Image Courtesy Estate of David Jones
David Jones: Culture & Artifice
A Collection of Essays

Introduction by
Kathleen Henderson Staudt

The work of David Jones as poet and as artist offers a unique case study in the ways that an artist meets the challenges of modern culture. A veteran of the great war, trained in post-impressionist art theory and apprenticed as a stone carver to Eric Gill, Jones brings to his work a commitment to the task of the artist and the process of making -- to what he calls “artefacture” or “artifice.” His work reveals a complex and acute cultural awareness, both of the challenges of Imperialism and “technocracy” in the mid-twentieth century and of his own personal roots in artistic and literary modernism, Celtic culture and Catholic Christianity. What we meet in reading a text or viewing a work by David Jones is an artist in the process of making, and aware of the dynamic character of a work of art. We are not so much deciphering or admiring a finished product as we are discovering traces of the activity of making, in this artist’s particular experience, an activity that he associates with a sacred dimension of human life. The essays in this collection explore in various ways the meeting of culture and artifice in Jones’s work, reflecting what it is like to inhabit David Jones’s poetry and visual art and what implications his work has for poetry and the arts in the 21st century.

What we might call the practice of artifice anchors Jones’s poetics; he is interested in the persistence of human beings’ tendency to engage in acts of making, and in the way that those acts of making create meaning, whether or not the context is explicitly religious. In a BBC lecture entitled “Use and Sign” he notes that human beings have become expert in making things that are useful, but worries that this utilitarian urge may be obscuring what he calls “the nature of man,” which “demands the sacramental.” We make things for practical purposes, but we also make things “for a sign” This practice of sign-making, which we are calling “artifice” (the art of making “arte-facere”) As human beings, he asserts, we are “sign-makers,” and our making involves signification.

But if artifice and sign-making are centerpieces of his poetics, then the integrity of the signs made, and the intertextual web of referentiality that signs imply, is threatened his time as in ours. Jones is unusually qualified to appreciate the cultural problem because his personal heritage in Welsh culture is compromised by his native language being English, the language of the imperial civilization that has assimilated elements of Celtic culture but also forgotten a great deal of it. In a posthumously published essay entitled “On Some Difficulties of a Welsh Writer whose Language is English”, he notes that the poetic language of any culture relies on cultural associations between words and whole bodies of lore and background. And these associations, these depths and “deposits,” as he calls them, no longer exist when the writer’s language is no longer English. So where the modernists acknowledged a “break” between modernity and traditional cultural values and symbols, Jones is notifying a break within language itself which separates the artist from his audience. For Jones the act of making encompasses other acts of making, belonging to the cultures of Celtic world and of Rome. (Dilworth, Hunter-Evans). His work foregrounds the interweaving of artifice and culture in various ways, and this is interweaving is the focus of this collection of essays.

The Essays collected here are by scholars who have spent many years immersed in David Jones’s work and read it as it teaches us to read it -- a self-referential world aware of itself as artifice and engaging understandings of culture that were critically important in the Modernist era and in our own time. Conversations among these scholars teach us to read this work for the unique angle it offers on Modernity and on situation of poets and artists in the cultural fragmentation of what Jones called our own time’s “placeless cosmocracy.”


Articles for

David Jones: Culture and Artifice

In providing the introduction to this volume of essays on David Jones’s literary and visual arts, the line of argument presents a resume of the collection and its overall significance in the 21st Century. By giving a brief introduction to each consecutive essay the theme of cultural significance in relation to the corpus of artifacts in Jones’s poetic and painterly oeuvres consolidates the collective findings of the individual contributions.

Ultimately, this overview explores David Jones’s cultural theory and how his creative works meet the challenges of modern culture.

Gregory Baker
‘An edition of Jones’s address to the University of Wales on
receiving the honorary degree of Litterarum Doctor, 15 July 1960’

This is an edition with commentary of the address Jones wrote on the occasion of being awarded this honorary degree. Unable to attend the ceremony, he nevertheless offers some rich reflections. Jones’s address shows him at work attempting to rationalize for a more public audience the ‘intermuddle’ of history where there converged those ‘three highly complex and usually dissevered “things”: Wales, Catholic Christianity and the central role of art and literature in modern British society.

