Bride by David Jones

David Jones

Bride, 1931, Wood engraving on paper, 140 x 110 mm, Kettle's Yard, University of Cambridge, DJ 14, © Estate of David Jones / Bridgeman Images. Photo: © Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge / Anthony Hynes 2010

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Pray Then in This Way

Commentary by

The towering goddess of David Jones’s wood-engraving Bride rises from the earth, her clothes indistinguishable from the lilies of the field, her hair like a flowing river toward which a deer, seen through the window at the left, draws near. Her conversation partner is a small black bird seated on another windowsill at right. Crowned with roses and stars, she lights a votive candle, offering her prayer before the Lord of living creatures on the cross. The devotion of this Mother Earth figure is imagined as a wedding place where inner and outer, heaven and earth, spirituality and materiality, mingle and intertwine—a gathering of the polyphonic voices of creation in a hymnic sacrifice of praise.

When Christ teaches his disciples how to pray, he turns them away from excessive wordplay, extreme displays of piety, and the anxious hoarding of treasures. He counsels them to turn instead to Mother Earth: ‘Consider the lilies of the field’ (Matthew 6:28; Luke 12:27); ‘look at the birds of the air’ (Matthew 6:26; Luke 12:24). The injunction of the Gospels to tend to the organic forms of the lilies and the birds has more prescience now than ever before. The exploitation and destruction of the earth’s natural abundance is rooted precisely in such anxious greed and wilful forgetting of the native wisdom of the land, sky, and sea.

As we seek collective repentance and conversion as members of this delicately intertwined world, so might our prayers also need renewal (Christ suggests), through these practices of responsive listening to the diverse voices of creation all around us.

Jones conceived his wood-engraving Bride while illustrating Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Ancient Mariner whose final stanza aptly concludes our meditation here, too:

Farewell, farewell, but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast. (Coleridge 2005: 80)

 

References

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. 2005. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, illustrated and intro. by David Jones, ed. by Thomas Dilworth (London: Enitharmon Press)


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