slave ship detail from British Library Online

David Annwn

Silences Inside the Word:

Cultural Spaces in David Jones’s
Anathémata and Selected Writings

In relation to certain writings which are both difficult and awe-inspiring at first and successive glances, it is perhaps a common experience for readers to be engaged more by presences rather than absences inside the work. Sometimes, because of one’s own background and literary tendencies, the perception of certain spaces or lacunae inside a work only emerges after many re-readings. A useful strategy in such an attempt at re-reading with a view for such absences, might begin with a type of theoretical de-familiarisation, an imaginative distancing.

A writer involved in such an attempt might, therefore, ask us to imagine looking a few decades forwards into our literary future. How would we feel if a poet from Munich – perhaps a reincarnation of a Max Mell-figure, or Karl Vollmoller or even Rainer Maria Rilke -- wrote that which the critics would call, in time, the ‘greatest long poem of the 21st century’, a postmodern epic dealing with life through from the dawn of human civilisation to 1960s, replete with technology, Teutonic myth, Siegfried and Charlemagne?

If that poem contained a section concerning the poet’s grandfather who served as a forester, loading trees on the outskirts of the Buchenwald to 1950s to the 1980s and the poem also cited the use of barbed wire and cedars of Lebanon for fencing yet made no mention of the Jewish concentration camp a few kilometers away or Jews in general, might this not raise question marks in the reader’s mind, even if that reader only had a very general knowledge of recent history? Even if that reader had only a glancing knowledge of the Jewish diaspora and collective experience?

If another section of that same poem dealt with life in the urbes or Vororte of Munchen in a transhistorical way, but generally evoked the period from Roman incursion to 1945, and, apart from mentioning the kidnapping of a Hebrew barrow-boy, did not mention ‘the Jewish question’ or other Jews at all, what might that reader think? If, finally, yet another section of that poem mentioned, in passing, how the communist ‘beast’ of the Weimar republic had to grovel before the Warrior-God’ of the Freikorps, but made no mention of the killings of Rosa Luxembourg, Karl Liebnecht and hundreds of others, what conclusions might we draw?

Even to consider such questions, highly hypothetical and fanciful as they are, involves an intense strain in contextualisation, a confusion in envisaging how different types of reader might respond to such a work. For, in all manner of ways and reasons, the future and past of Germany and the Islands of Britain are extremely different. In relation to the links and argument that follows: the Jewish holocaust was not the same manifestation of evil as that of the Atlantic Slave Trade in black humans. Communists were not witches, though the McCarthy persecution of American Communists and supposed Communists, has been called a witch-hunt. King James’s Demonology, (1597) is not the same kind of text as those which inspired the Friekorps leaders in their violence.


The following exploration stems from a correspondence from a few years ago with David Jones Society member, Richard Leigh, though I alone am responsible for its content. Let me state at the outset that in my view, (and I’m sure Richard’s), in discussing David Jones’s work, one praises the man for his wonderful and sustained achievement, the power of that; rather than impugning his art for what it doesn’t do. I remain grateful for all that Jones’s splendid writings have taught me. All art, by its very nature, excludes materials, just as the formed sculpture rises out of that which is chipped away from it, from the matrix of the inert marble. It’s an obvious truth that to risk one’s hand at all in the linguistic and plastic arts, is to make an act of choice and, therefore, exclusion as well as inclusion, manifestation. No one was more aware of this than the maker of the Anathémata.

Nonetheless, it is notable that every time my friend, Gurbir Thethy, a very shrewd Midlands–Sikh solicitor with an acute historical sense, mentions the port of Bristol, he talks of the slave-chains still in certain cellars and the street-names commemorating that trade in generations of humans. Not that his own forbears suffered directly from these atrocities and not that Mr Thethy is at all fixated on such realities. Yet, as he says, ‘the colonial experience very much links me to such histories; it is part of who I am. One first needs to look such realities in the face, acknowledge them, face them down and move on.’[1]   He mentions these vestiges of slavery as one such as myself might mention the First World War or the Irish Famine or the Chartists, as a salutary reminder and with a sense that its full cultural resonance are both crucial for us to acknowledge and yet, in New Historicist sense, finally unreachable in their full human impact of sorrow and suffering, beyond us all.


I think it’s fair to say that Modernism in general, (and I’m not thinking of Bunting, Joyce, H.D. or Mina Loy here), has had bad press as regards awareness of race. The periodical anti-Semitism of Pound, T.S. Eliot, DH Lawrence, Fitzgerald and others, as well as Pound’s mean side-swipes at people of many types of colour and ethnicity have been amply described. Houston A. Baker claims that the whole project of Modernism was itself predicated upon terms which were: ‘…descriptive only of a bourgeois, characteristically twentieth century, white Western mentality’.[2]  

It is my contention that David Jones wasn’t any kind of racist; quite the opposite. That several of the speakers in various parts of his work refer to foreigners as ‘Wop’, ‘Wog,’ and ‘dago’, (detestable as such terms are), only means that Jones is a realist in evoking types of historical English racist slang. We do not mistake a Pistol or Bardolph for Shakespeare.

Furthermore, in reading his major sequences, we’re never left in doubt of Jones’s over-riding sympathies with ordinary human beings in the face of cosmopolitan might and abuse. One remembers Jones’s appreciation of the rhythms and images of Negro spirituals like ‘Joshua fit the battle of Jericho’, and his empathy for Ishi, sole survivor of the Yahi Californian native tribe, the ‘last wild Indian of all’, who died in 1916 after a mere 5 years of contact with whites and their life-style.

In Middle-Sea and Lear-Sea David Jones, echoing Augustine, writes:

                                     for the world syndicate
even for us       
        whose robbery is coterminous with empire[3]  

Modernism in general though, as I’ve said, has been found lacking in terms of racial awareness. Yet as soon as we enter the post-Second World War period, such stereotypes cited by Pound and Eliot are strongly contested in literary circles. I will allow a few examples to speak for themselves. In 1954, Wilson Harris, poet of Guyana, chose to ring changes on T.S.Eliot’s figure of Tiresias in a poem from his collection, Eternity to Season:

Freedom is a dusty passage
from sunrise to sunset impregnated with endless
particles that bloom and stress
the visions that are nearest or far
complexity. They unbind master and slave,
owner, ownerless.

David Jones’ Anathémata was first issued in 1952, between the publication of Aimé Césaire’s magisterial Cahier D’Un Retour Au Pays Natal/ Notebook of a Return to the Native Land (1939) where the speaker acknowledges the ubiquity of his race:

And I say to myself Bordeaux and Nantes and Liverpool and New York and San Francisco
Not an inch of this world that doesn’t bear my fingerprint

and René Depestre’s Un arc-en-ciel pour l’occident chrétien/ A Rainbow for the Christian West:

I don’t remain sitting under a tree
Waiting for your miracles
Little Christ who smiled in me
Last night I drowned him in alcohol

and Edward Kamau Brathwaite’s Rights of Passage:[4]  

                          Once when we went to Europe, a rich old lady asked:
                          Have you no language of your own
                          No way of doing things
Did you spend all those holidays
At England’s apron strings


In his A Commentary on the Anathemata of David Jones, René Hague writes of two strands of Jones’s work: firstly ‘his love of the Brythonic’ and, secondly:

The poet’s involvement – unconscious, natural and uncontrived – in the far richer tradition that came to England from Greece, Roman, Saxon and Norman invasion from France. This is supreme in Redriff and in the following Lady of the Pool, in both of which he speaks as one who is completely at home. He speaks as a Londoner – a Londoner, it is true, who is aware of the old London symbolised in the name Troy Novaunt and (in D’s words), ‘feels a kinship with the more venerable culture in that hotch-potch which is ourselves’…[5]  

Passing for a moment Hague’s assertion that the Greek-Saxon-Norman was necessarily ‘richer’ than the Brythonic, (we don’t forget Hague’s own ancestry here), and his imputation that he was able to see a hard-and-fast distinction between Welsh and Latin culture both as realised per se and in Jones’s own work, (the which ideas seem very doubtful), we are grateful to his recalling the artist’s words about ‘the more venerable culture in that hotch-potch…’ Hague then goes on to relate that the action in Redriff is based on a real incident which Jones’s mother related to him about a vessel from ‘Sicily or thereabouts’.

