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Poet of the Medieval Modern

Reading the Early Medieval Library with David Jones

Francesca Brooks

Publication Date - March 2022

ISBN: 9780198860143

352 pages
8.0 x 5.3 inches

In Stock


The early Middle Ages provided twentieth-century poets with the material to re-imagine and rework local, religious, and national identities in their writing. Poet of the Medieval Modern focuses on a key figure within this tradition, the Anglo-Welsh poet and artist David Jones (1895-1974): representing the first extended study of the influence of early medieval English culture and history on Jones and his novel-length late modernist poem The Anathemata (1952). Jones's second major poetic project after In Parenthesis (1937), The Anathemata fuses Jones's visual and verbal arts to write a Catholic history of Britain as told through the history of man-as-artist.

Drawing on unpublished archival material including manuscripts, sketches, correspondence, and, most significantly, the marginalia from David Jones's Library, this volume reads with Jones in order to trouble the distinction between poetry and scholarship. Placing this underappreciated figure firmly at the centre of new developments in Modernist and Medieval Studies, Poet of the Medieval Modern brings the two fields into dialogue and argues that Jones uses the textual and material culture of the early Middle Ages--including Old English prose and poetry, Anglo-Latin hagiography, early medieval stone sculpture, manuscripts, and historiography--to re-envision British Catholic identity in the twentieth-century long poem. Jones returned to the English record to seek out those moments where the histories of the Welsh had been elided or erased. At a time when the Middle Ages are increasingly weaponised in far-right and nationalist political discourse, the book offers a timely discussion of how the early medieval past has been resourced to both shore-up and challenge English hegemonies across modern British culture.


  • Situates the work of David Jones within broader twentieth-century literary traditions, which turned to the early Middle Ages in their renegotiation of local and national identity
  • Brings together medieval and modernist studies
  • Includes archival research which has never been published before
  • Offers a fresh understanding Jones's of relationship to his Anglo-Welsh identity, medieval culture, and scholarship and opens up new ways of reading his poetry

About the Author(s)

Francesca Brooks, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, University of York

Francesca Brooks is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of York. She has previously published on sensory perceptions of the early medieval liturgy in England, the influence of liturgical innovation on vernacular Passion poetry (both medieval and modernist), and the crafting of sound in the riddles of the Old English Exeter Book. Dr Brooks teaches both medieval and modern literature and is interested in the intersections of critical and creative practice.

Table of Contents

    Introduction: 'Accidents of long past history': Medieval Modern Anglo-Welsh Identities
    1. Reading with David Jones: The Anglo-Saxon Library and the Palimpsest of the Poem
    2. An Alfredian Reading Project: The Literary Preface and the Reshaping of a British Catholic Community
    3. A Poetic Historiography of the Early English Settlements: Reading History with David Jones in 'Angle-Land'
    4. 'He'll latin-runes tellan in his horror-coat standing': Saint Guthlac and the Lost Narrative of the Britons in the Early Medieval Fenland
    5. 'The Axile Tree': Northumbria, Anglo-Welsh Christian Tradition, and the Ruthwell Monument
    Appendix 1: The Anglo-Saxon Library
    Appendix 2: Compounds with Old English Roots in The Anathemata
    Appendix 3: Lines 39-41 of The Dream of the Rood cited in correspondence
    Appendix 4: Extracts from two letters on the Catholic Church in the Twentieth Century and the Augustinian Conversion