David Jones and the voyage as a structure of thought and faith.

The last wanderings around this piece of brilliance drew some attention to a note relating to the nature of voyages in The Anathemata and this has led to a more careful reading of Keel, Ram, Stauros, the sixth part of the sequence which seems to confirm the notion of the voyage as standing both for the journey of Christ from the Last Supper to the Resurrection and the journey of the human race.

I've been prodded by a book on the early modern liturgy wars to think about how serious poetry can be a working through of how the poet thinks and/or believes as a kind of explanation to oneself rather than just an attempt to persuade others to a particular point of view. It occurs to me that there are elements within all the poem's voyages that are examples of that kind of working through.

There's a couple of things that might need to be borne in mind, the first is Christ's real presence in past, future and present time, the second is a sense of movement of the Church and humanity through the world. Now, I'm keen on the idea of the past in the present but I'm recently of the view, following Whitehead, that this isn't confined to matters of faith but to everything.

Other David Jones pages.

A Brief Introduction to David Jones

David Jones and the voyage as a structure of thought and faith.

David Jones' In Parenthesis as Documentary

David Jones, In Parenthesis, the Grimly Voice and the Place of Enchantment.

David Jones and the Eucharist.

Tom Dilworth, David Jones and the form of the Anathemata

David Jones' In Parenthesis pts 1-4

David Jones' In Parenthesis pts 5-7

Introduction to The Anathemata

The Anathemata Part One

The Anathemata Part Two

The Anathemata Part Three

The Anathemata Part Four

The Anathemata Part Five

As Tom Dilworth has pointed out in his masterly The Shape of Meaning in the Poetry of David Jones, these voyages carry many different themes but it is this sense of human progress alongside the presence of Christ and Eucharist that I want to pay some attention to. Tom also quotes from Jones' Preface with regard to journeying: pointing out that the poet's metaphor for the poem is 'a song or story about a journey'. The full quote, which may be significant here relates to Jones' sources 'I refer to them only as a traveller might, in making a song or story about a journey he had taken from his home through far places and back.' This may also be connected to 'Now making a work is not thinking thoughts but accomplishing an actual journey' and:

The speed of light, they say, is very rapid - but it is nothing to the agility of thought and its ability to twist and double on its tracks, penetrate its recesses and generally nose about. You can go around the world and back again, in and out the meanders, down the history-paths, survey religio and supertitio, call back many yesterdays, but yesterday week ago, or long, long ago, note Miss Weston's last year's Lutetian trimmings and the Roman Laticlave on the deacon's Dalmatian tunic, and a lot besides, during those few seconds taken by the presbyter to move from the Epistle to the Gospel side.....

In the last piece on the Eucharist I ended with this note:

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'll get on to context shortly but first of all I want to draw attention to this 'whole argosy' which would seem to imply from whenever homo sapiens 'began' to the end of time which here would be the Day of Judgement. There's also the slightly qualified 'insentient too' which carries another uncanny echo of Whitehead's Process and Reality. As my small brain understands it, there is a view in certain theological strands that we should view plants and other natural objects as much more important than our current anthropocentric bias permits. This isn't quite the same as the quote from Romans which would seem to imply that everything is subject to God's presence and omniscience rather than an 'equalising' of status.

So, Christ and the Eucharist eternally present and the Mass offered on behalf of all beings, sentient and (perhaps) insentient. We now come to wood and its significance in the poem as a whole. Keel, Ram, Stauros has this:

Sometimes the flambeaus
                   with the flora mingled?
mostly a penny flame or two?
often the votive bunch
                              plucked out of school?
Always lifted up?
                  seen of the polloi?
reckoned worthy of latria?
loved of the polis?
                      evident hope of it?
                      Agios Stauros

Now, there are a couple of places where I fall over in this, I've worked out that 'flambeaus' are torches, that 'latria' is "The supreme worship which is due to God alone" whereas 'polloi' has a number of possibilities but I'm going with 'the many' rather than a circular hat. 'Agios Stauros / stans?' is defined as 'Holy Cross standing'

The 'latria' line is glossed by a direction to a note from The Lady of the Pool, which is the previous chapter:

Things as signs occasion the kind and degree of honour due to what they signify. The cross, considered purely as a sign, happens to be the specific and unique sign of God the Son the Redeemer of the World and, as such, occasions divine honour, latria. To offer latria to the cross, crucifix or relic of the cross, qua sacred object, image or relic, would be idolatrous. But to offer anything less than latria to the cross qua sign, would be to offer something less than latria to what is signified (namely the Redeemer) which would be insufficient, or rather, an impossibility. For which reason, using the inexact language 0f everyday speech, we say we pay latria 'to the Wood', because the word 'wood' or 'tree' is the singular sign of our Redemption.

