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In Parenthesis: pts 5-7

Part Five: Squat Garlands for White Knights

I find this part of the poem to be more complex than the others because of the range of methods and techniques that Jones Uses but also because of the number of characters and themes. Essentially Part five deals with spring and early summer 1916 leading up to the Somme offensive which began on July 1st. As Thomas Dilworth points out,these events may have been 'telescoped' but are nevertheless an accurate account of events that Jones took part induring this period.

As with all the chapters, there is a title and a quotation from Y Gododdin, a long medieval Welsh poem described as an elegy for the men of Godddin who were defeated at Catraeth in about 600. For those who wish to pursue this, the excellent project Gutenberg provides a Welsh and English version together with a lengthy introduction. The quotaion here is "he has brought us to a bright fire and / to a white, fresh floor-hide". These lines are at the end of the 86th stanza which reads:

    When the host of Pryder arrives,
I anxiously count the bands,
Eleven complete battalions;
There is now a precipitate flight
Along the road of lamentation.
Affectionately have I deplored,
Dearly have I loved,
The illustrious dweller of the wood,
And the men of Argoed,
Accustomed, in the open plain,
To marshal their troops.
For the benefit of the chiefs, the lord of the war
Laid upon rough boards,
Midst a deluge of grief,
The viands for the banquet,
Where they caroused together; he conducted us to a bright fire,
And to a carpet of white and fresh hide.

Jones explains his choice of poem as:

The whole poem has special interest for all of us because it is a monument of that time of obscurity when North Britain was still in largely Celtic possession and the memory of Rome yet potent; when the fate of the Island was as yet undecided........So that the choice of this poem as 'texts' is not altogether without point in that it connects us with a very ancient unity, with the Island as a corporate inheritance, with the remembrance of Rome as a European unity. The drunken 300 at Catraeth fell as representatives of the Island of Britain.

This 'connection' is present throughout Jones' work. In his detailed commentary on 'The Anathemata' Rene Hague makes the point that Jones "is constantly stressing the imposisiton of the permanent on the impermanent, of the timeless on time" which seems to encapsualte much of what 'In Parenthesis' might be 'about'.

Part five begins with rumour, as the troops speculate amongst themselves as to their future deployment:

      we're drawing pith helmets for the Macedonian war - they
camel-corps won'thave platoon drill anyway - deus greandine
ma'm'selle an one beer - this is mine, Alphonso, here's the
lucky Alphonse, the genuine lionheart, back in time for the
'bus to Jaffa and the Blackamoor delectations.

Further down the first page there is:

    There's time for another one - wont you. We shall be in
it alright - it's in conjuction with the Frogs. The Farrier's
bloke reckons we move south after this turn on the rounda-
bouts - he got it from Mobile Veterinary, and there's
talk of us going up tonight - no - this 'ere night of all - not
tomorrow night my ducky - they've tampered with the
the natural law - same bit of line, but Supports - how they pile
it on - exigenced out of our full bonza, same as last time.

(Although both the above appear as prose paragraphs, I've retained the line breaks as they occur in the 2010 Faber edition.)

Jones explains that, at this time, rumours were rife of troops being deployed to other areas of conflict, especially the near East and many soldiers claimed to have seen equipment for these warmer climes.

With regard to the second passage, the troops were in fact to march south in time for the assault on Mametz Wood, both sections capture how men would have spoken in those circumstances although I'm not sure how often anyone used 'exigence' as a verb in 1916.

Both of these take place in a bar ('deux greadine', 'time for another one') and this gives Jones the opportunity to introduce French civilians into his account. The evening in the bar is interrupted by an NCO telling the men that they are to move forward again. Leaving the barmaid to clear away the glasses:

    In three quaters of an hour they passed, making the shutters
rattle. She could see their efficient-looking iron hats, between
where the taped curtains nearly met at the middle pane; in
fourfold recession, subtly elliptical, each one tilted variously
yet in a strict alignment, like pegs on a rigid string. Words of
command lost shape against the sealed windows; the beam
of light from her oil lamp shone on them through the glass,
shined on cleaned numerals, and the piling swivels of rifles
slung.

She counted to herself, her rounded elbows lifted, as Bou-
cher liked them, held within the action - she put down the
glass, half-wiped: forty-four sections of four across the ray,
not counting odd bobbing ones and twos who hurry after -
that was more than last time; she had wondered for these
newer ones, in their ill-filled-out tunics, who crowded with
the others and drank citron, who would dangle their bonnets.

Setting aside the content for a moment, this is the kind of brilliant prose that most of us would kill for, there's the artist's almost forensic eye for detail, the perfect tone and pace alngside brilliant phrasing ( 'fourfold recession, subtly eliptical', 'words of command lost shape', 'held within the action' etc.), all of these add up to an astonishing display of documentary force. It is the care and precision of passages like this that drag the reader into the narrative as a participant rather than observer.

It isn't often in the literature of war that the bystanders get some attention (other than as refugees) but Jones seems determined to include this perspective. He goes on with this exchange:

        She bolted the door for the night
and when it was morning
Jacques said that the Englishman's guns had kept him awake.
She said that it was a pleasant morning, and the first in June.
He said it was time the English advanced, that there wera a
stupid race, anyhow.
She said they were not.
He would like to remind her of the Pastoral,
for which she laughed a long time.
with: Vah, vah,
and her head wagging
with: La - la la, and her finger pointed, with:
Tawny-tooth go watch the priest, and:
Bent-wit.
She said that the war was lucrative and chid him feed the
fowl, and smoothed her pinafore: sometimes the Siege Artil-
lery came in during the morning, if there wasn't a shoot on.

Jones glosses 'Tawny-tooth...bent wit' as "Cf. Skelton. I cannot find the passage I had in mind." I have to report that, with the help of the Adobe 'find' button and the two volumes of the collected works, neither can I. Either way it's difficult to see how it 'fits' with the rest of the dialogue.

The pasage underlines the fact that, for some, wars are always lucrative and it is not so much about taking sides but being ready to take the opportunity for profit. There's also a sharp contrast between her concern for the 'newer ones' and his grumpy complaint about the stupidity of the English.

It is a Jones characteristic to opt for the older version of a word when a newer one is available although 'chid' and 'chided' in this sense may have been more interchangeable in 1937 than now.

Warfare is utterly different from the concerns and cares of 'ordinary' life. For the soldier the primary concern is one of survival when confronted with the very real and present threat of death or serious injury. These immediate concerns, with all their attendant fears and anxities, occur in a chaotic and extremely volatile environment whereby periods of stillness are randomly disrupted by hours and days of absolute terror where rational thought and action is difficult to obtain. One of the very many lies that soldiers continue to be told is that they are fighting to protect their nation's way of life and men report feeling gratified to know than events at home are proceeding with a degree of normality. This war/home juxtaposition is expertly portrayed on the march south:

      Where tiny hills begin at last to bring you from the Flaun-
drish flats, they rested, two days. In a meadow place, like our
Queen Camel, they swimmed in streams, and washed their
cootied shirts; and white Artois geese would squawk, and
sway a wide-beamed femininity between the drying garments
spreaded-out. Officers in slacks walked the village street in
the cool of the evening. Private Ball had a satisfactory parcel
from his aunt in Norwood; people spoke lightly to each other
as they do on fine mornings in England, when the prospect
pleases them - and they will insist it's such a lovely day - and
Evelyn's operation is next Wednesday at eleven; Alex reck-
ons it's not so serious, but old Mrs. Pennyfather wags her
ex-professional finger - she's seen too much of that sort of
thing. And so has Old Sweat Mulligan. He admits we've come
on as to guns, anyhow quantatively, but where's the mus-
ketry of '14 - and what will these civvy cissies make of open
country and how should Fred Karno's army know how - to
take proper advantage of cover.
He wails like a minor prophet
he gets properly worked up
he would like to know, Lord God he would
where's the discipline
requisite to an offensive action.