Jasmine Hunter-Evans
‘Bridging the Breaks: David Jones and the Continuity of Culture’

David Jones, the Anglo-Welsh poet, artist and essayist, envisioned culture as a linear, living, direct link between past and present. In his defence of both the continuity and unity necessary to the survival of culture, Jones used the concept of the Bridge to represent the entire cultural heritage of Britain. In doing so, Jones created a complex vision of culture which he used to reveal the destructive effect of mechanisation, commercialisation and secularisation upon the ability of modern man to access his own past. In reaction to this severance between the culturally rich past and the moribund modern civilization, in his words ‘the Break’, Jones set himself up as a ‘bridge-builder’ who could re-establish the continuity of Britain’s cultural tradition. As Jones claimed, artists were ‘“showers forth” of things which tend to be impoverished, or misconceived, or altogether lost’ and their role was to pursue ‘the maintenance of some sort of single plank in some sort of bridge.’ This paper investigates Jones’s conceptions of ‘the Break’ and ‘the Bridge’ and reveals how, in his defence of British cultural heritage, Jones turned to ancient Rome. Relying on a vast foundation of published and archival sources, including essays, letters, and poetry, this paper uncovers Jones’s reliance on Rome in his defence of the central position of Welsh culture within British culture as a whole. Reimagining British culture as a ‘Bridge’ allowed Jones the ability not only to fight for the inclusive, diverse, shared nature of Britain’s inheritance, but also to give artists a special position in the protection and revivification of culture without which, Jones feared, modern man would lose his humanity.

Thomas Goldpaugh

‘The Signum of Some Otherness: David Jones and a Eucharistic Theory of Art’

In an unpublished letter of 1928 (now in the National Library of Wales), David Jones wrote that he did not believe in any ‘Catholic Arts’, and outlined his general position on art over five closely written pages. This explanation presents the earliest version of Jones’ sacramental aesthetic. It was an aesthetic that Jones had started to develop while still an art student at Westminster from1919-21, and that began to take a more formal shape during his years at Ditchling and Capel-y-ffyn. The core position he outlined was one that he continued to reflect on and refine for the remainder of his life. What began in 1928 as a sacramentalist aesthetic had, by 1935, developed into a specifically incarnationalist position. By the time he began the construction of The Anathemata, it had become a theory grounded in, and employing the language of, Eucharistic theology, most notably anamnesis and transubstantiation. Moreover, as his theory developed between 1935 and 1949, it came to have a direct impact on the construction of The Anathemata. Drawing on the extensive unpublished letters and writings deposited at LLGC, Aberystwyth, this paper has two purposes. The first is to examine the development of Jones’ Eucharistic theory and to interrogate the terms he employed when speaking of art. It is a complex theory with implications for criticism but one that is largely unexamined. The second is to explore the direct impact of those theories, particularly as they developed between 1935 and 1949, on both the construction of The Anathemata and on its final shape.

Kathleen Henderson Staudt
“Acts of Ars” in David Jones’s The Anathemata and W.H. Auden’s Horae Canonicae

Beginning with Jones’s paradigmatic encounter with a celebration of the Mass on the western front in 1917, this essay concerns the centrality of artifice or ‘acts of Ars’ in Jones’s poetics, drawing on theological insights from Maurice de la Taille and David Tracy. It offers a reading of a key passage on the Cross in The Anathemata, placing it in dialogue with W.H. Auden’s meditations on the Passion in his poetic sequence Horae Canonicae. (Includes images from The Anathemata)

Thomas Dilworth
‘David Jones and the Celtic Tradition in English Literature’

This essay explores the importance in Jones’s work of ‘Celticity’, a cultural aesthetic that values ‘inclusiveness; intimate, affectionate particularity; Aristotelian realism (in contrast to Platonic idealism); textural richness, and a sense of movement.’ It argues that for Jones these qualities are also essential to British culture and especially to those aspects of British Literature most important to Jones, particularly in the work of Shakespeare, the Metaphysical Poets, Smart, Blake, Coleridge, Lewis Carroll, Hopkins, and Joyce.

