“This writing has to do with some things I saw, felt, and was part of”: with quiet modesty, David Jones begins a work that is among the most powerful imaginative efforts to grapple with the carnage of the First World War, a book celebrated by W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot as one of the masterpieces of modern literature. Fusing poetry and prose, gutter talk and high music, wartime terror and ancient myth, Jones, who served as an infantryman on the Western Front, presents a picture at once panoramic and intimate of a world of interminable waiting and unforeseen death. And yet throughout he remains alert to the flashes of humanity that light up the wasteland of war.
This book is extraordinary and quite unlike anything else that I can think of. Not really reminiscence, certainly not a novel, it describes the rifleman’s experience of trench warfare as a poet and artist recalled it twenty years later…It rings with a strange, oracular wisdom.
— Phoebe Adams, The Atlantic
Every so often there comes along a poet or scientist who can realize for us the new configuration, which only our time can see, into which culture seems to be shaped and the historical processes that shaped it. Jones is one of these.
— New York Times Book Review
This is an epic of war….But it is like no other war-book because for the first time that experience has been reduced to “a shape of words.” The impression still remains that this book is one of the most remarkable literary achievements of our time.
— Times Literary Supplement
This work of a poet-painter has its every word chiseled out of experience, and it is probably the World War I monument most likely to survive.
— Stephen Spender, The New York Times Book Review
A work of genius.
— T.S. Eliot
…an extraordinary prose—poem….Jones wrote in the tradition of James Joyce, T.S. Eliot (his greatest supporter) and Ezra Pound. His net of references to the pagan and secular, Roman and Celtic history makes him one of the last of his writerly kind, one foot in the empirical world, the other in the world of faeries and spirits….Jones was also an accomplished painter; his writing draws on this sensibility to create textures, smells and images, describing the feeling of fatigue, of marching four abreast for 12 straight hours, of sleeping standing up in the rain, or a camp in the pitch dark….A reader feels, like the soldiers, a sense of being able to see only as far as the next man, of not knowing why you are there or where you are going.
— Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times