The OED gives this as the fourth definition of 'musketry'- " The art or practice of using a musket, rifle, or similar firearm" and goes on to say: ".Use of musketry in this sense was retained in British infantry regiments up to the First World War (1914-18), by which time the word musket itself was no longer in general use" so, what may seem to us to be a term that died out with the musket was in reality still being used by old sweats and others in this period. There's a point being made here about the benefits of experience, both Mrs Pennyfather and Mulligan know from experience that things can go badly wrong regardless of what the current school of thought may be. Mulligan makes a number of telling points, the first is the obvious fact that it is utterly pointless to have lots of new-fangled weaponry if the soldiers don't have the 'musketry' to be able to use them properly and his concern about 'these civvy cissies' refer to the introduction of conscription in 1916 and the fact that these newcomers hadn't actually volunteered to fight, unlike Jones and his contemporaries. This may be an over-simplification but there is a view that the presence of a steady supply of conscripts encouraged those in charge of the war to sacrifice more and more young men to little or no effect, a process which was also assisted by the increased mechanisation that Jones deplored.

Queen Camel, Wikipedia tells me is a village in Somerset.

Of course, any kind of medical procedure was much more hazardous in 1916 than it is today but the experience of an operation under anaesthetic is radically different from the type of suicidal trench warfare that Jones and his comrades were engaged in and we can sympathise with Mulligan who has every right to get 'properly' agitated about what he sees as an extremely dangerous drop in the ability and expertise of the new recruits.

I think I have to ask whether an Old Sweat like Mulligan would have used 'quantatively' or 'requisite' in this or any other setting.

Before the march south, Jones' company had seen some action and one incursion is recorded:


    They came out to rest after the usual spell. The raid had been
quite successful; an identfification had been secured of the
regiment opposite, and one wounded prisoner, who died on
his way down; '75 Thomas, and another were missing; Mr
Rhys and the new sergeant were left on the wire; you could
see them plainly, hung like rag-merchants' stock, when the
light was favourable; but on the second night after, Mr Jen-
kins's patrol watched his bearers lift them byond their para-
pets.........

This 'flat' description of two comrades left to die on the coiled wires of no-man's-land brings home the horror of war. Some have characterised this passage as ironic but I think Jones is also insisting that this plain and undramatic tone is the only way that it is possible to bear witness to these events, that scenes of this nature must be described in as 'neutral' or passive a way as possible so that the reader can get a glimpse of the horror of trench warfare. This restraint is also evident in the 'rag-merchant's stock' metaphor' in preference to the more dramatic 'rags'. I still can't read this paragraph without being shaken by it, even though I know what's coming.

It may be said that Part Five does the most to contextualise the poem, as well as the voice given to French citizens, there are army chaplains and a telling encounter with a French priest. It also portrays the growing sense of apprehension turning to fear and, again, of the physical discomfort of life for the rank and file. It is brilliantly written and the level of detail brings the reader alongside the men and their suffering.

Part Six. Pavilions and Captains of Hundreds.

The two quotations are again from from the Gododdin:

    Men went to Catraeth as day dawned: they fears
disturbed their peace.
Men went to Catraeth: free of speech was their
host....death's sure meeting place the goal of
their marching.

This penultimate part deals with the period immediately before the sodiers' murderous assault on Mametz Wood. Jones captures the heightened anxieties of those days and the confusion as each order seemed to be hurriedly countermanded by another.

The first four pages are taken up by Private Saunders who is assigned to be a runner bringing orders to the companies. Prior to this Saunders has spent the night under a ground sheet bivouac with two of his comrades as they witness the initial artillery bombardment:

      The nine-inch kept its interval of fire then a companion bat-
tery opened out with its full complement - and yet lesser
pieces forward, over the ridge, spread up fans of light
and from the deeper part of the valley, where by day there
seemed nothing other than a stretched tarpaulin and branches
artfully spread, eight bright tongues licked, swift as adder-
fangs darted. The candle-end by the coffee-tin, flickered and
went out - they let it be, and watched the relaying flashes play
again.

In this passage we have a very compressed but precise description of a quite complex experience. It is the level of detail in these few lines (the lesser pieces of artillery situated in front of the nine inch guns, the fact that these remain hidden / camouflaged by day, the candle end being 'by the coffee-tin) that gives this its documentary authenticity and again draws the reader in to the lives and experiences of the rank and file.