So, the keels are made of wood, as is the Stauros and, during the Roman period, so were battering rams and associated siege paraphernalia. This might just suggest that it is Christ as well as the Eucharist that are making these journeys through the world. Without getting too deeply into the sign/object relationship, it is possible to connect the above with what Jones has to say in his introduction with regard to the sign being a gratuitous product of the artist as sign-maker, especially as wood/tree/cross is used as the example.

One of the possible threads that emerges from this is the idea of the Passion being a structural part of our lives, if the ships are the things that are the means of our journey through life then the keels are structured so as to make this possible. It therefore would suggest that us 'argonauts' are always in the presence of and supported by all elements of the Passion and the Redeemer.

In order to think some of this through, I'm now going to pay specific attention to the references to all things timber in the first five pages of the 'Keel' chapter. The first is a bit tenuous:

Has he been on the spree
                                                 with Nodens 
                                                 in Lydney Woods

The gloss explains that these refers to Lud, the English war-god whose shrine was at Lydney on the Severn.

The next may be a bit more relevant:

He looks a bit of a clencher-build

According to the OED this is a variation on 'clincher-built' which refers to " applied to ships and boats, the external planks of which overlap each other below, and are fastened together with clinched copper nails: now practised only with small craft".

The next is also seems a bit tenuous:

It's wonder the owners stand for it
                                                 consid'rin' the
lading so precious
up to the highest board.

This is glossed as a reference to an English carol. However, a quick look at the interweb reveals that these are the first two verses:

 There comes a galley, laden
Up to the highest board;
She bears a heav'nly burthen,
The Father's eterne Word.

 She saileth on in silence,
Her freight of value vast:
With Charity for mainsail,
And Holy Ghost for mast.

It's reasonably obvious that this is used to 'tie in' with the overall theme. The question comes to mind as to why the gloss only provides the first two lines instead of all of the above, perhaps we're meant to be familiar with the carol or that we should seek out the rest of the lyric.

The next is another reference to ship building but also an instruction:

Caulk it, m' anarchs
                         he's fixed you
with his ichthyoid eye.

To caulk is to prevent a ship leaking by sealing the timbers together, an anarch is the leader of a revolt and the 'he' who does the fixing is the ship's captain. So the instruction to the crew is essentially to stop their dissent and get on with the task in hand. Caulking can also be read as preventing the Cross (and all that it stands for) from becoming damaged.

This is much more direct:

But watch his
beyond the gangways aft
                   the trembling tree.

The google translate gizmo tells me that 'disciplina' can mean discipline, instruction and learning but in this instance I think its likely to be the captain's control over his crew. I'm taking both 'aft' and 'abaft' to indicate the stern of the ship and the trembling tree to be the Cross although I'm not sure why that particular adjective should be used- it usually indicates fear but it could refer to the effects of the wind.

This is the next stanza which seems to be overflowing with 'wood' references:


                     far under him
                     the central arbor
The quivering elm on which our salvation sways.
Baum, baulk
                      ridging the straked, dark
inverted vaults of her.

Once again, according to the google translate gizmo, 'baum' is the German word for 'tree'. The OED tells me that a ridge or dividing line is one of the definitions of 'baulk' and also gives this for 'strake'; " Each of the several continuous lines of planking or plates, of uniform breadth, in the side of a vessel, extending from stem to stern. Hence, the breadth of a plank used as a unit of vertical measurement in a ship's side".

This may go some way to resolving the 'trembling' problem, it may be that the swaying of our salvation causes the trembling / quivering of the mast or vice versa. The other puzzle is this placing of the tree 'far under him'. I know nothing whatsoever about boat building but I don't think the mast is rooted in the bottom of the keel but, then again, I may well be wrong. The swaying of our salvation sounds very good and poetic but seems vaguely ridiculous to my secular ear. I appreciate that Christ's death on the Cross offers us the chance of salvation but, according to most branches of the Christian faith, our salvation as individuals isn't automatic and most religious conflicts have arisen over just how this salvation might be attained. It seems to me that 'depends' or 'relies' would make more sense. I have had a look and a think about the significance of the elm and can't identify anything that seems relevant to either the Cross or a ship's mast.

This last example is the longest wood-related passage in Keel...:

                   Kegged butter, or cradled tormenta?
        for her barrelling ribs
tallest and chose beam
                   to take her beams.
Prone for us
                   buffetted, barnacled 
tholing the sea-shock 
                                      for us.
Tree-nailed the strakes  to you
                    garboard bends and upwards
free-board and capping and thole.
All wood else hangs on you:
clinkered with lands or flushed with seams.    
                                      Raked or bluffed.
Planked or
           boarded and above
or floored, from bilge to bilge.
Carlings or athwart her
horizontaled or an-end
                        tabernacled and stepped
or stanchioned and 'tween decks.
                                 Stayed or free.

