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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry

The Anathemata

David Jones

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To purchase The Anathemata

Title: The Anathemata
Author: David Jones
Genre: Poetry
Written: 1951
Length: 243 pages
Availability: - US
The Anathemata
The Anathemata - Canada
  • fragments of an attempted writing

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Our Assessment:

A- : a marvelous epic poem.

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Rev. of Books A 1/2/1963 W.H.Auden
The NY Times Book Rev. A 21/7/1963 John Berryman
Times Lit. Supp. B+ 14/11/1952 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "The poem is a sinewy, inventive, sensitive, vigorous, devoted, not at all a crackpot or homiletic operation. (...) I will not call it parasitic, for it enjoys its own materials; but is it epiphytic ? Here is where criticism of the brilliant thing must begin." - John Berryman, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Though he has extracted extraordinarily diverse treasures from the ancestral burial-mound, his text bristles with too many arcane allusions for a reader to grasp the meaning within its magic without a great deal of that "mugging-up" which shatters the poetic illusion and which he rightly repudiates himself." - Times Literary Supplement

  • "(S)o clogged with footnotes as to defy all but a committed academicís patience." - Julian Mitchell, The Spectator (21/6/2003)

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Anathemata, forbiddingly titled, is a very, very fine poem indeed. "Very probably the finest long poem written in English this century," judged W.H.Auden. A complex, quasi-historical epic, it is nevertheless approachable and a pleasure to read.
       Jones' Preface, worth the price of the book itself, is an exemplary introduction. Jones' acknowledges that it is a work born out of his limited and insular experience, as "a Londoner, of Welsh and English parentage, of Protestant upbringing, of Catholic subscription." "I have made a heap of all that I could find," Jones quotes at the outset, but there is purpose and method behind his efforts. Paying careful heed to sound and language, using foreign words where only the foreign will do, Jones relates history -- and connects it, to itself as well as to the reader. It is a book that tries to locate the poet (and the reader), and Jones' transcends his limited locale and background in doing so.
       Beginning with Rite and Fore-time Jones leads through history, moving to Angle-land and, eventually Mabinog's Liturgy and Sherthursdaye and Venus Day. Carefully hewn, the dense but free-flowing poem is an artistic achievement of great merit. Man, nature, history: great themes are reduced and reconstituted and represented by a poet with a marvelous ear.
       Yes, much of the myth is English and Welsh (though he does reach much farther), much of the religion weighed down by Catholicism, but the sum is far greater than these parts.
       An obvious precursor to Geoffrey Hill's The Triumph of Love, Jones' achievement is a beautifully crafted, heavy, heady poem that should be known and read. The only qualms we had regarding the book were, surprisingly, the footnotes. Copiously annotated by the author, we found that, for once, they detracted from the text. (We are generally great fans and proponents of the foot and endnote. In this instance endnotes would certainly have been preferable -- what Jones points out and to is not of sufficient interest to warrant these intrusions in the text.)

       The Anathemata is highly recommended.

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The Anathemata: Reviews: David Jones: Other books by David Jones under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British poet David Jones (1895-1974) is best known for his book on World War I, In Parenthesis. Other major works include his great poem, The Anathemata, as well as The Sleeping Lord.

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