Another passage is an observation of the complexity and depth of feeling amongst the troops. Private Saunders is called away to be a runner and takes his grounsheet with him which disrupts the construction that he and his two comrades have made which makes them both quite disgruntled. Jones then makes this point:

      For such breakings away and dissolving of comradeship and 
token of division are cause of great anguish when men sense
how they stand so perilous and transitory in this world.

This observation occurs at the point in the narrative where Saunders leaves the bivouac to take up his duties and Jones is using the disproportionate grumbling of his two mates to gently point out that friendship and contact between the men wasn't just good for morale but such continuity served to act as a buttress against the grim reality that many of them were about to die in this transitory and perilous place.

As part of his duteis, Saunders was ushered into the Commanding Officer's tent where plans for the offensive were taking shape. Instead of taking the easy route of depicting the murderous stupidity of the officer class, Jones describes Saunders' very human and real response:

      As one long aquainted with misadventure whose life is or-
dered to discomfort, conscious of his soiled coat's original
meanness of cut and the marks of his servitude, who stands
shyly in a lighted Board-room, who notes their admirable tai-
loring and their laundered shirts, who looking down observes
his cobbled feet defined against their piled floors. who is re-
lieved and breathes more freely as the noisless door glides
to. He is on the kerb again in the world he knows about.

This is a brilliantly lucid description of social awkwardness, of the huge gulf between the officer class and the rank and file. Of course, awareness of class divisions was much more pronounced than it is now but many of us will have felt ourselves to be out of or depth at some time or other. This isn't an entirely neutral description because we have 'the marks of his servitude' which isn't how an altogether objective chronicler would have described this distance in status.

The next part of the story returns to John Ball (David Jones) who accompanies two friends to a grassy slope above the company lines. The enthralling passage captures the essence of their hopes and concers:

      The talked of ordinary things. Of each one's friends at
home; those friends unknown to either of the other two. Of
the possible duration of the war. Of how they would meet
and in what good places afterwards. Of the dissimilar merits
of Welshmen and Cockneys. Of the diverse virtues of Regu-
lar and Temporary Officers. Of if you've ever read the books
of Mr Wells. Of the poetry of Rupert Brooke. Of how you
really couldn't very well carry more than one book at a time
in your pack. Of the losses of the Batallion since they'd come
to France. Of the hateful discomfort of having no greatcoats
with fighting-order, of how bad this was. Of how everybody
ought rightly to have Burberry's like officers. Of how Ger-
man knee boots were more proper to trench war than put-
tees. Of how privileged Olivier was because he could manage
to secrete a few personal belongings along with the signaller's
impedimenta. Of how he was known to be a favourite with
the Regimental and how he'd the draught if he were back
with his platoon. Of whether they three would be together for
the Duration, and how you hoped so very much indeed. Of
captains and thousands and of hundreds, of corporals, of many
things. Of the Lloyd George administration, of the Greek,
Venizelos, who Olivier said was important, of whom John
Ball had never previously heard. Of the neutrality of Spain.
Of whether the French nation was nice or nasty. Of whether
anyone would ever get leave and what it would be like if
you did. Of how stripes, stars, chevrons, specialisations, jobs
away from the batallion, and all distinguishing marks were
better resisted for as long as possible. Of how it were best to
take no particular notice, to let the stuff go over you, how it
were wise to lie doggo and to wait the end.

I make no aplogies at all for quoting this at length because it demonstrates Jones' technical skill in creating a list which is both utterly believable and heartbreakingly compelling without (ever) lapsing into either polemic or dramatics. This passage is especially poignant because of the carnage and wholesale slaughter that characterised the Somme Offensive and that these men will have known that their chances of being 'together for the Duration' were very slim indeed. Again, the main complaints about the officer class were not about stupidity or incompetence but about the fact that they had better coats. There's also this gentle teasing of Olivier, the mixture of Londoners and Welshmen in the regiment, the sad fact that only one book could be carried at a time and the reference to a Greek politician who had been prime minister during the previous year and was probably thought to be 'important' because he sided with the allies against the wishes of the Greek monarchy.

The tactic of lying 'doggo' will have seemed the most sensible way to survive, to avoid any promotion or duties which could mark you out as a sniper's target does seem to reduce the odds but the tragedy is that this isn't an option when you are ordered to walk through machine gun fire and when the 'end' may not be the end of the war but the end of your life.

