Edward T. Wheeler August 9, 2012 - 7:35pm
Sometimes we are simply lucky. I was, fifty years ago, when I heard William T. Noon S.J. speak on David Jones (1895 1974), the Anglo-Welsh poet and artist. Some years later I was fortunate to have Jones as a correspondent. I was also lucky to become an early member of the David Jones Society, begun by Anne Price-Owen, a professor and Jones specialist at Swansea Metropolitan University. And I was lucky to be staying in Baltimore last March when an email from Anne Price-Owen gave notice of a Jones convention in nearby Washington Adventist University. For years I had been receiving prospectuses for academic gatherings and events centered on Jones but of course they had all been held in the UK. I had now a chance to travel by MARC and Metro to what would prove to be more than a series of lectures. The conference came as something of an answer to the plea of G.M. Hopkins: Send my roots rain.I have been reading David Jones, with what I hope is increasing comprehension, ever since Father Noons talk. Jones had a place in my academic research, and he sent to me an extraordinarily patient set of answers to questions I had posed about his work. I tried to collect (and read) as many of his printed works as I could find, and I made my one foray into the world of art prints to purchase a Jones engraving. I parsed my way through the difficult In Parentheses and The Anathemata with the critical studies written by those who were to be presenters. For me the two day event was to be more than trip by train and subway.If any readers are interested in Jones, the conference program is still posted on-line (http://www.wauhonorsprogram.org/djconference.html) ; the presenters included specialists from both sides of the Atlantic, British, Canadian and American. The host of the conference, Bradford Hass, Director of the Honors Program at Washington Adventist University, also co-edits FlashPoint Magazine which featured Jones in a recent (on-line) issue (http://www.flashpointmag.com/index13.htm); some of the papers were authored by presenters at the conference. Readers can get a sense of the range of the topics and the perspective of the scholars.There are not a great many Jones admirers in this country, but they are enthusiastic and focused. Besides Dr. Hasss honor students, the participants in the conference barely exceeded the presenters. That is to the loss of all those who did not attend. I was finally able to meet Anne Price-Owen, the director of the David Jones Society, whose vivacity and scholarship has brought so much to the study of Jones. William Blisset, one of the first Jones scholars and the artists friend, lectured with the all the benefit of his ninety years on the evolution of Jones studies and their direction. Thomas Dilworth, the author of a remarkably informative guide to the poet, Reading David Jones, presented his analysis of the engravings Jones did to Coleridges Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Derek Shiel, an artist in his own right, offered the second of his two remarkable films on Jones as artist and poet. I would like to mention all those who did presentations, but memory and notes fail me; the web site indicates who lectured and the range of their talks.There was an intimacy and ease in the conference; this had to be because of the scant separation between presenters and participants. The talk about Jones, especially the anecdotes recounted by those who knew him, went well beyond scholarly commentary.I came away invigorated: the artists passionate struggles, with his materials and with his faith evoked, indeed, corresponding passions. The formal demands upon his readers made by Jones and the difficulties of his style foment an interpretive recognition of genius and a corresponding joy of discovery. Jones as an artist rewards in reading and rereading and rereading. Perhaps that aspect of the discussions dominated: the movement of Joness art, a development of his sacramental vision and his works liturgical structure. The analyses I heard said much about the struggle involved in his artistic creation and vocation. His unwavering modesty about his education lies so much at odds with the erudition of his work and the intricacy of its detail.The conference left me buoyed by the enthusiasm of the presenters, ready to face again the demands of The Anathemata and In Parentheses. I hoped to look with somewhat better trained eyes at the poetry and at the prints, the calligraphy and the paintings. There is a certain satisfaction in being humbled by the work of such an artist and in being encouraged by those who gathered last March.
About the Author
Edward T. Wheeler, a frequent contributor, is the former dean of the faculty at the Williams School in New London, Connecticut.