At the Turn of a Civilization

David Jones and Modern Poetics
Kathleen Staudt
Identifies influences on the work of David Jones and explores the innovative qualities of his poetry


The British poet and artist David Jones (1895-1974), much praised in his lifetime by such important contemporaries as T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden, is only now beginning to receive the attention that his challenging and carefully wrought work deserves. Jones saw his own era as "the turn of a civilization": a pivotal moment in Western history when a once unified and humane culture, rooted in nature and ritual, was in the midst of corruption, losing its sacred center. He was perhaps best known in his lifetime for his long poem In Parenthesis (1937), which draws on the poet's experience in the trenches of the First World War. Jones's later work is an ongoing exploration of his fascination with the mythic and religious themes already evident in this early poem. His last volume, The Sleeping Lord and Other Fragments (1974), affirms the enduring value of native cultural traditions against the dehumanizing tendencies of imperialism.

At the Turn of a Civilization examines Jones in the context of modernism, comparing his vision of history as an "order of signs" to T.S. Eliot's nostalgia for "tradition" and Ezra Pound's call for a "new paideuma." Jones believed that in the act of making art that embodies and "re-calls" the past, the poet affirms, even creates, an abiding continuity with what is deepest and most valuable in human experience—even in a world overrun by industrialism and imperialism. This "sacramentalist" view of poetry informs Jones's use of myth and history, his use of "masculine" and "feminine" imagery, and his anti-imperialist vision.

Praise / Awards

  • ". . . stands as a powerfully individual contribution to the growing body of scholarship on this important modern poet. . . . equally subtle in its management of detail and impressive in its capacity for larger formulation."
    —Vincent Sherry, Villanova University
  • "Author of the long poems In Parenthesis and The Anathemata, David Jones is one of the most highly praised poets of the twentieth century. . . . He is, however, also one of the most difficult and serious of modern writers, mixing Welsh mythology and Christian allusion with his experiences in World War I to create jagged, philosophical works that require (and reward) interpretive effort. For readers wanting to make that effort, Staudt's book, written in plain, relatively jargon-free prose, offers an informed reading of these brooding, demanding poems and a welcome introduction to Jones's thought."
    Washington Post Book World

Look Inside


Prologue: "At the Turn of a Civilisation"     1

Part 1. "Tradition," "Paideuma," "Order of Signs"

Chapter 1. Past and Present: Jones and the Modernists     7
Chapter 2: "Art and Sacrament"     39
Chapter 3: "Singing Where He Walks": Making and Remembering in In Parenthesis     51
Chapter 4. "Making This Thing Other": The Anathemata     69

Part 2. "Rite Follows Matriarchate": Reenvisioning Myth

Introduction to Part 2: The Maker and the Myth     85

Chapter 5. The Wasted Land and the Queen of the Woods: From In Parenthesis to The Book of Balaam's Ass     89
Chapter 6. Imagining History: Spengler, Dawson, and Joyce     117
Chapter 7. "Her Fiat Is Our Fortune": Feminine Presences in The Anathemata     139
Chapter 8. Open Questions: The Sleeping Lord     159

Conclusion: "Before His Time?": The Jones Legacy     183
Notes     195
Works Cited     205
Index     213

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 224pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 1994
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-10468-0

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  • $79.95 U.S.