Gothic Architecture in the Poetry of David Jones and Geoffrey Hill

By Robichaud, Paul | Mosaic (Winnipeg), December 2002 | Go to article overview

Gothic Architecture in the Poetry of David Jones and Geoffrey Hill


Robichaud, Paul, Mosaic (Winnipeg)


The complex relationship between ethics and aesthetics shapes the historical analyses offered in the poetry of David Jones and Geoffrey Hill. This essay examines the symbolic, historical, and formal significance of Gothic architecture in their poetry, showing how it illustrates their very different explorations of aesthetic value.

In The Symbolist Movement in Literature, which introduced French Symbolism to English readers, Arthur Symons writes: "Every age has its own symbols; but a symbol once perfectly expressed, that symbol remains, as Gothic architecture remains the very soul of the Middle Ages" (80). As a symbol, the Gothic has been invested with a variety of meanings since the earliest days of the mediaeval revival, but in the twentieth century it has also been a focus for exploring the significance and value of aesthetic form itself. In the poetry of David Jones and Geoffrey Hill, Gothic architecture is symbolic of an earlier culture whose spiritual aspirations are given communal expression, a view shared by such nineteenth-century precursors as A.W. Pugin and John Ruskin. Jones and Hill nonetheless offer radically different versions of the Gothic in their poetry. Whereas Jones develops the traditional associations of Gothic form into an exemplum within his larger theory of culture, Hill meditates on its ethical meaning. This le ads, in Jones, to a celebration of aesthetic form as an end in itself, but in Hill to a radical questioning of aesthetic value, with important implications for their interpretations of culture.

The differences between Hill and Jones exemplify the fraught relationship between the aesthetic and the ethical in twentieth-century culture. Hill takes as his starting point Wittgenstein's claim that "'Ethics and Aesthetics are one'" (qtd. in "Dreams" 96). Poetry is an ethical discipline for Hill, and he approvingly cites Kenneth Burke's definition of "'workmanship' as 'a trait in which the ethical and the esthetic are one'" (qtd. in Lords 150). Jones, in contrast, maintains the Aristotelian and scholastic distinction between ars and prudentia, succinctly expressed by Brian Davies: "'Art' is correct reason about things to be made. 'Prudence' is correct reason about things to be done and aims at the good of the agent" (240-41). Jones observes that "in so far as art has an end[,] that end is a 'fitting together' and the word art means a fitting together." Art aims at achieving aesthetic form. Thus, "the much misinterpreted tag that art is for art's sake is, in that sense, true" (Epoch 151), a position Hill wou ld view as "aesthetic hermeticism" (Lords 6). Conversely, Jones would regard the position held by Wittgenstein and Hill as a case of confusing ars with prudentia, which he poetically defines as "the tutelary genius who presides over the whole realm of faith, moral, religion, ethic" (Epoch 145). What is at stake in this categorical debate is the basis for making and judging poetry or any other art. By exploring the role of Gothic architecture in the work of both poets, the terms of the debate can be clarified, and the practical results of their theoretical positions demonstrated, with an aim to understanding more fully the very different ends sought by two poets whose work is often linked together.

The poetry of Jones alludes to Gothic architecture as part of a wider engagement with what he calls "Celto-Latin-Germanic-Western Christian culture" (Anathemata 92 n.4). While retaining a Ruskinian sense of Gothic architecture as a symbol for vital culture, Jones recognizes that cultural vitality cannot be achieved through restoration, which seeks to recover an irrecoverable past, or through imitation, which merely parodies an earlier period style. He views the modern West as suffering a severe imbalance in which utilitarian values outweigh gratuitous ones; in such a situation, art becomes separated from daily life and work, which are more than ever determined by exclusively pragmatic ends. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Gothic Architecture in the Poetry of David Jones and Geoffrey Hill
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.