Perhaps one kind of reader of Redriff encounters the lines:

Did he bespeak
                            of Eb Bradshaw, Princes Stair
             ...a heavy repair in the chains…’ 


            Not for a gratis load of the sound teak in
            Breaker’s Yard…
Not for a choice of the best float of Oregon, red nor yaller, paid for,
carried and stacked.
Not for as many cubic fathoms of best Indies lignum vitae…
            Not at the price of half the freights, felled of the living wood,
            a lent o’ tides, brings to all the wharves, from here round to
            the Royal Vi’tlin’…

and, with a start, misreads them. For Jones glosses the second set of lines here:

The Rotherhithe timber-trade was particularly brisk in the spring when the ice melted and freed the ships in the Baltic. The victualling yard is at Deptford[6]  

It is interesting that the poet should mention Deptford victualling yard at this point, since, as Greenwood’s map,(1827), reveals, the yard was hard up against the Royal Dockyard which played a significant role in sanctioning slavery and Greenwich pier were the centre of a thriving slave-trade in England for over three hundred years. Oloudah Equiano, the famous black writer and abolitionist, was sold for a second time on Deptford Dock.

Deptford might be miles downriver from Princes Stairs but, since the ‘Indies lignum vitae’ mentioned might only be derived from any of several trees of the genus Guaiacum, we know that the Indies mentioned are West and that, therefore, the ships which brought them right to Bradshaw’s dock were sailing on the tried and tested slave routes. The history of the teak trade is also bound up with Western African slavery. Thus, when we encounter it, the repair to the chains mentioned might thus truly send a shiver to the heart of a reader with certain expectations. However, these expectations would be based on false premise. We know that, though the actions evoked are essentially trans-historical, the date of the occasion of the poem is probably circa 1840-70. (Contextually this is very interesting because Bradshaw’s monologue takes place at the end of Redriff’s age of prosperity. The eighteenth century had seen Rotherhithe’s ‘golden-age’ as a for shipbuilding for the Royal Navy and the East India Company but this rapidly declined after the turn of the century, and by 1850 the Beatson family had acquired the site for ship breaking and repair purposes, which craft is, of course, where Bradshaw enters the scene.)

Alice Ann Bradshaw, Jones’ mother, was born in 1856. A bill abolishing the British Slave trade became law in 1807, but it wasn’t until the Abolition of Slavery Act of 1833 that a serious attempt to promote emancipation was realised.

Indeed it would be a person innocent of exact chronologies and, perhaps, of the structure of commercial shipping to construe such a reading as I’ve suggested and shiver at the idea of these ‘chains’, linking the observation with the slave trade, yet, given the nature of Bradshaw’s London might we, I wonder, forgive such a mistake?

From its very beginnings, throughout its expansion and until its abolition, the fortunes and fates of the merchants and people of London have been bound up with the trade in human beings. Almost every aspect of this city's life - it's banks, insurance companies, listed buildings, schools, museums, libraries, universities and most obviously its population - are in some way a result of the capital's involvement with the traffic in slaves from Africa to the Americas and the Caribbean. A later corporation - the Royal African Company - founded in 1672, made London the only English city that would benefit from the slave trade until 1698. The Royal African Company set up and administered trading posts on the west African coast, and was responsible for seizing any English ships - other than its own - which were involved in slaving ventures. This stranglehold of the slave traders and plantation owners over the City of London was very powerful. 15 Lord Mayors of London, 25 sheriffs and 38 aldermen of the City of London were shareholders in the Royal Africa Company between 1660-1690. The 'Guinea' coin was first issued in 1663, and took its name from the part of the African coast where most of Britain's gold supply originated. The African Company logo of an elephant with a castle on its back is visible under the bust of King Charles II. 'Elephant and Castle' - a very popular name for British pubs and a stop on the London underground - has its origins in this slave gold.[7]  

In fact, it is notable that when, in a letter to H.S. Ede, Jones, tries to express the very nature of all that he thinks of English, he writes:

The Eng. Bible, Milton. The Puritan Revolution, the Jacobeans, Pope – anything you like “Ann” civilization, the whole of 18th Cent business, God knows are England enough…[8]  

As we have seen, ‘18th Cent business’ in London was inseparably bound up with that slavery which neither ‘The Puritan Revolution’ not ‘the Jacobeans’ stopped. Despite envisaging the end of slavery in Windsor Forest, Alexander Pope, like many of his contemporaries, owned shares in slaves. Thus, evoked in these terms, was slavery itself ‘England enough’?

In starting this essay, I referred to Buchenwald and the comparison to Redriff does indeed seem, simplistic. After all, the Deptford shipyard and environs was not a place where one could physically see the millions of black slaves who were transported around the world in its ships. The presence, that overwhelming weight of suffering, of black people was disposed of elsewhere, thousands of miles away, out of sight of the everyday merchants and shipmen of the Thames.

In Bradshaw’s time at Princes Stairs, slavery must have been seemed as recent in cultural memory as the killing of Martin Luther King and abolition of South African apartheid in our own, indeed more so as the industry had lasted for three centuries on the Thames. Additionally, there would be no error involved in 1840-70 of associating the words ‘best float’ and ‘Oregon’ with racism. Slavery was declared illegal in 1844 in Oregon but the ‘Lash law’ requiring black folk in the state, slave or free, to be whipped twice a year ‘until he or she shall leave the territory’ was still in force. In 1866, Oregon’s citizens failed to pass the 14th Amendment granting citizenship to blacks and, amongst them of course, those coloured workers of the timber trade. Four years later, the Oregon Donation Land Act prevented blacks from claiming land in the state.

Yet, of course, Redriff makes no mention of slaves, labour based on racism or the middle passage, not even by implication. After all, why should it?

It could be that Bradshaw, a parish clerk for the Church of England and reader of Milton, had, in his time, been a supporter of the popular abolitionist movement. The House of Lords Journal Vol 63, 20 April 1831 shows an anti-slavery petition signed by the ‘Inhabitants of the Parish of Saint Mary, Rotherhithe, whose Names are thereunto subscribed.’ But the legacy of the area of Redriff was a very mixed one with regard to slavery: For well over two centuries slavers had been built there. In 1782 the people of the district treated Lee Boo from the Pelew, (Palau), Islands with remarkable kindness, despite the fact their carpenters were still supplying ships for slaving. As late as 1795, James Athol Wood sailed his Rotherhithe-built vessel, ‘Favorite’, to assist in quelling the slave insurrections which had been raging in St. Vincent and Grenada. In In Parenthesis, the reference to Jamaica Level, a field in Rotherhithe, reminds us that the relation of this district to the culture of planters and slaves is an extensive and complex one.

Perhaps the omission is easy to explain on dramatic grounds: one doesn’t talk about grim vestiges of the recent past in the course of business with a fraught Sicilian captain who already knows of the slave trade but wants his ship repaired. Additionally, one doesn’t relate such uneasy realities to one’s young daughter and she doesn’t tell such things to her younger son. Yet, then again, perhaps in the light of other events in his daughter’s life-time, Eb Bradshaw should have told his daughter of such things. In certain God-fearing households of 1870s London, the history of the British slave trade must have felt like a family shame.


Neither Redriff, nor the section that follows it: The Lady of the Pool mention the British slave trade. Perhaps it could also be argued that Jones’s subject was western European culture, ‘our dear West’, that great swathe of cultural forces that had help mould his outlook on life, that the black presence in London was a comparative recent and peripheral influence. It did not, as far as he was aware, touch him or inspire his creative imagination.

Yet as far back as 193 AD, Africans serving with the Roman army forded the creek at Deptford with their Emperor, Septimius Severus, a North African Libyan, who ruled England for 18 years. Severus was the first Black citizen to hold the highest office in the empire. The presence of black soldiers in the occupying and settling legions is well-attested. A 4th century inscription tells us that the Roman auxiliary unit, Numerus Maurorum Aurelianorum, (from Mauritania), was stationed at Aballava, on Hadrian’s Wall. In South Shields a gravestone commemorating a Roman soldier, refers to his Mauritanian slave, Victor.[9]   There is also archaeological evidence that that African soldiers had settled near York after they had been discharged from the army. Two of the oldest carved artefacts of early London are a wooden Negro head and an African-style spoon from Southwark Bridge.

