David Jones’s ‘In Parenthesis’

Collections - Posted 14-02-2023

The National Library of Wales is home to the personal and literary papers, artistic works and personal library of the artist, engraver and poet David Jones (1895-1974), acquired in 1978 and 1985, together with more recent acquisitions such as his letters to Morag Owen and Valerie Wynne-Williams.

In May 2022 however the Library, with generous assistance from the Friends of the National Libraries, purchased at auction two items relating to Jones’s famous war poem In Parenthesis, namely a proof copy of the completed work and a draft radio script.

Jones was a veteran of the Western Front, having seen action with the 38th (Welsh) Division on the Somme and at Ypres. He was wounded in the leg during the attack on Mametz Wood on 10-11 July 1916 and his active service was ended by a bout of trench fever in February 1918.

Following the War he made his name as an artist and engraver. In about 1928, however, he began work on In Parenthesis, which became an epic poem recounting his wartime experiences, culminating in the Mametz Wood offensive. It is also dense with allusions to Welsh and English history and literature and Scripture. Its composition took him a decade and numerous drafts and was interrupted by a severe mental breakdown.



NLW MS 24193B


The first of our new acquisitions, an uncorrected proof copy of the book, dates from early 1937, when the poem was being prepared for the press. The other existing copies of the proofs are heavily emended and corrected; the new volume is ‘clean’, complete and bound and is inscribed on the front cover with the date ‘June 10, 1937’, the day of the book’s publication party.

On publication In Parenthesis was an immediate success and won the 1938 Hawthornden Prize. It was adapted for radio by Douglas Cleverdon but transmission was postponed twice, in 1939 and 1942, on account of the War. The third attempt went ahead on the Third Programme on 19 November 1946, with Dylan Thomas and Richard Burton among the cast. This had a pre-recorded introduction from David Jones and the second item acquired by the Library is a three page manuscript draft – probably the final draft – of this introduction. It contains numerous deletions and corrections but in essence it is very close to the script Jones recorded.



NLW MS 24194E


Both items have now been fully catalogued and, like the rest of his archive, are available to be read in the Library’s reading room. The proof copy and the radio introduction are now NLW MS 24193B and NLW MS 24194E respectively.


Rhys Jones

Assistant Curator of Manuscripts


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