Posts Tagged ‘Ypres’

David Jones: In Parenthesis

September 1, 2016

There was a documentary about Jones and his poem on television a few weeks ago: I was very surprised, as a teacher who’d taught First World War literature for many years, not to have heard of the poet or the work. The programme was fascinating, and now I’ve read the book.

It’s poetry in the way James Joyce’s prose is poetical, lyrical in its use of the language’s sounds and images. More prose than poetry, then, and running to nearly a couple of hundred pages, it’s not as immediately accessible as Owen or Sassoon, perhaps. We follow the speaker – an ordinary soldier – from call-up through basic training, his complicated journey to the Western Front, near Ypres first and then to the Somme, where he sees his mates killed, and he is wounded.

The writing is impressionistic. Often the soldiers are backgrounded an atmosphere takes centre-stage, very effectively. Often his verse reminds me of Whitman, with echoes of those long, gradually developing accretive sentences. Sometimes he reads like Hopkins in his use of adjectives and nonce-words. There is erudition in his epic similes, and his myriad religious references, though the constant recalling of Arthurian and Celtic mythology did pall after a while, as did having to refer to the notes Jones provided to help his readers through his text.

I was impressed by the poem; it moved me greatly, even though it was hard work. An uncanny beauty somehow conceals the horrors of the offensive, and you only gradually realise the carnage taking place around the narrator, and by the time you have realised, you are in the very middle of it, with him, sharing his perspective. I’m still not quite sure how he did it, because there is at the same time a perspective and a curious distancing effect too. I shall have to come back to this soon.


The Wipers Times

January 1, 2014

9781844862337This was on my wants list, and came in my Christmas parcels…

Wipers was what First World War Tommies called the Belgian city of Ieper/ Ypres because they couldn’t pronounce it. From 1916 to 1918 a group of middle-ranking officers produced an irregular magazine that started out as The Wipers Times, as that was where their regiment was based at the time, and the name changed as it followed them about various grim places on the Western Front.

It was a curious and enjoyable read; it was intended to be humorous in the Private Eye mode, with a range of poetry and prose about officers, trench conditions, mud, rum rations, shelling and gas attacks. There is absolutely no sense of the horror, death and destruction going on around them, and whether the magazine lifted anyone’s spirits – if that was possible – or reached lower ranks, I do not know.

There was a wide range of parodies of such things as Sherlock Holmes short stories (and I reminded myself that the last of these stories was contemporaneous with the war, and dealt with Holmes outwitting German spies) and some wonderful mock advertisements of the sort that appeared on newspapers and magazines of the time. Incidentally, anyone interested in following the events leading up to the war may like to know that from today, the Daily Telegraph┬áis putting the facsimile of its edition of 100 years ago online each day. The complete run of the magazine has been republished; it’s a curiosity more than a must-read, but very interesting if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

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