The first authenticated African skeleton in the British archaeological record is that of a young girl buried at North Elmham in Norfolk, in ca. 1000 AD. The earliest records of African slaves in this country are from the 16th century. The first recorded instance of African slaves in Deptford was on 9th November 1501 when Catherine of Aragon arrived in Deptford with two slaves from Spain to marry Henry VII's eldest son, Arthur.

By now, we are well into the shape-shifting time-schema of The Lady of the Pool, which quotes Bishop Latimer’s letter to Thomas Cromwell in 1538. In 1553, ‘The Primrose’, a ship built at Deptford two years earlier, would provide the first contact between the English and African Kingdom of Benin. The first recorded slaving voyage to west Africa was made in 1562 by Devon born Captain John Hawkins who captured 300 people from what is now Sierra Leone, to be sold as slaves in the Caribbean. Historians give 1555 as the beginning of a continuous Black presence in Britain, when five Africans were brought to England from Shama on the West African coast - modern Ghana - by John Lok, a London merchant, who hoped that by teaching them English he might facilitate trade with the Gold Coast.

Jones makes reference also in his note to the expression: ‘a’ admirable scab-shin’ to The World Encompassed, the description of Drake’s voyage of 1577-80. Though Drake was to turn against slavery as he grew older, as late as 1568, he had set out with Hawkins, his cousin, on a slaving voyage. As his note attests, Jones is certainly more interested here in how Drake and his fellow seamen profited from the evolution of naval instruments than he is in the Elizabethans’ slaving activities. Yet by 1596 there were so many Black people in England that Queen Elizabeth I issued an edict objecting to the presence of 'sundry blackamoors' and outlining arrangements under which they were to be deported. It perhaps goes without saying that, the slavers too profited a great deal from the use their new naval instruments.

In the late 16th century through to the era of the 18th century ballads that the Lady of the Pool quotes and beyond, one would see a great many ships’ black boys, boatswain’s mates and interpreters on the wharves and ships of the Pool of London and environs. Most blacks in London lived in the relatively poor parishes of the East End, while several writers have associated black beggars with the parish of St Giles in the Fields. In Tottenham, All Hallows Church baptismal register records ‘John Cyras, Captain Madden's black’ in March 1718, and at St Mary's Church, Hornsey ‘John Moore, a black from Captain Boulton's’ 8th October 1725 and ‘Captain Lissles’ black from Highgate’ in 1733. In spite of this, documents remain relating to two ex-slaves from East Africa living in the West End. London's Blacks and Asians (Lascars) lived among whites in such areas as Mile End, Stepney, Paddington, and, again, St. Giles areas. In Bradshaw’s time, Pipoo Buckle was the butler of Rear Admiral Richard Mayze in Kensington, and Robert Sprat was a footman at Hanover Square. Ali Said from Zanzibar even lived at Jones’s Harrow. There were also many East African seamen in the port of London, particularly at East Ham, where they appear in the 1881 census on board the SS Indus, SS Pelhim and SS Ellora. Another nexus of black communities in the capital was around Covent Garden. By 1820, the demographics of Britain were such that, though many of this still rurally-based island people would never see a black person during their life-time, one in every fifty-four inhabitants were black.

The vessel Mary in the poem has a ‘Limehouse skipper’. The area of Limehouse has very particular associations in black history. Those Negroes who had fought beside the English soldiers in the American War of Independence found that, when they arrived in London, the promises made by George III that they should have pensions were lies: most ended up as destitute beggars in the dockside areas of Ratcliff and Limehouse. Other blacks were offered to the commanders of slaving vessels as gifts, and were later sold into domestic service at quayside auctions or at coffee-houses in London, where they were given names such as John Limehouse or Tom Camden.

Jones’s admiration of Hogarth’s art is particularly well-attested, and his fondness for his ‘Shrimp Girl’ in particular is evident. He wrote: ‘Hogarth’s art gave us a signum of that reality, under the species of paint.’[10]   It is also notable in considering the black population of London in his time that Hogarth’s engravings depicted black people in over 20 works, from the 'La Motraye' illustrations of 1724 to the 'Election' series of 1750s.

At times, the records afford us glimpses of large black communities working together. In 1772, two Black men were forced to remain in Bridewell for begging and they received approximately 300 black visitors to help them financially. The numbers of black people living in London are difficult to gauge but in 1764, the Gentleman's Magazine estimated that 20,000 Black people lived in London, a figure accepted by the anti-slavery campaigner Granville Sharp

It is, therefore quite interesting and perhaps significant that the only times in The Lady of the Pool, that Jones mentions of black persons and slavery are in two very specific references. The first:

Dartle and swift molestings of blackamoor Barbaries –as
hate IMAGE.

which Hague glosses: ‘They,’ (the sailors)

    have a brush with pirates off the Barbary Coast of North Africa: Moslems, who hate IMAGE (the capitals because, to D., image and sign are of the essence of Christianity…)[11]  


                  an’ a’ extree sweet bunch…
for a pretty boatswain’s boy. There’s a poor curly – and
fairish for a Wog –not a’ afreet but a’ elfin!
                                            Plucked with his jack bucket
the Punic foreshore b’ a bollocky great Bocco procurer…

In other words, the Lady and her Captain seem totally unaware of centuries of British slavery and the black habitation of London, but draw attention, specifically, to North African aggression and kidnapping. Yet the silence on this count could, of course, imply something else: that the presence of black slaves was obvious, ubiquitous and so common that the Lady and the captain are inured to it. Once more, the black has become socially invisible. Perhaps it is no accident that Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison’s famous novel, of the conspicuous ‘blindness’ of white people towards their black neighbours was published, like the Anathémata, in 1952.

The female speaker of The Lady of the Pool does not record whether the Crouchmass to which she pays so much attention was also celebrated at St Nicholas’s church, Deptford, where slaving crews and ships like those of 1652 and 1658 were blessed by a clergyman before they left dock.


Also notable in relation to the apparent invisibility of black people in the London of the Anathémata is Jones’s foregrounding of another marginalized culture in the metropolis: that of the Welsh. As we first enter ‘The Lady in the Pool’ section, we encounter the question:

                                                              did he count the top—         
trees in the anchored forest of Llefelys

Perhaps it is one of the poem’s greatest achievement that it folds references to St Derfel Gadarn, (‘Davy Gatheren’), St Teilo, (‘Tylows’), St Beuno, (‘Bynows’), Edern, son of Nudd, the ‘Troit’, Olwen, Eliseg’s pillar, Maddoxes, Owenses, Griffins and company’ into the context of Modernist experimentation, a thought which would never have occurred to T.S. Eliot who wrote instead of Rannoch Moor. For centuries, the drive had been on to expunge any sense of true Welshness from Britain: from the days of Carawallia derelicta to the early 17th century when the bard Meurig Dafydd gave a poem to the squire of Old Beaupre, the Vale of Glamorgan, only to see it purposely destroyed. From the 18th century to the age of Eb Bradshaw’s, when the English press endorsed Matthew Arnold’s views when he wrote: ‘The sooner the Welsh language disappears…the better; the better for England, the better for Wales itself’, the campaign against Welshness was relentless.[12]  

Thus conquest, cultural oppression and consequent ‘invisibility’ was something with which Jones was very familiar and which resisted in terms of the Welsh.

Though we marvel at the wonder and charm at the priest’s roll of names in The Sleeping Lord, we might look in vain for the names of black Romans, slaves, the persecuted gens and ‘heretics’; even amongst ‘those whose white bodies were shovelled into earth in haste’, we cannot find them, (though the paleness here is obviously caused, not by lack of racial pigmentation but the blenching of death.) Here and elsewhere Jones draws on the tales of the Mabinogion, and, amongst these, there is the Romance, The Lady of the Fountain, where Cynon tells of his encounter with the huge ‘black man’, (translated as such by Charlotte Guest and Gwyn and Thomas Jones). This figure is the Lord of the Animals or woodward often associated with Cernunnos and the figure of the torc-bearer on the Scythian Gündestrup cauldron. One, of course, appreciates, that the blackness of this figure relates him, by the logic of the Romance, to the darkness of the woods and his occult power over the beasts, but such a reading doesn’t, especially in Jungian terms, preclude folk memories of black hunters and shamans. There are other elements of what we might call ‘moorish’ imagery in these Romances which is hardly surprising considering their Anglo-Norman flavour.

Yet, it is also clear that the priest prays for ‘the entire universal orbis’ and ‘FOR THESE ALL’.

