Recently I have been reading In Parenthesis by David Jones. It is an epic prose poem dealing with his experience in World War I between December 1915 and July 1916. TS Eliot, in an introduction to the book, called it “a work of genius”. It begins with a dedication which states, in part: “This writing is for my friends…and to the memory of those with me…especially Pvt. R.A. Lewis-Gunner from Newport Monmouthshire killed in action in…Ypres…and to the enemy front-fighters who shared our pains against whom we found ourselves by misadventure.”
An epigram Jones retrieved from an ancient Celtic legend begins the text:
Evil betide me if I do not open the door to know if that is true which is said concerning it. So he opened the door. . . and when they had looked, they were conscious of all the evils they had ever sustained, and of all the friends and companions they had lost and of all the misery that had befallen them, as if all had happened in that very spot; . . . and because of their perturbation they could not rest.
On Memorial Day we are asked to remember those who have died in service to our country by decorating the graves of the fallen. In my high school and college days I knew of no one who was killed in the Viet Nam conflict. The World War II generation of my family rarely spoke of anyone who had died. So the Memorial Day remembrance was always a bit abstract until two young men I knew personally lost their lives in Iraq. For those of us who have not had to face the horrors of war David Jones has provided a remembrance that lovingly guides the reader through a soldier’s life in one of the most harrowing experiences of conflict from a century ago. There is no place for sentimentality in this epic, only a great love for one’s friends…and even for one’s enemies.