Malcolm Guite
‘Incarnation, Bodies and Locality: The Incarnational Thrust of David Jones’s Art’

The central theme of this essay is the concept of the Incarnation, and how it may be perceived as a metaphor for the artist-poet’s creative inclinations whether operating on his concept of painting or poetry. In examining David Jones’s three major volumes of poetry in conjunction with a wide range of observations from scholarly texts on poets whom Jones admired and referenced, the local habitation together with the ‘intimate creatureliness of things’, gains primacy over the mechanized, technocratic corporations of this post-industrial age in its capacity for being simultaneously temporal and timeless.

Paul Robichaud
‘Images of Making in the Poetry of David Jones’

One of the most striking features of Jones’s cultural theory is his view of humanity defined by our disposition to make. His notion of artifice encompasses all human making, from the fine arts to basic tools, on a spectrum ranging from the ‘gratuitous’ to the ‘utile’. Jones’s understanding of the ‘gratuitous’ is (approximately) anything made for its own sake, rather than for pragmatic reasons, but as the origins of the word suggest, it is closely connected with the freely given, divine creation and ongoing gift of grace. For Jones, all human artifacts are ‘signs’, but the more gratuitous the artifact, the more significance it has. Nonetheless, all human sign-making, whether verbal, gestural, or material, reveals what Jones regards as our basic nature and affinity with the divine. This essay focuses on Jones’s representations of artifice and making within the poetry itself, analyzing in particular In Parenthesis (1937), The Anathémata (1952), and the poems in The Sleeping Lord (1974).

William F Blissett
‘David Jones: Seventy Years with David Jones’

Reflections from the ‘dean’ of David Jones studies on his friendship with David Jones, his years of study of Jones’s work, which takes account of a number of the themes and concepts covered by the current authors represented in this proposal. There is also a plea for the future: that David Jones should be repositioned and re-assessed in relation to academic study. Being a visual and literary artist, he deserves to have a central place in Modernism, alongside Pound, Joyce, Woolf and Eliot. Moreover, owing to his primary interest as an artist, Jones cannot be included in any of the modern or postmodern ‘isms’, but stands alone as a painter who expressed his own unique and vivatic vision. Finally, the author suggests topics which he believes could be addressed by future scholars of David Jones.

Additional David Jones resources on the web:

The Welsh National Orchestra presents Ian Bell's opera In Parenthesis
Friday, May 13, 2016 - Friday, July 1, 2016
Music by Iain Bell, Libretto by David Antrobus and Emma Jenkins

The WNO also offers Nine Video Podcasts on the making of the opera.

David Jones Films has two films available to watch free on Daily Motion:

In Search of David Jones: Artist, Soldier, Poet

by Derek Shiel
David Jones's early artistic development, his time in the First World War trenches
and his becoming a poet.
David Jones Between the Wars: The Years of Achievement

by Derek Shiel & Adam Alive
The artistic and literary achievements of David Jones during the interwar years.

David Jones books available via

          In Parenthesis, New York Review Books, NYRB Classics, 2003, with foreword by W.S. Merwin. Used book stores might also carry the Viking Press Compass Book edition, 1961, with T.S. Eliot's original "A Note of Introduction."

          The Anathemata: fragments of an attempted writing, Faber and Faber, London & Boston, 1952, 1972, 1979, 1990.

          The Sleeping Lord and other fragments, Faber and Faber, London & Boston, 1974, 1995.

          The Kensington Mass, Agenda Editions, 1975.

          The Roman Quarry and other sequences, edited by Harman Grisewood and René Hague, The Sheep Meadow Press, New York City, 1981.

          Selected Works of David Jones: from In Parenthesis, The Anathemata, and The Sleeping Lord, edited by John Matthias, National Poetry Foundation: Rei Sub edition, 1992.

          Epoch and Artist: Selected Writings, edited by Harman Grisewood, Chilmark Press, New York, 1959.

          The Dying Gaul and other writings, edited with an introduction by Harman Grisewood, Faber and Faber, London & Boston, 1978; also Faber Finds, 2009.