It is notable that it is in The Fatigue, that Jones refers for the first time to a slaving ship:

            There, within the demarking termini
			in that place
           which little Ginger the Mountain
			the Pretanic fatigue-wallah
                        (shipped in a slaver to Corbilo-on-Liger
			marketed at Massilia)
           calls his lingo

as in the slaving references in the The Lady of the Pool, the poet is imaginatively alive to the enslavement of Welshmen or ship’s boys from London but, once again, oblivious to the suffering of generations of black people at the hands of the British.

It might be argued that this poem relates exclusively to the time of the Roman occupation of Palestine but the same can hardly be said of the later sections of The Sleeping Lord sequence itself, where Iron-Age Wales gives way to descriptions of the late industrial spoliation of the vales of Glamorgan. Here the song of other slaves are heard:

               all through the night
                                            hear the song
               from the night-dark seams
                                            where the narrow-skulled caethion
               labour the changing shifts
                                            for the cosmocrats of alien lips

The caethion, (slaves), here, the extensive pollution in neighbouring passages, and the references to Ar Hyd Y Nos, shift work and cosmocrats all support that this is a late 19th century or early 20th century scape. Yet there is no consciousness shown in the poet’s use of that word caethion, that the Welsh themselves had been slave owners for centuries. John Morris, of the famous Morris sea-faring family of Anglesey, was a hand on a slaving ship and by 1740 had a slave of his own to sell. Captains Jones and Foulke participated in the ‘triangular trade’ and brought sugar ships to dock at Holyhead on their return journey. The slate industry in North Wales and the metal industries in South Wales flourished because they were primarily financed by the slave trade.[13]   Robert Penant, the first Lord Penrhyn, owned 600 slaves and 8,000 acres of sugar plantations. Pennant was notorious for insisting in a House of Commons debate that the middle passage from Africa from the West Indies was:

“…one of the happiest periods in a Negro’s life.”[14]  

Two years after The Sleeping Lord was first published, Paul Metcalfe, in his powerful postmodern statement: The Middle Passage, presented the following details:

                                (stuffed their mouths with oakum,
		(to prevent the African screaming

		(and in Barbados,
		(stuffed oakum up assholes,
		(to plug the flux
“In one of these voyages…the slaves had the small-pox. In this case he has seen the platform one continued scab; eight or ten of them were hauled up dead in the morning, and the flesh and skin peeled off their wrists when taken hold of.”

“There they lay in one mass of scab and corruption, frequently sticking to each other and to the deck till they were separated to be thrown overboard.”[15]  

These are certainly details which contextualise Robert Penant’s remarks.

As Alan Llwyd comments, though the Abolitionist movement found many strong champions in Wales:

The blood of the slaves flowed through every part of Wales, from Merthyr to Bethesda. The slave’s chain extended from the West Indies to Wales, and many a town and village were links in that chain.[16]  

So in the schema stretching from the priest of the Christianised Celtic lord to the visions of ‘black-rimed Rhymni’ soiling ‘her Marcher-banks’ in The Sleeping Lord, there are very many silences and exclusions. The 17th century black page-boys serving the Welsh upper classes, Jack Black or John Ystumllyn, the Senegalese boy ‘Caesar’ servant of Sir John Philipps, the stokermen and ex-slaves of Cardiff, the generations of Tiger Bay immigrants, the black merchantmen in two World Wars and the Afro-Caribbean men who worked as caethion alongside the Welsh Caucasians in the pits: they too deserve memorial.

It is also interesting that, in the Roman sequences of the volume as a whole, the speakers of the occupying forces never mention any African faces at all, but, as we’ve seen, they would be commonly observed within the soldiers’ own ranks and in the streets around the garrisons.


David Jones was caught up in one of the greatest slaughters of humans imaginable. There were all manner and style and station of men killed on the Western and Eastern Fronts: Anglo-Welsh, Irish, Canadians, Indians, Bavarians, Africans Saxons, Jews, French, Americans.

In In Parenthesis, as well as Jones’s careful evocation of Anglo-Welsh, Welsh and Anglo-Jewish soldiers, there are references to the Second Boer War, ‘Majuba mountain’, ‘Diamond Phelps from Bulawayo’, ‘Wop Costello’ and ‘Blackamoor delectations’ but the only ‘coal black love’ mentioned is the lure of death itself.

During the First World War, troops from the Caribbean and Africa fought in many of the arenas of war, under the command of white officers in regiments such as the British West Indies Regiment, the Gold Coast Regiment and the King’s African Rifles. Thousands died and many were honoured as heroes. A large contingent of British black men also served in the merchant navy. In addition, as many as 700 Arab seamen sailing from the Tyne lost their lives in enemy action 1914-18. Said Selah Hassan was torpedoed off Murmansk on the SS Zillah. Salem, Abuzed was interned at Ruhleben. There were terrible losses amongst the Zouave regiments, (originally Berbers and Abyssinians), who fought for the French and, though often denied, black men such as Bayme Mohamed Husen and Kwassi Bruce fought and suffered on the German side. This was true even before U.S.A. entered the war with its regiments of black and native American soldiers.

By October 1915, 30,000 new African conscripts and volunteers were recruited to serve with the French forces on the Western Front. A decree of 9 October 1915 ordered the mobilization of Africans over 18 years of age. An additional 51,000 Africans were recruited under this decree in 1916. By 1917, seventeen Tirailleur Senegalais battalions were engaged on the Somme. At that point 120,000 Africans were serving in French forces. As part of the British forces, around one million Indian troops served in WW1, of which some 100,000 were either killed or wounded. In the same week that David Jones’s regiment was moved towards Mametz Wood, Sikh despatch riders and cavalry were photographed crossing the Mametz road. With such an immense number of soldiers spread over the battle-zones, perhaps David Jones didn’t witness the presence of the Afro-English, the Africans and Indians at all but they were there, committed, amongst the combatants.

Additionally, in the context of Jones’s later writings, artists in the late 40s must have been aware that thousands of Caribbean men joined up to fight with the RAF in the Second World War, (see Andrea Levy’s novel Small Island), and that black writers like E.R. Braithwaite, (who later wrote To Sir with Love), fought for Britain against the Nazis.


We return again to:

             even for us
                         	 whose robbery is coterminous with empire

Born five years after the massacre of Wounded Knee, in the aftermath of which, the bleeding bodies of Sioux men, women and children were laid beneath the sign: PEACE ON EARTH, GOOD WILL TO MEN at the Pine Ridge church, in his infancy Jones remembers hearing ‘a detachment of the City Imperial Volunteers on a recruitment drive for the war in South Africa.’

It has been estimated that 33,000 people died because of this ‘war in South Africa’, a invasion and war inspired solely by expansionist greed. In the new British concentration-camps, (a term cited euphemistically by the builders of Buchenwald forty years later), 26,000 Boer civilians, and black workers from their farms, died as a result of diseases developed due to overcrowding, inadequate diets and poor sanitation.

Diane C. Archibald writes that in the late 19th century the indigenous peoples of southern Australia were ruthlessly massacred, displaced and enslaved by British settlers. Consequently, aborigines in 19th century literature:

    notably never appear, even in passing…it is as if such a people do not even exist, as if Australia is empty land, where colonized peoples are dispossessed and ‘bereft of human agency.’[17]  

Jones was 24 when the British Indian Army killed at least 379 men, women and children at Amritsar. The dates of these massacres seem indicative. In the intervening years, between Wounded Knee and Amritsar, we see the burgeoning of a new empire and the waning of an old one.


In reading the Christmas Eve section of Mabinog’s Liturgy in the Anathémata, one comes across the following lines:

If these are but grannies’ tales
	                        maybe that on this night
the nine crones of Glevum in Britannia Prima and the three
heath-hags that do and do and do…

And all the many sisters of Afagddu
that practise transaccidentation from Sabrina Sea 
			               to Dindaethwy
in Mona Insula
			                      tell their aves
For these should know, who better?
                                         (whose mates
the gossips do say
                                         are of the bathosphere)
that the poor mewling babe has other theophanies:
                           not then chafed of soiled swaddlings
but with his war-soiled harness tightened on his back.

