Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Christ the Unicorn

To be fair to the dear old King James Version in its quatercentenary, we might regret that more accurate versions have jettisoned its happier misconceptions, such as “unicorn” for what has since been authoritatively translated as the more disappointing “wild ox”:

Canst thou bind the unicorn ..? [Job 39: 9]

… thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns. [Psalm 22: 21]

He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn. [Psalm 29: 6]

But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn … [Psalm 92:10]

And so on. On this basis the Church fathers St Ambrose and St Basil identified Christ with the unicorn, the single horn of salvation, a signification that became well firmed up in the mediaeval mind. A quick google will throw up plenty of websites devoted to this and related unicorn lore, though many of them are, frankly, mere pagan fairy-piss.

The spirited little wood engraving above was cut in 1930 by David Jones, the poet and artist. For Jones just about anything and everything might be a signification of some aspect of the project of redemption, and of the Christ who made of himself a sign on the cross and in the Eucharist. And quite rightly too. Here Jones has Christ as the Unicorn galloping through broken columns, the ruin of worldly Empire. A nice image for Advent.

This version is a reprint from the original block that came loosely inserted in the limited edition of 150, signed by the author, of Kathleen Raine’s pamphlet essay David Jones and the actually loved and known, printed by Golgonooza Press in 1978. Though her poetry was known occasionally to nudge itself in the general direction of fairy-piss, she wrote remarkably well on Jones; her paper is knowledgeable, accessible and illuminating.

My copy came from Mogul Diamonds bookshop, whose owner, Gerald Leach, still has copies left, woodcut included. He also has a selection of other David Jones items.

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