David Jones and the Eucharist.

To start with, the standard arduity mantra. David Jones' The Anathemata is the greatest long poem of the 20th century. This is a matter of fact and it remains a mystery to me why it does not receive the attention and acclaim that it deserves.

As well as being verbally brilliant and inventive, it is also quite long and complex and I'm trying here to try and 'chart' my own meanderings through the text. Jones was a convert to Catholicism and his faith informs this work, for us secularists that might seem both archaic and more than a little boring but it isn't. The reality is that The Anathemata is Jones' personal guided tour of the history of the human race. This is therefore subjective but one of the main attractions for me is that it prods me into an ongoing survey of my own cultural 'clutter'.

A necessary digression on the liturgy.

Thankfully, I'm not equipped to get overly theological on this but my current position is that liturgical practice (in one form or another) is central to our history and our pre-history. It seems especially clear that the Roman Catholic Mass is the central strand in our European cultural heritage. This is too often overlooked by the current crop of historians who appear, from a distance, to be much more concerned with matters economic than religious. This is even though the records demonstrate that matters of faith and salvation were the major concern of everyone until the Enlightenment wormed some notion of 'Reason' into our lives.

So, liturgical practice continues to be very important, the hysteria of some of the hardline atheists (protesting too much) is evidence of an ongoing influence that can't simply be dismissed as ignorant stupidity.

The Eucharist as structure.

I want to make some distinction here between what I think of as form and the notion of structure. To my small brain, the former relates primarily to the devices that are used and how the pages looks on the page whereas structure is much more about how the various themes are put together to form the whole. Tom Goldpaugh has done some groundbreaking work on Jones' approach to making a poem and this shows that great care was in fact taken to 'construct' his work. The documentary evidence disproves Jones' claim in his introduction that:

What I have written has no plan, or at least is not planned, if it has a shape it is chiefly that it returns to its beginning. It has themes and a theme even if it wanders far, If it has a unity it is that what goes before conditions what comes after and vice versa

The celebration of the Mass begins and ends the sequence but I want to take this much further than a simple bracketing or framing. The celebration of the Mass was one of the main driving forces of the Reformation and the debate was around the presence or otherwise of Christ in the taking of bread and wine. For Jones this is never in doubt but it would appear to go further than this, the Eucharist is present and active throughout all time (past, present and future) and it is this presence that is reflected throughout the work.

To get back to the circular, the "vice versa" in the above would seem to point in this direction but also in the sense of a 'conditioning' occurring in both directions at once. The use of 'condition' indicates some kind of ongoing preparation and involvement between the themes.

I've written recently about the shape, or structure, of The Anathemata and have corresponded at some length since with Tom Dilworth, John Matthias and Tom Goldpaugh on this issue. With their help, I'm coming round to the view that the structure of the work is a series of concentric circles, first described by Tom D in his The Shape of Meaning in the Poetry of David Jones from 1988. However, I'd like to develop this a bit further with the notion of the Eucharist as presence and how this is manifested and utilised in the work.

The Catholic belief in the "Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist" means what it says, everywhere and at every time that the Mass is conducted Christ is present. This is central to Catholic belief and practice but Jones takes things one step further, in a note on p.65 which expands on this:

But who or what, before these?
                Had they so far to reach the ground?
and what of the pelvic inclination of their co-laterals, whose
far cognates went - on how many feet? - in the old time
before them?


The note is:

See '...opera enim illorum sequuntur illos' in the Epistle for the Third Mass of All Soul's Day. Apocalypse xiv, 13. These opera are of course those that follow supernatural faith whereby the doers gain supernatural benefit. But I suppose it is permitted to use the same words analogously of those opera which we call artefacts, which man alone can cause to be.

The dictionary defines artefact as an artificial product, thus including the beaver's dam and the wren's nest. But here I confine my use of the word to those artefacts in which there is an element of the extra-utile and the gratuitous. If there is any evidence of this kind of artefacture then the artifacturer or artifex should be regarded as participating in directly in the benefits of the Passion, because the extra-utile is the mark of man.