Transom or knighthead.
Bolted, out in the channels or
battened-in, under the king-plank.
Hawse-holed or lathed elegant for an after baluster
                     conninged, tenoned, spiked
plugged or roved
                                             or lashed.

This contains many words that I'm unfamiliar with, here's some definitions that appear to be relevant':

'Tholing' is defined as 'bearing' or 'suffering or "To endure or bear without giving way; to withstand; to stand".

'Garboard' is " The first range of planks laid upon a ship's bottom, next the keel; the corresponding range of plates in an iron vessel".

'Free-board' is given as " The part of a ship's side lying between the waterline and the lowest part of the deck; the height of this".

'Thole' as a noun is both " Patience, forbearance, endurance" and ". A vertical pin or peg in the side of a boat against which in rowing the oar presses as the fulcrum of its action; esp. one of a pair between which the oar works; hence, a rowlock".

There are several nautical definitions for 'rake' as a verb but this seems most likely: " Of a ship, its hull, timbers, etc.: to have a rake at bow or stern" and the noun is defined as "The projection of the upper part of a ship's hull at bow and stern beyond the keel (sometimes distinguished as fore-rake and stern-rake). Also: the slope of the stern or sternpost" and "The inclination of a ship's mast or funnel from the perpendicular along the line of the keel, esp. towards the stern", either of these seem to 'fit' in this context.

I'm taking 'bluffed', which isn't defined as a verb in the OED, to come from the adjective which is defined as a nautical term " Of a ship: Opposed to sharp or projecting, having little 'rake' or inclination, nearly vertical in the bows".

'Carling' has three nautical meanings but I'm taking this: " One of the pieces of timber about 5 inches square in section, lying fore and aft under the deck of a ship, with their ends let culvertail-wise into the beams. 'On and athwart these the ledges rest, whereon the planks of the deck and other portions of carpentry are made fast'".

'Athwart' in this sense is defined as "From side to side of a ship".

'An-end' is given as either "to the end" or "at the end".

I always get confused with 'tabernacle' as a noun but this is the OED on the verb: "To occupy a tabernacle, tent, or temporary dwelling, or one that can be shifted about; to dwell for a time, to sojourn: usually fig., in devotional or poetical language, said of the sojourning of Christ on earth or 'in the flesh', and of the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ; also of men as spiritual beings dwelling in the 'fleshly tabernacle' of the body" which seems to encapsulate what much of these voyages might be about.

In shipbuilding a transom is " A cross-beam in the frame of a ship (obs.); spec. each of several transverse beams bolted to the stern-post, which support the ends of the decks and determine the breadth of the stern at the buttocks" but is also defined as " The transverse member in a cross".

"Knight-head" is given as ". One of two large timbers in a vessel that rise obliquely from the keel behind the stem, one on each side, and support the bowsprit, which is fixed between them; called also bollard timbers".

"King-plank" isn't defined but one of the definitions for 'king-post is: " 1. A short heavy mast which serves to support a boom. 2. The centerline pillars in a ship's hold" which is apparently taken from The International Maritime Dictionary (1948).

'Hawse-hole' isn't defined but this definition of a hawse is probably pertinent: " That part of the bows of a ship in which the hawse-holes are cut for the cables to pass through; hence, sometimes, in pl., the hawse-holes themselves".

'Cogginged' would seem to be a variation on 'gogged' from to 'cog': " To connect timbers by means of a 'cog'".

To rove is to fit with a rove which is given as: " A small metal plate or ring through which a nail is passed and clinched to form a rivet, esp. in clinker boatbuilding"

I've provided these to make a point about the alleged 'difficulty' of The Anathemata. The advent of the interweb has made it eminently possible for words that readers may once have stumbled over to become clear. None of the above took more than a few seconds to locate and a little longer in some cases to decide which definition is the most appropriate. The same goes for those proper names that Jones chose not to embellish on. This is especially important to those of us who know that the work deserves and demands a much wider readership, the charge of obscurity in this instance no longer applies.

In conclusion, I think we can now be a bit clearer about these voyages in that they would seem to represent (at the very least):

As ever, all of the above is entirely provisional and tenuous but hopefully it does at least provide some food for readerly thought.

I started this with the suggestion that Jones may be thinking out loud, using The Anathemata to structure his own thinking, I now think that this is less likely because of the consistency of the work and, in particular, the strength with which both his faith and thinking are expressed.