Saturday 2 September 2017

The Legend of the Devil's Dyke

and in verse:-

Six hundred years ago or more or, if you please, in days of yore,
A wicked wight yclept 'Old Nick', renowned for many a wanton trick,
With envy from the Downs beheld the studded churches of the Weald.
Here Poyning's cruciform and there, Hurst, Albourne, Bolney, Newtimber.
Cuckfield and more with towering crest, quae nunc prae scribere longum est.
Oft heard the undulating chime, proclaim aloud 'twas service time.
While to the sacred house of prayer went many a pious worshipper.

"Can I with common patience see these churches and not one for me?"
"Shall I be cheated of my due by such a sanctimonius crew?"
He muttered twenty things beside and swore that night the foaming tide,
Led through a deep and wondrous trench, should give those pious souls a drench.

Adown the West the steeds of day, hasted merrily away,
And night in solemn pomp came on, her lamp a star, a cloud her throne.
So Nick began with much ado, to cut those lofty downs in two.
At every lift his spade threw out a thousand waggon-loads no doubt.
Oh! had he laboured to the morrow his envious work had wreaked much sorrow.
The Weald, a wide and beauteous place,  o'erwhelmed a sad and watery waste.

But so it chanced a good old dame, whose deed has long outlived her name,
Waked by the cramp at midnight's hour, or just escaped the nightmare's power.
Rose from her humble bed when lo, she heard Nick's terrible ado,
And by the starlight dimly spied that wicked wight and dyke so wide.

And, as with wonderment amazed, at workman and at work she gazed,
Swift cross her mind a thought there flew, that she by stratagem might do,
A deed which luckily would save, her county from a watery grave.

Forth from her casement in a minute, a sieve with flaming candle in it,
She held to view, and simple Nick, who ne'er suspected such a trick,
Scared at the sight of a new sun, fled, his work undone,
And muttering curses that the day should drive him from his work away.

Night after night our heedful dame, watched, but again Nick never came.
Who now dare call the action evil, to hold a candle to the Devil?

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