Prose & Poetry - David Jones

Cover of David Jones biography Walter David Jones (1895-1974), a renowned illustrator and poet, was the author of the epic war poem In Parenthesis.

Born in Brockley, Kent on 1 November 1895 to a Welsh father - Jones was to closely identify with his father's background - he developed an early interest in art, a fascination encouraged by his mother.  His sketch Dancing Bear, drawn when he was just seven years old, attracted early attention and some of his work was presented at the Royal Drawing Society.

In 1909 Jones, then aged 16, began classes at Camberwell Art School where he gradually moved away from magazines as a source of inspiration into more modern trends, although Jones was determined to pursue a career either as an animal illustrator or else as a painter of Welsh history.

Before he could arrive at a career decision however war broke out in Europe in August 1914.  The following January he enlisted with the Royal Welch Fusiliers and saw extensive service in France and Flanders.  In later life Jones was to place on canvas detailed impressions of his wartime service.

The armistice of November 1918 brought Jones demobilisation the following year.  He returned to his art studies with the aid of a grant to Westminster School of Art although he left two years later restless for change.

In 1921 Jones converted from Protestantism to Catholicism.  The same year he met the engraver and sculptor Eric Gill.  The following year Jones joined Gill at the latter's Guild of St. Joseph and St. Dominic at Ditchling where craftsmen of various forms worked together to earn both living and reputation.

Having briefly strived (unsuccessfully) to master carpentry Jones turned his hand instead to wood and copper engraving.  Turning full circle Jones' output included children's illustrations akin to those he had produced while an infant.

In 1924 Jones became engaged to Petra Gill and moved to her family's home near Abergavenny in Wales.  The relationship did not last however and it was broken off three years later.

Election to the Seven and Five Society followed in 1929, the same year that Jones started work upon his epic war poem In Parenthesis, a work which sought to find parallels between the experience of soldiers during the Great War with those who had gone before.  That year he also produced ten illustrations for an edition of Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Jones spent the years from 1928-32 in constant travel, meanwhile earning his living from watercolour painting and writing.  Suffering a mental breakdown in 1932 - his war experiences continued to haunt him - he virtually withdrew from art for five years.  He re-emerged in 1937 to finally publish In Parenthesis, the work for which he is perhaps best known today.

During the Second World War Jones lived in London.  1942 saw him start work on Painted Inscriptions, a work composed of abstract symbols.  In 1947 he suffered a further mental breakdown but on this occasion was determined to continue with his art, painting still-life into the 1950s.  1952 brought the publication of his lengthy prose poem The Anathemata.

From 1970 until his death in 1974 (the year of the publication of The Sleeping Lord) Jones lived in a nursing home following a fall which broke a hip bone.  The Roman Quarry was published posthumously in 1981.

An "incendiary shell" is an artillery shell packed with highly flammable material, such as magnesium and phosphorous, intended to start and spread fire when detonated.

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Prose & Poetry