber of the mighty oak which has a much longer lineage than our naval prowess. Woods and forests were seen as both a place of danger and of refuge, as a site of primeval mystery and innocence at the same time.

Jones was born in 1895 when this naval seam was still at the core of our national identity and through his personal ancestry, his maternal grandfather was a mast and blockmaker who lived and worked in Rotherhithe, which was also called Redriff.

Redriff starts with sailing up the Thames:


    Or
        did he make the estuary?
    Was the Cant smiling
        and the Knock smooth?
    Did our Tidal Father bear him 
                       by Lower Hope to Half Reach?
    Did he berth in the Greenland or was she moored
    in the Pool?
    Did he tie up across the water
                       or did she toss at the Surrey shore?
    Had he business at Dockhead?
    Did he sign Tom Bowline on:
                       ord-in-ary-seaman
    in place of the drownded Syro-Phoenician?
    Did he bespeak
                       of Eb Bradshaw, Princes Stair?
   

Again, as with Angle Land, we have a series of questions used to trace the ship's journey, on this occasion up the Thames to Rotherhithe- the names relate to points on the way. Tom Bowline was a generic name for an English sailor but was also a popular song by Charles Dibdin, written in memory of his rother who had died at sea. I'm taking the Syro-Phoenician to be primarily Phlebas as used by Eliot in part IV the Waste Land but also as an echo of the mythical figure who died by drowning. Ebeneezer Bradshaw was Jones' maternal grandfather, mentioned above. I'm also guessing that Mr Bradshaw worked from Princes Stair on the Rotherhithe waterfront.

Jones doesn't provide any of this information in the notes but it doesn't take much internet searching to work the references out although you would probably need to have some knowledge of the Waste Land to make the Phlebas 'connection'.

The Anathemata is full of names but here we have marked out the mercantile highway that was at the centre of British power and wealth for over two centuries. We still have a cultural fascination with the Thames but this was much stronger during Jones' lifetime.

It is at this point in the story that we are told that this vessel is in need of repair and Mr Bradshaw is asked "please to hustle the job - and not so over nice with the finish". The craftsman's reply takes us to the end of the section and is in the form of n extended refusal listing all the things that he wouldn't take and all the commands he wouldn't obey in order to rush things. This is a beautifully crafted monologue that takes us into the mind and world of a proud but very human maker of things. I'll provide two brief examples to make my point:


    Not for a pickin' of all the bonded stuffs passed over the
    quays in a full working week between the Bridge and Battle-
    bridge Stairs
                    and there's a tidy jorum
    to pile a mint in sterling - to rig out Ann my wife like Suky
    Tawdry.

and:


Not for this port's authorities
                      and I'm a citizen.
Not if the Trinity Brethren
                      and Clemens himself
stood caps in hand for a month of Sundays
                      and them I must needs respect.

Jones provides two notes for the above, explaining that the port's bonded warehouses stood between London Bridge and Battlebridge Stairs on the south bank of the river. He also explains that St Clement of Alexandria is the patron saint of Trinity House which was then the headqarters of the navy.

Neither 'jorum' nor Suky Tawdry are glossed: the primary definition of jorum in the OED is given as "a large drinking-bowl or vessel; also, the contents of this; esp. a bowl of punch" and the seconday definition is "a large quantity". Suky Tawdry is the name of a prostitute in 'the Beggar's Opera' which ws written by John Gay and first performed in January 1728.

Redriff ends with this defiant defence of the craftsman's integrity:


             As sure as I was articled, had I the job of mortisin'
    the beams to which was lashed and roved the Fault in all of 
    us, I'd take m'time and set that aspen transom square to
    the Rootless Tree
             or dash m' buttons!
    
                                    ...he's got 
    till the Day o' Doom
    to sail the bitter seas o' the world!

This must be one of the finest ever depictions of a carftsman who is sorely wounded by the suggestion that he should betray his skill for money. Redriff has a humanity and compassion that shine through every single line.