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Legend Of The Devil's Dike

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

THE DEVIL'S DIKE. A Sussex Legend.

Five hundred years ago, or more,
Or, if you please, in days of yore;
That wicked wight yclept Old Nick,
Renown'd for many a wanton trick,
With envy, from the Downs, beheld
The studded Churches of the Weald :
(Here Poynings cruciform—and there
Hurst, Albourne, Bolney, Newtimber,
Cuckfield, and more, with towering crest,
Quae num.. preescribere longum est; )
Oft heard the undulating chime
Proclaim around 'twas service-time,
While to the sacred house of pray'r
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 sanctimonious crew?"
He mutter'd twenty things beside;
And swore, that night the foaming tide,
Led through a vast and wondrous trench,
Should give these pious souls a drench !

A down the West the Steeds of
Day Hasted merrily away,
And Night in solemn pomp came on,
Her lamp a star—a cloud her throne :
The lightsome Moon she was not there,
But deckt the other hemisphere.

Now, with a fit capacious spade,
So large, it was on purpose made,
Old Nick began, with much ado,
To cut the lofty Downs in two.
At ev'ry lift his spade threw out
A thousand waggon-load, no doubt !
O ! had he labour'd till the morrow,
His envious work had wrought much sorrow;
The Weald, with verdant beauty grac'd,
O'erwhelmed—a sad and watery waste !

But, so it chanc'd, a good old dame
Whose deed has long outliv'd her name,
Wak'd by the cramp at midnight hour,
Or just escap'd the night-mare's pow'r,
Rose from her humble bed : when, to !
She heard Nick's terrible ado !
And, by the star-light, faintly spy'd
This wicked wight, and dike so wide.
She knew him by his mighty size,
His tail, his horns, his saucer eyes ;
And while, with wonderment amaz'd,
At workman and at work she gaz'd,
Swift 'cross her mind a thought there flew,
That she by stratagem might do
A deed which luckily should save
Her country from a watery grave,
By his own weapons fairly beating
The father of all lies and cheating !

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,
(All rogues are fools,) when first his sight
A full-orb'd luminary bright
Beheld—he fled—his work undone—Scar'd at the sight of a new Sun ;
And muttering curses, that the Day
Should drive him from his work away !

Night after night, this knowing dame
Watch'd, but again Nick never came.
Who now dare call the action evil "
To hold a candle to the Devil!"

WILLIAM HAMPER



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