For which reason the description 'utility goods' if taken literally could refer only to the products of sub-man.

I only took notice of this on my second or third reading of the work but then it hit me as an important key to a deeper involvement and understanding. Much of the first 'sequence' Rite and Fore-Time is concerned with the making of art in prehistory and the above extract is part of that concern. Now this emphasis on 'direct' is unusually emphatic for Jones but it did seem more than a little fanciful to my secular way of thinking, even for orthodox / traditional Catholicism. Since asking for clarification on this, I've come to understand that this idea of 'participation' by making is reasonably mainstream and arises from the notion of Christ's authentic presence in our lives and is celebrated in the Mass but I'm still not entirely clear why the act of creating something gratuitous should be different from creating something useful, especially when these are said to be produced by 'sub-man' which to my liberal ears seems wrong in very many ways.

The Upper Room as ship.

The Upper Room or Cenacle is the site of the Last Supper where Christ instructed the disciples on the form of the Mass, it's also referred to as the cenacle. There are many sea voyages in The Anathemata and it may be that the ships 'stand', in part for the upper room, with all of the symbols and essentials that it carries. It may also be that the primary role of these voyages is to depict and express the role of the Eucharist in the world of men. In terms of structure, these voyages may also represent and carry the Eucharist both backwards and forwards through the work as a whole.

In addition, it's worth noting the figuring of the ship's mast as the Cross, which is even more 'loaded' as a symbol of faith and redemption. This vehicle perhaps served initially as the carrier for the evangelising missions of to Britain of the 6th and 7th centuries but may also embody a kind of spiritual motor that keeps things going.

Beginnings and Endings and Throughings.

It's at this point that I fall into incoherence because I still don't understand the finer points of faith and I'm reluctant to spend time with that kind of material so I'm trying to rely my own developing perceptions as a reader of the poem rather than of the theology. When the importance of the Eucharist came to me, especially after thinking about Tom D's circles, I visualised two lights, one situated in the deep past and the other in the far future and it was the effect of these lights that kept the Jones' schema together. They also brought all the moments between them into one, the past and the future alongside the present. I have a glimmering of a recollection from something on Eliot that this was an idea current in French Catholic Theology in the twenties and thirties which Jones also had an interest in. Of course, this may not be the case and I'm probably overreading, as usual. I do however think the 'throughings', as a kind of do-presence is a dimension that should be borne in mind.


I'd like to give these two as some kind of evidence for the above. This is from Middle-Sea and Lear-Sea p.106:

You that shall spread your hands over the thing offered
make memento of us
and where the gloss reads jungit manus1 count us among his
argonauts whose argosy you plead2 under the sign of the
things you offer.

The note to jungit manus is:

In the Canon of Mass at the beginning of the prayer Hanc igitur oblationem. the rubric directs the priest to spread his hands over the offerings; and after the words 'that we be . . . counted within the flock of thy elect' a further rubric, jungit manus, directs him to join his hands together.

The second note is perhaps more relevant:

What is pleaded in the Mass is precisely the argosy or voyage of the Redeemer, consisting of his entire sufferings and his death, his conquest of hades, his resurrection and his return in triumph to heaven. It is this that is offered to the Trinity (Cf. 'Myself as myself' as in the Haramal is said of Odin) on behalf of us argonauts and the whole argosy of mankind, and, in some sense, of all sentient being, and, perhaps, of insentient too. for, as Paul says, "The whole of nature, as we know, groans in a common travail all the while.' (Romans, viii. 21. Knox translation.)

I now realise that this requires a return visit in the near future (argosy, process, sentient and insentient in process etc etc) but I'm going to finish with this particular example of beauty and brilliance from Keel. Ram, Stauros.

                        Recumbent for us
the dark of her bilges
                                       for fouled canopy
the reek of her for an odour of sweetness.
Sluiced with the seep of us
knowing the dregs of us.
Hidden wood
                       tree that tabernacles
the standing trees.
Lignum for the life of us
                                       holy keel.