David Jones (poet)

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David Jones CH (1 November 1895 – 28 October 1974) was both an artist and one of the most important first generation British modernist poets. His work was formed by his Welsh heritage and his Catholicism. T. S. Eliot considered Jones to be a writer of major importance and his The Anathemata was considered by W. H. Auden to be the best long poem written in English in the 20th century.


Early life

Walter David Michael Jones was born in 1896 in Arabin Road, Brockley, Kent, now a suburb of South East London, and later lived in nearby Howson Road. His father, James Jones, was born in Flintshire, North Wales, to a Welsh-speaking family; he was discouraged from speaking Welsh by his father, who, in common with many Welsh parents of the time, believed that habitual use of the language would only hold his child back in his career. James Jones moved to London to work as a printer's overseer for the Christian Herald Press, and it was here that he met his wife, Alice, a Londoner born and bred. They had three children, Harold (who died in his late teens of tuberculosis), Alice, and Walter David, later known solely as David.

Jones exhibited artistic promise at an early age, even entering his drawings into exhibitions of children's artwork. He wrote that from the age of six he knew that he would devote his life to art. At fourteen, he persuaded his parents to allow him to abandon traditional education for art school, and in 1909, he entered the Camberwell Art School, where he was introduced to the work of the Impressionists and Pre-Raphaelites.

With the outbreak of the First World War, Jones enlisted with the Royal Welch Fusiliers and served on the Western Front until the end of the war. His experiences in the trenches were to prove extremely important in his later painting and poetry, especially his involvement in the fight at Mametz Wood.

He died in Harrow, Middlesex in 1974. His grave can be found in Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries, Lewisham, SE13, near Brockley.

Jones as artist

After the war, Jones entered the Westminster School of Art, where he developed an interest in Post-Impressionism and studied under the English artist Walter Sickert, among other influential teachers. He also became increasingly attracted by Roman Catholicism, and in 1921 he converted, choosing "Michael" as his confirmation name. It was probably the priest who received Jones into the Church, Father John O'Connor (in fact the model for G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown character), who suggested that he contact the Catholic artist Eric Gill. Gill ran the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, based on the medieval guild model, in Ditchling, Sussex. Jones joined the guild and learned wood and copper engraving as well as experimenting with wood carving. Jones soon began producing book illustrations for the St. Dominic's Press, and he would later illustrate for The Golden Cockerel Press, for whom he engraved the Cockerel itself in 1925.

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