It is difficult for us now to try and comprehend the position that these men were in but the above provides us with the clearest indication of how soldiers thought and felt in amongst that carnage and how they also managed to retain a wider perspective above and beyound their immediate circumstance. I also like the 'of' device which conveys both the pace of a conversation and gives a sense of the scope and dimensions of their concerns.

Part Seven. The Five Unmistakable Marks.

This recounts the assault on Mametz Wood which Jones took part in on July 10th 1916. Tom Dilworth tells us that "To reach the wood the assault-force had to cross over 500 yards of no-man's land which dropped steeply fifty feet into a valley and then rose for 400 yards to the edge of the wood" and that the men were ordered to walk at a slow pace rather than in short rushes between whatever cover could be found. This is because General Rawlinson did not believe that the new recruits would keep ranks if the safer and more sensible method was used. In his Preface Jones writes of an enchanted landscape that spoke with a grimly voice and these two elements come together with force in this final part of the book.

Jones describes in detail the terror felt by the men prior to beginning their walk:

    Seven minutes to go . . . and seventy times seven times to
the minute
this drumming of the diaphragm.
From deeply inward thumping all through you beating
no peace to be still in
and no one is there not anyone to stop
can't anyone - someone turn off the tap
or won't anyone before it snaps.

Racked out to another turn of the screw
the acceleration heightens;
the sensibility of these instruments to register,
fails;
The responsive mercury plays laggard to such fevers - you
simply can't take any more in.
And the surfeit of fear steadies to dumb incognition, so that
when they give the order to move upward to align with 'A',
hugged already just under the lip of the acclivity inches below
where his traversing machine-guns perforate to powder
white-
white creature of chalk pounded
and the world crumbled away
and get ready to advance
you have not the capacity for added fear only the limbs are leaden
to negotiate the slope and rifles all out of balance, clumsied
with long auxiliary steel
seem five time the regulation weight-
it bitches the aim as well;
and we ourselves as those small
cherubs who trail awkwardly the weapons of the God in
Fine Art works.

This is a situation that normally calls for hyperbole, that searches out the extremes of language to do justice to the absolute terror being described but Jones denies this approach and instead describes the thought processes and records the fact that Private Ball is full to the brim with fear and that his heightened state simply can't take on board any more sensations. The brilliance of the phrasing draws the reader into the experience- 'no peace to be still in' captures perfectly that desperate quest for a point of calm or respite in moments of extreme stress and/or danger whilst 'the responsive mercury plays laggard' indicates that the screw is being turned at a pace faster than it can be measured. These machine guns will soon be mowing down the majority of those waiting to advance but Jones also has time to recount the damaging effect on accuracy of the bayonet now fixed to the end of his rifle. I must stress that this is not a tale of a well ordered machine marching boldly ever forward to its destruction but rather a story of clumsiness and physical discomfort and of troops who drag their awkwardness across the fields of France and Jones never allows us to forget this very human and fallible aspect of the soldierly life. The image of the tap evokes a flow of events that everyone wants to stop, before the flow snaps or breaks, but nobody can because these events have taken on a logic and impetus of their own. Despite his silent plea, we know that Private Ball is only to aware of this sad fact. There are very few points where Jones the artist makes an appearance but he's certainly present in the wry humour of the closing lines, the capitalisation of 'fine' and 'art' is particularly deft.

Two men standing close to Private Ball in the advance trench are killed before they set off and one other receives a lesser wound which means that he won't be joining them on their long walk. This 500 yards of agony is caught in this:

    But sweet sister death has gone debauched today and stalks 
on this high ground with strumpet confidence, makes no coy
veiling of her appetite but leers from you to me with all her
parts discovered.
By one and one the line gaps, where her fancy will - how-
soever they may howl for their virginity
she holds them - who impinge less on space
sink limply to a heap
nourish a lesser category of being
like those other who fructify the land

What follow is a poeticised list of heroes and warriors from the mythical and historical past who have also died in battle. As anyone must be able to appreciate, walking for five hundred yards whilst being raked by machine gun fire is at the furthest reaches of human experience, with comrades falling passively on all sides yet Jones conveys the lyricism of this enchanted place by personifying death and then understating the slaughter with "By one and one the line gaps" and still managing the random nature of death under fire- this again is perhaps Jones brilliance at being able to accurately express what for many of us would be beyond language. The men do not die with any dramatic flourish but 'sink limply to a heap' which is what you might expect given Jones' insistence on the inherent discomforts and awkwardness of warfare.

