Overall structure of Angle-land

Historical note. The Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain was the process, from the mid 5th to early 7th centuries, by which the eastern coastal lowlands of eastern Britain developed from a Romano-British to a Germanic culture following the Roman withdrawal in the late 4th–early 5th century. The traditional view of the process has assumed an invasion of several Germanic peoples, later collectively referred to as Anglo-Saxons, from the western coasts of continental Europe, followed by the establishment of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms across most of what is now England and parts of lowland Scotland. The assumption that the Anglo-Saxon settlement developed from the invasion or migration of people from the Germanic coastlands, largely displacing the native people, has been challenged by those suggesting that the changes in material culture and language were caused primarily by a process of acculturation that followed the movement of a relatively small number of people. Some writers have also argued that the influence of Germanic peoples and culture was already present in eastern regions of pre-Roman Britain. The view that the Anglo-Saxons arose from insular changes and developments, rather than as a result of mass migration and displacement, is now widely accepted. However, the extent to which incomers displaced or supplanted the existing inhabitants and the extent to which mutual acculturation occurred is still the subject of ongoing debate.

In this section of The Anathemata, the poet imaginatively describes this cultural process, binding it with another navigational story, this time of a ship rounding from the English Channel at Kent and sailing up the east coast of England before (as it were) travelling out of sight after leaving the northern coast of Scotland. DJ also brings in the speculative suggestion that, before the Scottish and Scandinavian ice sheets combined in the last glacial period, the river Rhine flowed into what is now the the North Sea basin (then land), turned north and flowed into the Arctic Sea. (Once they had combined to form a large ice-mass, the outlet from the basin was forced southwards, making what is now the English Channel.)

pages 110-111 The voyage to be described is linked to the voyage of the last chapter by the suggestion that (several hundred years later) having completed its business in Cornwall, the ship came back along the south coast, past the ‘ships’ graveyard’ of the Goodwin Sands and turned up the east coast of England.
112-113 The poet speculates on the acculturation process described above.
114 As the voyage passes Nelson’s birthplace, the Battle of Trafalgar and Nelson’s death is referrred to. The voyage continues northwards, passing the estuaries of various rivers.
115 1500 years later, the Germanic settlers and their indigenous brethren are slaying each other in the declining western culture.