The reference to Glevum summons up Arthur’s killing of the nine witches of Gloucester in Peredur Son of Efrawg. Afagddu and Dindaethwy also conjure up tales concerning witches in Wales. The heath-hags are, of course, the crones or weyards, (in the folio), from Macbeth. Shakespeare based many aspects of the weird sisters’ speeches and actions upon the actual North Berwick witches who were convicted of having raised a storm to wreck King James’s, (1 of England, VI of Scotland), ship on its way to Norway. James also personally supervised the torture of some of the accused. All save one were burned at the stake.

No doubt, Jones intends a playful irony intended in such fanciful evocations: ‘grannies’ tales’, but since Christ’s nativity and affirmative power are also summoned here, it is also useful to remember another context for such ideas, and the behaviour of Christ’s church militant here on earth in this regard.

With respect to the heath-hags, Scotland was second only to Germany in the barbarity of its witch trials. George B Black gave the estimate that up to 4,400 witches has been burned in Scotland between 1590 and 1704. It was King James’s book, Demonology, which set the stage for such atrocities. Matthew Hopkins, the so-called Witchfinder General, of England, was responsible for several hundred killings of harmless villagers in the eastern counties. When Jones wrote Mabinog’s Liturgy, contemporary historians were still putting the death-toll of witches in Europe witch-crazes 1400-1800 to between nine and forty million. In the intervening years, revisionist historians, in scrutinising the records and exposing some forgeries, now put the estimate at between 400,000 and a million people. Some modern historians would also attempt to absolve the Catholic and Protestant churches for their parts in this persecution, but one can hardly ignore the contributions of the Catholic judge, De Lancre, Jesuits like Del Rio and the Inquisition. To echo Jones’s words, the war-harnesses tightened onto the backs of Christ’s official representatives were well and truly stained with blood.

The relation between perceived witchcraft and slavery is by no means an arbitrary one. Communities have been brutalised and oppressed because of their worship of ‘idols’, their own vodoun and obeah religions. We remember Tituba, the ex-slave, a real historical figure in the Salem witch-trials, (immortalised in Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible). We also might remember the three aged women, accused as witches, killed at Exeter Castle in 1682 and Henry Philpotts, Bishop of that same city, who was paid £12,700 in compensation for his 665 slaves in the year of abolition.


Such ecclesiastical zeal against perceived paganism and heresy was, of course, nothing new. It was Ezra Pound who first gave the persecution of the French Cathars a notable expression in the Cantos, and other post-modern poets like Robert Duncan, Edward Dorn and John Mathias have all, in their own ways been drawn to the terrible events in the south around Carcassonne in the 13th century. There were massacres at Lavaur, Avignonet and Montségur, (1244.) These modern makers don’t, however, seem to be have drawn so readily into evoking the crusades of the Teutonic knights against pagans in north-eastern Europe from 1275 onwards, when there were a series of massacres and reprisals involving Conrad’s men in Scalovia.

St Thomas Aquinas, the ‘Angel from Aquin’ as David Jones titled him, was one of the poet’s firm favourites. Jones cited as a prime influence on the Anathémata.[18]   Amongst other ideas, Jones admired Aquinas’s views about works of art being, in their variety’. ‘corporeal metaphors of spiritual things’ – spiritualia sub metaphoris corporalium. According to Jones, the ‘best of sayings was: ‘Bonum et ens convertuntur Ex divine pulchritudine esse omnium derivatur.’[19]  

Yet, according to, amongst others, the distinguished historian and novelist, Zoe Oldenbourg, Aquinas’s teachings also caused immense human suffering:

Before the Albigensian Crusade and the Inquisition, bishops and abbots still raised their voices in protest against the burning of heretics, and preached compassion towards such stray brethren. In the thirteenth century, however, St Thomas Aquinas justified such autos-da-fé in terms that are ill-suited to any Christian. Excesses that could previously be attributed to ignorance or the brutal mores of the period were now given the stamp of approval, consecrated ex cathedra theological by one of the greatest philosophers of Christianity. This fact is too serious to be minimized.[20]  

Oldenbourg is referring to the Summa Theologica, where Aquinas wrote:

Wherefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death.

On the part of the Church, however, there is mercy which looks to the conversion of the wanderer, wherefore she condemns not at once, but “after the first and second admonition,” as the Apostle directs: after that, if he is yet stubborn, the Church no longer hoping for his conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him and separating him from the Church, and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death...[21]   (my italics)

This one statement by the ‘Angel from Aquin’ might be responsible for the deaths of 135,000 people just considering one phase under the leadership of Torquemada. It seems remarkable that Jones could be buoyed up with the apparent beauty of Aquinian formulations but be unaware of this figure’s much more terrible legacy, and the Catholic Church’s responsibility in this respect.

The legacy is not a remote one. One of the causes of the Indian Mutiny, (1857) with its massacres on both sides, was the natives perception that the British were forcibly trying to convert Moslems to Christianity. Thirty-three years later, there were at least two practising Catholics present at the time of the massacre at Wounded Knee: the ex-Jesuit Father Francis M. Craft who, by all accounts had been trying to de-fuse the situation and James White Hair McLaughlin who had consistently lied to and manipulated the Sioux.


In writing of Joyce, Picasso, Eliot and Britten, Jones comments:

…the arts as practised by those four contemporary men are, for all their contemporeneity, signa of man as such. They show forth, recall, discover and re-present those things that have belonged to man from the beginning.[22]  

They are wise words and percipient in that, over recent years, advances in DNA analysis have allowed scientists to affirm that we are all, originally, ‘out of Africa’.

As Petrine Archer-Straw has written, it is fascinating that the first waves of European enthusiasm for plundered Western African cult-objects: masks, fetishes and totems, again made links manifest between thievery of empire, slavery and witches :

    But European ideas about fetishism related little to the actual spiritual traditions of central or Western Africa. The superstitions surrounding fetish objects reflected Europe’s own medieval occult practices and witchcraft more than beliefs held in Africa.[23]  

Yet, the new tide of negrophilia amongst some Western artistic circles, from Gauguin onwards was, to prove far more significant than mere exploitative projection. In the years following the First World War, a more cautious and respectful approach to African art and influences evolved, in the work of Clouzot and Level in Paris, Carl Einstein and Max von Sydow in Germany and Roger Fry in London. Fry’s book Vision and Design, (1921) was to influence generations of British artists with its claim that ‘certain nameless savages’ possessed power to create plastic form to a higher degree than the English had ever possessed it, even in the Middle Ages…’[24]   We might ask, ‘Nameless to whom exactly?’ and draw attention to the antithesis of ‘savages’ and powerful creators, but the admiration is unmistakable. For the young Henry Moore, these iconoclastic and liberating words came like a powerful summons, as a confirmation of all that he had sensed about the British academic tradition of sculpture.

In ‘Eric Gill as Sculptor’, Jones writes of the link between Brancusi and Henry Moore: [25]   ‘they are , speaking broadly, differing expressions of one movement.’ Yet despite his admiration of Moore’s work and greater admiration, (at times), of Picasso’s, Jones saw himself and his own ‘kind of otherness’, like that of Gill, as very different from that of these Modernist masters, and his future responses to Surrealist exhibitions, (and critics’ comments on these), were to confirm this distance.

It is perhaps only during the period 1924-7 that one senses that Jones has been seriously influenced by the kind of non-European visual artefacts that helped shape so much of Gauguin’s later work, (in the small carvings of the Madonna and Sancta Helena, some of the Gulliver’s Travels and The Book of Jonah engravings), and, if one can take Cubism as one development stemming from Picasso’s ‘Negro Period’ and Les Demoiselles Avignon, then Jones’s ‘Honddu River Bach’ watercolour of 1926 does seem to be engaging such energies. On the other hand, as Jonathan Miles and Derek Shiel argue, the influences of Munch, Kandinsky and the Expressionists were at least as important as influences during this period.[26]  

Despite, Jones’s stated admiration for the form and meaning of St John Perse’s Anabase,(translated and published as Anabasis by Faber in 1931), and Jones’s own voyage through the Mediterranean to Palestine, the author of the Anathémata seems to have remained untouched by negrophilia in its many forms throughout the 1930s, 40s and into the early 1950s. Untouched also by the writings of Leo Frobenius’s, Damas, Franz Fanon, Aime Cesaire, the Harlem Renaissance and negritude poets, African poets like Léopold Sédar Senghor, (his first two collections published in 1945 and ’48 respectively),

Yet, unless we want to judge these writings entirely out of context, it needs to be remembered that the lack of negrophilia in Jones’s work was by no means atypical for his time. London contained communities of many ethnicities long before the Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks on June 21st, 1948, yet it is difficult to find British writers of the period who dealt with black experience, even amongst those poets who visited the USA like Dylan Thomas, Auden and W.S. Graham and left-wing artists like Hugh McDiarmid. One might expect that imagery with black resonances might have arrived on these shores via contact with Paris and the surrealist movement in the work of George Barker and David Gascoyne, but the evidence is thin on the ground.

