In Parenthesis found a language for what he needed in its snaking adaptations of style indirect libre. Throughout the poem the enemy is ‘he’, but so too is the English sentry who, during a dawn stand-to, is probably using his shaving mirror (fixed to his bayonet) as a periscope:
In the mirror: below the wood, his undulating breastworks all along, he sees and loses, thinks he sees again, grey movement for the grey stillness, where the sand-bag wall dipped a little.
He noted that movement as with half a mind – at two o’clock from the petrol-tin. He is indeterminate of what should be his necessary action. Leave him be on a winter’s morning – let him bide.
This floating third person is part of the poem’s attempt to translate experience without self-expression, and without speaking for those involved. What it seeks is a choric in-betweenness, remote from Wilfred Owen’s aspiration to speak for the inarticulate common soldier. Jones’s soldiers are supremely articulate: ‘Every man’s speech and habit of mind were a perpetual showing.’ The poem’s view into other minds includes its transfixed intimations of the enemy as a semblable with better-appointed trenches, a hundred yards away. This articulated his sense of war as fraternity and fratricide – in his long view, because of the ‘culture-tangle’ of our historical interconnectedness, or as Henri Barbusse put it, ‘two armies fighting is one great army killing itself.’
Jones had been fascinated with the trench mazes of the British sector in Ypres, which resembled a German system, but his visual ‘loyalty’ was to the single wavering line more typical of British defences and, he felt, of the insular imagination. The labyrinth is one (Celtic) pole of Jones’s visual and verbal imagination: asymmetrical, self-enfolding, abstract, curvilinear. The zigzag is a different pole, and shapes the fluctuating lines of In Parenthesis, whose purposes are as much spatial as aural, and serve to keep the reader in a shifting relation to what is being said. Dilworth suggests that Jones’s spatial imagination was formed by his experience of map-making, which involved making coded sense of the visually indeterminate and psychologically confounding.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor