Editor’s Note: David Jones was a British Veteran of World War I, and unlike most of those who survived that war and became poets, he retained his patriotism.  Below is an excerpt from his masterful In Parenthesis, which is a semi-autobiographical account of his wartime experiences. It is not an easy read, simply because Jones blends narrative, poetry, and historical asides together, but the use of language is phenomenal. This particular excerpt, taken from Part 7, pages 183-186 of the book considers the soldier’s relationship with his rifle, in the context of wartime chaos. If you have not read his works before, begin with In Parenthesis, and then get Anathemata, which is also fantastic.

It’s difficult with the weight of the rifle.

Leave it–under the oak.

Leave it for a salvage-bloke

let it lie bruised for a monument

dispense the authenticated fragments to the faithful.

It’s the thunder-besom for us

it’s the bright bough borne

it’s the tensioned yew for a Genoese jammed arbalest and a

scarlet square for a mounted mareschal, it’s that county-mob

back to back. Majuba mountain and Mons Cherubim and

spreaded mats for Sydney Street East, and come to Bisley

for a Silver Dish. It’s R.S.M. O’Grady says, it’s the soldier’s

best friend if you care for the working parts and let us be ‘av-

ing those springs released smartly in Company billets on wet

forenoons and clickerty-click and one up the spout and you

men must really cultivate the habit of treating this weapon with

the very greatest care and there should be a healthy rivalry

among you–it should be a matter of very proper pride and

Marry it man! Marry it!

Cherish her, she’s your very own.

Coax it man coax it–it’s delicately and ingeniously made

–it’s an instrument of precision–it costs us tax-payers,

money–I want you men to remember that.

Fondle it like a granny–talk to it–consider it as you would

a friend–and when you ground these arms she’s not a rooky’s

gas-pipe for greenhorns to tarnish.

You’ve known her hot and cold.

You would choose her from among many.

You know her by her bias, and by her exact error at 300, and

by the deep scar at the small, by the fair flaw in the grain,

above the lower sling-swivel–

but leave it under the oak.

 

Slung so, it swings its full weight. With you going blindly on

all paws, it slews its whole length, to hang at your bowed neck

like the Mariner’s white oblation.

You drag past the four bright stones at the turn of Wood

Support.

 

It is not to be broken on the brown stone under the gracious

tree.

It is not to be hidden under your failing body.

Slung so, it troubles your painful crawling like a fugitive’s

irons.