In 1926, while Jones was living in Brockley, Bristol and Capel, the Harlem singer Florence Mills, (born in the same year as David Jones), visited London in the revue, Blackbirds and became a wonderfully popular both with the British public and the Prince of Wales Addressing an audience at the Piccadilly Cabaret, she spoke openly about the pains of racism and the need for greater racial equality:

Talking with a reporter from the London Express, she explained her hope that ‘my own success will make people think better of other colored folk’.[27]  

In the 1930s CLR James had written a novel Minty Alley (1936) as well as the Black Jacobins (1938), the historical account of the successful slave revolt in San Domingo (now Haiti), unleashing a new hunger for self definition in the region. Published in London, Minty Alley tracked the life of a young boy, growing up in a colonial country, confronting history and the evolution of organised labour and other radical forces which challenged the old colonial order in the 1930s and 1940s

The year of the Anathémata’s publication also saw the appearance of Samuel Selvon's A Brighter Sun (1952), which dealt with the life of a young Indian boy in the Trinidad of the war years. George Lamming's 1953 novel In the Castle of My Skin was the region's first major fictional work in English following Minty Alley.

These literary events did not occur in a cultural vacuum By the time the Anathémata was published, the programme, Caribbean Voices had been running on British radio for six years, a weekly review focused 20 minutes (29 minutes after 1947) of valuable air time on the literary output (short stories, poems, plays and literary criticism) of the Caribbean region. The programme helped launch the careers of writers like George Lamming, Edward Kamau Brathwaite, VS Naipaul, Samuel Selvon, Wilson Harris, Jamaican John Figueroa and St Lucian poet, Derek Walcott. Edward Kamau Brathwaite has said that Caribbean Voices 'was the single most important literary catalyst for Caribbean creative writing in English.' [28]  

In her article, Kingdom of the Blind, Caryl Phillips writes:

The "colour problem" was debated in parliament, on television, in newspapers, magazines, on the radio. It was the big story of the 50s. Yet where is it represented in the literature? …Perhaps Samuel Selvon's The Lonely Londoners (1956) is the best example of a 50s novel that tackles the problems of race and class that bedevilled British society at the time. But writers such as George Lamming and VS Naipaul also wrote about race, class and British society, as did Africans, most memorably Wole Soyinka in his poem "The Immigrant"…The lack of any reciprocal imagining on the part of white British writers is puzzling. Braine, Amis, Osborne, Arnold Wesker and Keith Waterhouse cannot have been unaware of the huge public debate around black immigration. And they cannot have been unaware of the social changes that came with it. They obviously knew about the Notting Hill riots, and they were aware of the daily presence of these new people on the streets, on the buses, and working in hospitals and factories all over the country. Although Amis and Osborne were writers, not social historians or journalists, the omission of black people from the literary landscape is so glaring it does beg questions about the politics of literary representation. The work of Colin MacInnes is the great exception…[29]  

Of course, Jones like many other artists, both feared and resented the erosion of human values by a modern, mechanised society, a soul-less megalopolis, and it is possible, unfortunately, that he saw the more recent tide of Caribbean immigrants after 1948 as part of that dangerous, heterogeneous and corrosive modernity.

The year 1952 was also marked by a widely-publicised struggle to end segregation of blacks and whites on buses and trains in the U.S.A. Although, racial violence had decreased somewhat in the years after 1920, the Tuskegee Institute figures state that 4,730 black people were lynched during the period 1882-1951. The years of the Reconstruction had indeed, witnessed terrible privations for the freed Negroes. The southern states of America might have felt a great deal further from London in the early ‘50s than they do now, but the Civil Rights struggle was followed by the news media around the world.


David Jones was not, in his maturity, a great reader of novels but even amongst own favourites, we find Dickens, in Dombey and Son, producing a vivid portrait of a Londoner’s, an old colonel’s, shocking treatment of his Indian servant It is clear that major British authors have, however hesitantly, sometimes demeaningly and marginally, outlined black and other ethnic presences. What would English literature be without Othello, The Merchant of Venice, Caliban, Titania’s Indian ‘votress’ and changeling child in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, that ‘rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear’, Tamburlaine, and, perhaps even more pointedly, Robinson Crusoe, Heart of Darkness, Aphra Behn’s Oronooko and the romances Rider Haggard? It’s clear that there were precedents enough, indeed, a sub-genre), for the portrayal of black folk in Jones’s reading. We also think, again of the ways in which generations of black writers: Equiano, Kamau Brathwaite, Wilson Harris, Buchi Emecheta, Chinua Echebe and Benjamin Zephania have enriched and challenged our sense of writing in English.

It is notable too that whilst leaving the millions of black slaves that the crews of London and Bristol captured and exported from Africa, and the up to a million of European witches, (mostly innocent of any wrong-doing), burnt at the stake unmentioned in his writing, Jones nonetheless laces sections of the Anathémata with reminders of the Catholic martyrs, such as St Barbara who died in Nicomedia, Asia, in AD 230. Might we not expect Jones’s Mabinog to remember an actual person killed for a witch, (and much closer to 1952 and London), rather than to cite legendary witches dismissively as a grannies’ tale? It is clearly not the case that there was too little scope to do this; it is, however, conversely, the case that, in this regard and for whatever reasons, Jones’s artistic and religious viewpoint fostered exclusion.

In our letters, Richard Leigh reminded me of David Jones’s artistic reclusiveness, a working existence which seemed, at times, to be hermetically sealed off from contemporary life. Stephen Spender mentions Jones’s ‘secluded life’ but also his willingness to learn. [30]   His natural reticence was, perhaps, exacerbated by ‘Rosie’, his war- affliction. Jones remained, in many ways, a man who found modern urban existence itself an acute problem and he was as anxious around ordinary Welsh people as he was around the working classes in general. Yet, these realities don’t alter the fact, that, as his many friends attested, the man could be very forthcoming and sociable when he needed or wanted to be. Neither can it be claimed that Jones was too old or insular by the time these cultural manifestations were in the public eye. When Caribbean Voices was first aired, Jones was 51. In 1946 he was staying with Helen Sutherland in Matterdale and we know that he was listening to the radio for this was the year of Douglas Cleverdon’s adaptation of In Parenthesis.

I can confess to having divided loyalties in such a debate. The zeitgeist of our age is emphatically not that of 1952 and my words here don’t seek to apply a kind of retrospective moral imperative which would be quite alien to the ideological landscape of 1950s Britain. In my view, that fashionable buzz-term of the 1990s, political-correctness is, by its very overweening presumption, politically-incorrect. Additionally, at a time of national cataclysm like the Second World War and in its wake, it is quite natural for any culture and its culture-makers to locate those reifiable vestiges of national identity, as, witness, John Pipers’s paintings and Powell and Pressburger’s film A Canterbury Tale. Yet, on another level, I should have thought that it is part of what it means to be a committed Roman Catholic artist to be aware of the wider inheritance of the ‘old religion’, of the things it has done which it ought not to have done and of the things it has not done which it ought to have done. Jones delighted in invoking the Britain of the ‘athletes of God’, the early church missionaries, and the bravery of the early Christian martyrs. Yet, when a small band of believers, initially persecuted for their faith by the Roman Empire, go on to become a new religious Empire within that older Empire, and subsequently become, in turn, the persecutors, it is, I think, important to give such realities equal weighting in artistic consideration. Yet Roman Catholicism itself is not the state religion of Britain, and perhaps Jones felt it incumbent on himself to celebrate and defend his faith in the face of the surrounding Protestant orthodoxy and wider secularism.

