ESSAY Oliver Bevington

NWR Issue 109

One Hundred Percent a Welsh Nationalist

Despite his self-confessed ‘remoteness from politics’, David Jones was, in fact, an ardent Welsh nationalist, albeit an unconventional one, as his life, letters and specifically his poem ‘The Sleeping Lord’ reveal.

On 15 July 1966, the writer and artist David Jones received a telephone call from his close friend, the Welsh nationalist Valerie Wynne Williams. She had called Jones to tell him that Gwynfor Evans, the then leader of Plaid Cymru, had won the parliamentary seat for Carmarthen in a by-election that had taken place the previous day. In so doing, Evans had become the first member of Plaid to have ever gained a seat at Westminster. Being fully aware of both Jones’ great affection for Wales and his deep concern for the preservation of its native culture, Williams suggested that Jones might like to write to the newly elected MP to congratulate him. The very next day Jones sat down to do so. Fifteen drafts of that letter have survived in the archives of the National Library of Wales. Within them Jones expresses both his reluctance in writing to Evans due to his own ‘remote[ness] from politics’ and also the sense of elation he had felt on hearing ‘that at last a Welshman ha[d] been elected whose appeal to the electorate was based without any ambiguity on the principle that Wales was an entity’.

Roughly four months after this event, Jones returned to a piece of writing that he had originally begun to compose in the 1940s. Subsequently, between November 1966 and March 1967, Jones reworked that piece of writing to such an extent that, in his own estimation, the end product ‘could be said to be virtually wholly new’. The end result of this uncharacteristic burst of sustained creative stamina was one of Jones’ most famous poems: ‘The Sleeping Lord’.3 Though the disparities between the earlier version of the poem and its final form are extensive, the central conceit of the poem – which incorporates both the rhetorical questioning of where might be found the location of the eponymous Lord’s final resting place in the mountainous landscape of south Wales and an extended rumination on the possibility of his return for the sake of the land’s renewal – is certainly present within its earliest drafts. Therefore, a question that has vexed some of Jones’ most ardent devotees is why, after such a great lapse of time, did the poet choose to return to this image in 1966? The answer to this question, I believe, exists within the poem itself.

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Oliver Bevington has just submitted a PhD to Aberystwyth University on David Jones.

       


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