Did he strike soundings off Vecta Insula?
or was it already the gavelkinda igland?1
Did he lie by
in the East Road?
was it a kindly numen of the Sleeve that headed him clear of South Sand Head?
Did he shelter in the Small Downs?
Keeping close in, did he feel his way
between the Flats and the Brake?
But, what was her draught, and, what was the ocean doing?
Did he stand on toward the Gull?
did his second mate sound
with more than care?
was it perforce or Fortuna’s rudder, circumstance or superb pilotage or clean oblation
that sheered him from smother
(the unseen necropolis2 banking to starboard of her).
Or was it she
Sea-born and Sea-star
whose own, easy and free
the pious matlos are3
or, was it a whim of Poseidon’s
(master o’ the cinque masters o’ lodemanage)4
David Jones notes
1 When I wrote this I was associating the system of gavelkind with the Isle of Wight solely on account of its being occupied by Jutes, who also occupied Kent, which county is particularly associated with that system and there is evidence of a sort of succession by gavelkind in the Jutish area in Hampshire opposite Wight.
2 It so happens that it was at Deal, c. 1903, that ‘I first beheld the ocean’ and I particularly remember that sometimes, in certain conditions of weather and tide, a number of hulks were visible on the Goodwins which then seemed like a graveyard of ships.
3 Cf. Archbishop David Mathew, British Seamen, p. 48, ‘Easy and gallant they defend the freedom of the seas and the shores of England’. And cf. song, AlI the Nice Girls Love a Sailor, line 5, ‘Bright and breezy, free and easy’.
4 ‘Cinque’ and ‘lodemanage’ to be said as in English, indeed as in Cockney English. (Each of the Cinque Portsb had a pilot called the Master of Lodemanage.)
DJ note 2: the quotation is from Patmore, Amelia:
Whene’er mine eyes do my Amelia greet/It is with such emotion/As when, in childhood, turning a dim street,/I first beheld the ocean.
Thomas Dilworth tells me ‘he must have read Patmore before or shortly after becoming a Catholic...As a Cath. convert, he [Patmore] would have been of interest to the Catholics DJ was associating with then. And he was associated with the Pre-Raphaelites, who fascinated DJ. ’
Vecta Insula: Isle of Wight (‘igland’ is Old English for ‘island’).
East Road: off Dungeness, in the Dover Strait. It provides some sheltered anchorage. This map might help a bit.
Sleeve: The Channel is known to the French as ‘La Manche’ (‘The Sleeve’).
Goodwin Sands (51°14'N., 1°32'E.): a shifting mass of drying sand banks, extends up to about 7 miles offshore between North Foreland and South Foreland and is marked by lighted buoys. The area surrounding the sands is littered with the wrecks of numerous vessels. Some of these wrecks are visible depending on the state of the tide. The sands are moved by the tidal currents and their forms are frequently changed. Large drying patches lie along the E and W edges.
South Sand Head, Small Downs, Flats, Brake, Gull: see this map. The Gull is the usual passsage to the North Sea and the Thames estuary, being preferred to going outside the Goodwin Sands.
b Cinque Ports: a medieval confederation of English Channel ports formed in the twelfth century to furnish ships and men for the king’s service. The original five were Hastings, Sandwich, Dover, New Romney, and Hythe, though others were added later.
a gavelkind: the system of inheritance whereby when a man dies, his estate is shared equally between his sons.
Another voyage is now being described, one taking place some time around the fifth century CE (when the population was becoming Anglicised after the Romans left towards the end of the fourth century) and going along the south coast of England, past Dover and turning north up the east coast and on towards Norway. There is a distinct feel of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner (a work very important to DJ) in this section, suggested here by the use of the word ‘numen’, Spirit.
Throughout the whole of this section of the poem there is a variety of languages used, representing the linguistic variety that existed in Britain during the dark ages.