Yet I also want to understand why Jones, in his writing, didn’t feel it important to acknowledge the black people of Britain and the British trade in slaves as part of his own cultural inheritance, as it clearly was. Their stories too are written into the diptycha of the Island, its genes, street-names and institutions, or ought to be. What a pity that Jones couldn’t help and acknowledge black artists of his own generation like the sculptor, Augusta Fells Savage, who had to struggle against such poverty, sexism and racism.[31]  

It could be that the terrible legacy of his First World War experiences led to such a feeling spiritual dereliction, (and recurrent breakdowns), that it led Jones to seek for the necessary, efficacious signa for society, but primarily for his own survival. That these very cultural strata which he utilised, and none other, were his comfort and respite. Perhaps it was the case that other traditions were extant but Jones could not lay hold on them in this way. Spender writes that Jones was one of those former soldiers for whom their inner wound ‘was sacred, tragic and singing’. [32]   Jeremy Hooker has commented that it is important to remember that Jones had ‘trench-vision’ and that his mind was accordingly channelled towards certain matters and not others. Who would deny the artist such a resolute need for specific resources and signa or alter such an achievement in one degree? Who could have given us a greater gift?

Gurbir Thethy hazards that the poet of the Anathémata ‘perhaps felt cultural embarrassment’ over the British slave trade. Jeremy Hooker has told me in conversation that Jones’s interests

were mainly with the Latin, Celtic and Teutonic cultures, and that, as a writer with a conservative imagination, despite knowing Augustine was right about empire being great theft, he admired the positive side of Empire and took pride in names like Nelson and Trafalgar. One has to remember that Jones knew about the Blues and the significance of the slavery-experience in shaping black Christianity. Yet, in the main, he has his foci and pursues them with such passion that he leaves out other significant areas of history. The topic of the British slave trade didn’t suit his imagination or imaginative projects; his mind was on different subjects, just as he omitted to mention certain areas of the British Isles. One example is his fleeting mention of Yorkshire in citing Loidis and Elmet in the Anathémata despite this being the largest county in England. As I’ve previously mentioned, there is also a paucity of references to Norman culture in his work.[33]  

Fundamentally though, I think Jones, with his profound historical imagination understood the danger of any evocation of the black slave trade in his work; he knew that, if he drew attention to Transatlantic slavery in the Anathémata, such a commemoration would jar violently against his ecclesiastical, doctrinal and Roman Catholic schema. It would be demeaning to suggest that such a gifted historical poet didn’t know or care about black slavery: the four references to slavery I’ve shown in his work reveal that he is perfectly aware of this kind of trade. Additionally, his poem is replete with the poet’s knowledge of diverse cultural connections, fault-lines, ramifications, causalities and continuities. Because it involved Roman Catholics at the highest level: British Catholic families, cardinals, bishops, nuns, the officers of the Inquisition and even Popes, Jones knew that references to the black slave trade would, finally, implicate Papal authority in guilt and that this would strike at the heart of his faith in Catholic doctrine and perhaps even impugn the principle of infallibility.[34]  

Rodney Stark, in seeking to defend the record of the Roman Catholic church in relation to slavery, cites the examples of the seventh century saint Bathilde (wife of King Clovis II) who became famous for her campaign to stop slave-trading and Saint Anskar began his efforts to halt the Viking slave trade. Saints Wulfstan (1009-1095) and Anselm (1033-1109)—forbade the enslavement of Christians.

Then, in the thirteenth century, Saint Thomas Aquinas deduced that slavery was a sin, and a series of popes upheld his position, beginning in 1435 and culminating in three major pronouncements against slavery by Pope Paul III in 1537. Yet, despite this, the first slaves were brought to Portugal in 1441 and this traffic and trade in gold, pepper and ivory, were so lucrative that Castilian (Spanish) sailors began to follow the Portuguese lead in 1453 along the west coast of Africa in search of slaves and financial wealth. It was to avert the danger of fierce competition and possibly war between these two European global powers (Spain and Portugal) that Papal sanction was sought for a Portuguese monopoly. And so it was that on 8 January 1455, the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Nicholas V, issued a Papal Bull titled Romanus Pontifex in which he authorized the Portuguese “to subject to servitude, all infidel peoples”. In another Papal Bull, Inter Caetera issued on 13 March 1456, Pope Nicholas V “granted to Prince Henry, as Grand Master, of the Order of Christ in Portugal, all lands (and peoples) discovered or conquered form Cape Bojafor, in Africa, to and including the Indies.

So it’s very clear that Pope Nicholas V openly advocated slavery and Pope Paul III’s anti-slavery statements designated, at best, an attempt to close the barn door after the horse had bolted. Thus, it is no surprise when we discover that in 1488, a subsequent Pope: Innocent VIII actually accepted a gift of a hundred Moorish slaves from King Ferdinand of Aragon, giving some of them to his favourite cardinals. Stark writes that:

…Innocent was anything but that, (innocent), when it came to a whole list of immoral actions. However, laxity must not be confused with doctrine. Thus while Innocent fathered many children, he did not retract the official doctrine that the clergy should be celibate.[35]  

Stark seems to hint at the idea that, as long as the Pope hasn’t decreed that such an action is unlawful, this mode of behaviour is somehow more acceptable and, of course, not subject to the demands for infallibility. He calls this failing ‘laxity’. However, perhaps the word hypocrisy is the one that might occur most readily to readers today. I dare say the slaves themselves made no such fine distinction.

One can hardly claim that the pro-slavery Papal bulls and a Pope’s ownership of slaves didn’t impugn that office’s authority in this respect and in others. Stark goes on to cite admiringly the public penance of the bishops of Venice for their support of slavery but forgets to supply the details and specify the longevity of this shameful support.

As Helen Ellerbe writes:

The Church, particularly in South America, supported the enslavement of native inhabitants and the theft of native lands. Forty years before Paul’s Bulls, another papal Bull had been issued in 1493 justified declaring war on any natives in South America who refused to adhere to Christianity. This worked its effects duly. As the jurist Encisco claimed in 1509:

The king has every right to send his men to the Indies to demand their territory from these idolaters because he had received it from the pope. If the Indians refuse, he may quite legally fight them, kill them, and enslave them, just as Joshua enslaved the inhabitants of the country of Canaan.[36]  

Orthodox Christians defended slavery as part of the divinely ordained hierarchical order. Passages in the Bible support the institution of slavery:

Both the bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever. [Leviticus 25:44-46]

St. Paul instructed slaves to obey their masters [Ephesians 6:5; I Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:9-10]. The early St. John Chrysostom wrote:

The slave should be resigned to his lot, in obeying his master he is obeying God ...

And in the City of God, St. Augustine, the same Augustine who thought of empire as great robbery, wrote:

... slavery is not penal in character and planned by that law which commands the preservation of the natural order and forbids disturbance.

Pope Paul III’s anti-slavery bulls were largely ignored yet, in response to the appeals of the Jesuits of Paraguay, Pope Urban VIII (1623 to 1644), issued a bull Commissum nobis on April 22, 1639 reaffirming the ruling by "our predecessor Paul III" that those who reduced others to slavery were subject to excommunication.” According to Stark, the Code Noir and Código Negro Español both had the effect of moderating some of the worst excesses of slave-owning cultures. He also points out that the Jesuits of Paraguay protected the indigenous peoples against the planters. [37]  

Yet, as Ellerbe writes, while there were missionaries who recognized the humanity of Native Americans and worked earnestly to improve their lot, few recognized an inherent injustice in the idea of slavery. Even the well-known Jesuit Antonio Vieira, who was imprisoned by the Inquisition for his work on behalf of the native inhabitants, advocated importing black Africans to serve as slaves for colonial settlers. And he still considered fugitives from slavery guilty of sin and worthy of excommunication.

Orthodox Christianity also supported the practice of slavery in North America. The eighteenth century Anglican Church made it clear that Christianity freed people from eternal damnation, not from the bonds of slavery. The Bishop of London, Edmund Gibson, wrote:

The Freedom which Christianity gives, is a Freedom from the Bondage of Sin and Satan, and from the Domination of Men's Lusts and Passions and inordinate Desires; but as to their outward Condition, whatever that was before, whether bond or free, their being baptised, and becoming Christians, makes no manner of Change in it.[38]  

Dr. Eric Williams, distinguished historian, author of Capitalism and Slavery and ex-Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago wrote:

The Church also supported the slave trade. The Spaniards saw in it an opportunity of converting the heathen, and the Jesuits, Dominicans and Franciscans were heavily involved in sugar cultivation which meant slave-holding.