One death is related in greater detail, Mr Jenkins is in command of Private Ball's platoon:

    Mr Jenkins half-inclined his head to them - he walked just
barely in advance of his platoon and immediately to the left of
Private Ball.
He makes the conventional sign
and there is the deeply inward effort of spent men who would
make response for him,
and take it at the double.
He sinks on one knee
and now on the other
his upper body tilts in rigid inclination
this way and back;
weighted lanyard runs out to a full tether,
swings like a pendulum
and the clock run down.
Lurched over, jerked iron saucer over titled brow,
clamped unkindly over lip and chin
nor no ventaille to this darkening
and masked face lifts to grope the air
and so disconsolate;
enfeebled fingering at a paltry strap -
buckle holds, holds him blind against the morning Then stretch still where weeds pattern the chalk predella
- where it rises to his wire - and Sergeant T. Quilter takes
over.

Jones provides one note for this: chalk predella . . . his wire. The approach to the German trenches here rose slightly, in low chalk ridges.

It may have been more useful if he'd explained that a predella is (according to the OED) "a step or platform upon which an altar is placed". It might also have been useful if Jones had defined 'ventaille' as it is used by Malory- an air hole for the "lower movable part of the bottom of a helmet". It may be that Jones assumed that his readers would be as au fait with liturgical terms and 'Morte D'Arthur' as he was but most of us aren't and I doubt that the majority of readers weren't in 1937 either.

By this part of the narrative the reader feels that he knows Mr Jenkins who manages to combine the naivety and sense of honour that still infects those Englishmen of a certain class. We've shared in his sorrow at the death of one of his friends and admired his stoic sense of duty and his loyalty towards his men. As Dilworth points out, all the characters in 'In Parenthesis' are real people just as the experiences of Private Ball mirror the real experiences of David Jones and this fact makes the above description of one man's death even more poignant. There's also that sense of physical awkwardness as Jenkins attempts to remove his gas mask but is held 'blind against the morning'. The phrasing again is stunning - "deeply inward effort of spent men", "like a pendulum / and the clock run down" and too many others to list. It is also the pacing of this passage that captures this single death against a backdrop of so many thousands that makes Part Seven almost definitive in its account of battle.

The wood is taken and Private Ball occupies a makeshift trench with what's left of his comrades, it is now nightfall and a flare is sent up. By its light he sees "many men's acouteremnts medleyed and strewn" and;

    And the severed head of '72 Morgan
its visage grins like the Cheshire cat
and full grimly.

Private Ball is wounded in the leg and is eventually brought out of the front line which is exactly what happened to David Jones. The poem ends with an illustration of what Jones meant as this being an enchanted place. The Queen of the Woods moves amongst the dead:

    The Queen of the Woods has cut bright boughs of various
flowering.
These knew her influential eyes. Her awarding hands can
pluck for each their fragile prize.
She speaks to them according to precedence. She knows
what's due to this elect society. She can choose twelve
gentle-men. Sho knows who is most lord between the high
trees and on the open down.
Some she gives white berries
some she gives brown
Emil has a curious crown it's
made of gold saxifrage.
Fatty wears sweet-briar,
he will reign with her for a thousand years.
For Balder she reaches to fetch his.
Ulrich smiles for his myrtle wand.
That swine Lillywhite has daisies to his chain - you'd hard-
ly credit it.
She plaits torques of equal splendour for Mr Jenkins and
Billy Crower.
Hansel with Gronwy share dog-violets for a palm, where
they lie in serious embrace beneath the twisted tripod.

Jones dedicates 'In Parenthesis' to those that served with him and to the German troops who fought against him, it is a poem of great warmth and compassion, it tells with forensic accuracy and the artist's eye a story of appalling suffering and quiet heroism. It is technically brilliant and serves as a lasting reminder to us all of the 'grimly' realities of war.