The Great Bell
John Montague writes: ‘Younger writers need older ones to look up to; or at least I did, lacking a father in the ordinary sense. And pilgrimages of that imaginative kind give meaning to one’s reading and travel. For years, I would call to see the great poet and artist David Jones (1895-1974) in London, first in his dugout; then in hospital and finally in the Calvary Nursing Home. I loved his detailed gentle mind, so different from the tactical ferocity of Hugh MacDiarmid, another Celtic master I was fond of. Our link was René Hague, a neighbour from East Cork, an old china of David Jones. He was married to a daughter of Eric Gill, and their Shanagarry home was a delicious port of call: the Greek and Latin calligraphy on the walls, the home brew and home-made bread. I would bring news of them to David; then we would move to more general considerations: Ireland, Wales, the world and its gods (Christian and otherwise). Much of our conversation I committed to memory, but when I was especially moved I took notes, as discreetly as I could. Like many writers, his speech was rhythmic, a kind of poetry in the rough; so that the cantilevered structure of the cantos in The Great Bell follows the cadences of our exchanges.’
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