The famous Cardinal Manning was the son of a rich West Indian merchant dealing in slave-grown produce. White Catholics, including devout believers, were among the slave holders in North America. Jesuits owned about 300 slaves who worked their farms in Maryland in the 1830s. Some young women entering the Carmelite convent in Port Tobacco, Maryland, brought their slaves with them. The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Kentucky owned 30 slaves.

By 1886, there were still 1,500,000 slaves in Brazil and, until the late 1880s, the Roman Catholic clergy didn’t speak out openly against this state of affairs. Therefore, when one considers the potential ramifications, it is, in retrospect, quite clear in terms of doctrine why such silences and lacunae exist in the Anathémata and other of Jones’s writings

It was only by 1991, (160 years after the ‘triangular’ Atlantic trade supposedly stopped), that Pope John Paul II, during a visit to Senegal's Gorée Island, one of the main transit centres for the trans-Atlantic slave trade, apologized for the Church's official involvement in the slave trade: “for the sins of Christian Europe against Africa”. Note the words ‘the Church’s official involvement’ because culpability expressed in this way, though admirable, was tremendously risky and endangered doctrine.

Realising this, despite the graphic evidence of the Church’s involvement, many high-ranking clerics opposed this apology and the Papacy made it clear, in publications of 2000, that the Church did not accept responsibility for slavery. They also made a clear distinction between the Church which is pure and undefiled, and the actions of its errant members. As a report stated: ‘From a theological view, Vatican II distinguishes between the indefectible fidelity of the Church and the weakness of her members, clergy or laity, yesterday and today.’ The Church would, accordingly, make penance for the sins of its wayward sons and daughters, but in no way admit responsibility.

For many of black and other descent, these are sentiments of breath-taking hypocrisy and failure of true conscience; thus, thirty years after Jones’s death, the Church found itself caught in the same ideological trammels as Her loyal artist, David Jones did in sections of the Anathémata. Hooker may be right about these lacunae not manifesting a conscious act of suppression, but they certainly smack of evasion on some level. This double-bind is part of Catholicism’s legacy of dodging true accountability, like Laocoön and his sons caught up in the sea-serpents’ coils, or his Arthur of The Hunt, snagged and trailered in the underwood’s thickets, the artist is caught irretrievably between truth and faith. Better to say nothing, than to bring the Church and, therefore, one’s belief into disrepute.

Let me be clear: It has certainly not been my intention either to absolve or scarify David Jones’s work or, indeed, British culture as it developed from the 19th to the 21st century. The understandable backlash is at least fifty years old and Victorian Imperialism is utilised all too readily today as an excuse by vicious opportunists. President Mugabe is morally bankrupt and vacuous when he blames the atrocities which he visits daily upon his own countrymen on the British Empire. Despite the shameful legacy of Anglo-American colonialism and interference in the Middle East, I think the words of the London suicide-bombers were just as ignorant and morally blind.

So it is not with a sense of alienation from David Jones’s work and what it stands for that I write; instead, I’d like to finish on a note of optimism involving rediscovery and the effort to build bridges. It’s with a sense of recognition that one encounters Aimé Césaire’s lines:

Eia for the royal Cailcedra!
Eia for those who have never invented anything
for those who never explored anything
for those who never conquered anything

but yield, captivated, to the essence of things
ignorant of surfaces but captivated by the motion of all things

for of course we remember: ‘Eia, Domine Deus’. It is with excitement, we encounter the fine Modernist poet Melvin B. Tolson’s Harlem Gallery with its magnificent play of images, sustained wit and intelligence, and, again, echoes of Jones’s work:

The Harlem Gallery, an Afric pepper bird,
awakes me at a people’s dusk of dawn.
The age altars its image, a dog’s hind leg,
and hazards the moment of truth in pawn.
The Lord of the House of Flies,
jaundice-eyed, synapses purled,
wries before the tumultuous canvas,
The Second of May—
by Goya:
the dagger of Madrid
the scimitar of Murat.
In Africa, in Asia, on the Day
of Barricades, alarm birds bedevil the Great White World
a Buridan’s ass—not Balaam’s—between no oats and hay.

(‘Buridan’s ass’ refers to the paradox involving a starving ass caught between two equally attractive haybales, and which starves from indecision, needing a reason to prefer one to the other in order to eat. Balaam’s ass is an old friend for readers of Jones.)

Melvin Tolson, Jones’s near contemporary, (1898-1966), draws on African and Afro-Caribbean sources as confidently as he draws on Shakespeare, Milton and Herodotus. He writes about both Harlem and London, (in references to Regent’s Park and actors at the Globe.) He, like Kamau Brathwaite and Wilson Harris, evoke their primal sea voyages, but, as one might expect, unlike the maritime scenes of the Anathémata, slavery is at the centre of their visions. In recording the reminiscences of a black bartender who had fought in Europe for the British, Tolson shows us that, even Winston Churchill, a great favourite of Jones’s, has appropriated words from Afro-American culture without due acknowledgement, as though the name of a black writer wasn’t important:

“…I was in the bomb-hell at Dunkirk. I was a British tar.
In Parliament, white Churchill quoted one day,
‘If we must die, let us not die like hogs…’
The words of a poet, my compatriot—black Claude Mackay.”

At the end of his A Rainbow for the Christian West, which celebrates African Voodoo gods and rites, René Depestre provides a hint of reconciliation:

                Christian West my terrible brother
	Here is my sign of the cross
	In the name of revolt
	And of justice
	And of tenderness


It is true that, in leaving these other histories unspoken, David Jones chose to write about those traditions and artefacts known and loved. Yet, as he realised and wrote elsewhere: it is vital that, in our creations, we acknowledge the authentic sufferings and struggles, the multifarious histories around us, that we start with our own heritage and work, tentatively, yes, and stumblingly, perhaps, but always outwards, that, in the end

We proceed from the known to the unknown.


1.  Phone conversation 09.04. 06

2.  Howard A. Baker, Jr., Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance, Chicago and London, 1987, p. 7

3.  Ibid. , p.85

4.  Both published 1967

5.  René Hague, A Commentary on the Anathemata of David Jones, Wellingborough, 1977, p.149

6.  Ibid.

7.  Breaking the Silence, Learning About the Transatlantic Slave Trade,

8.  David Jones, ‘Letters to H.S. Ede’ David Jones- Man and Poet, ed. Matthias, Maine, n.d. p.111

9.  Alan Llwyd, Cymru Ddu / Black Wales, Cardiff, 2005, p.1

10.  David Jones, Epoch and Artist, Faber, London, p.175

11.  Hague, p.179

12.  See Emyr Humphreys, The Taliesin Tradition, London, 1983

13.  Black Wales, Cymru Ddu, p.19

14.  Ibid., p. 20

15.  Paul Metcalfe, The Middle Passage, North Carolina, 1976, n.p

16.  Ibid., p.21

17.  Diane C. Archibald, Arcady in Australia, Melbourne, 1970, p.81

18.  Epoch and Artist, p.134

19.  Thomas R. Whitaker, ‘Homo Faber, Homo Sapiens’, David Jones, Man and Poet, p.476.

20.  Zoé Oldenbourg, Massacre at Montségur, London, 1961, 367

21.  Thomas Aquines, Summa Theologica - Vol. 3 - The Second Part Of The Second Part
(Part I) p. 150

22.  Epoch and Artist, p. 140

23.  Petrine Archer-Straw, Negrophilia, London, 2000, p. 51

24.  Quoted in Roger Berthoud, The Life of Henry Moore, London, 1987, p. 56

25.  For some reason my copy reads ‘Harry’, Epoch and Artist, p.289

26.  Jonathan Miles and Derek Shiel, David Jones, The Maker Unmade, Brigend, 1995, p. 63

27.  The Harlem Renaissance, Ed. Aberjhani and Sandra L. West, New York, 2003, p.220

28.  See Onyekachi Wambu,

29.  Caryl Phillips, Kingdom of the Blind,, 1262296,00.html

30.  David Jones- Man and Poet, p. 53

31.  Harlem Renaissance, p.292

32.  Ibid.

33.  Phone conversation with Jeremy Hooker, 9.4.06

34.  Though one must remember that ‘infallibility’ per se only applies to very few Papal edicts issued in a specifically-proscribed manner

35.  Rodney Stark,

36.  Helen Ellerbe

37.  Ibid.

38.  Helen Ellerbe