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The Pine Barrens

[This is a poem in dactylic hexameter. Poe held that true dactylic hexameter, the meter of Homer, is impossible in English. He was probably right. Still, I regard the hexameter which Coleridge introduced ("all my hexameters gallop like horses") and Longfellow practiced as worthwhile in itself, especially if it is not too strict in distinguishing spondees (rare in English) from strong trochees. I have committed some further irregularities. Google tells me I can claim Matthew Arnold's authority for substituting an amphibrach in the first foot; but the sequence of amphimacers in line 14 is my own responsibility.

Those who are aware of southern New Jersey only as Parkway-wide may wish to look into the Pine Barrens and the legend of the Jersey Devil.]

   Forests have gods of their own which they suckled and shelter, the old gods,
   Left there by peoples who vanished or died in their hollows and deer paths.
   Always defeated, they whisper and slink through the shivering shadows.
   But we have a god, a devil, a shrieking and wandering devil,
   You hear him hunting and howling: he hunts in the night and the daytime,
   You see the marks of his hooves in the snow on your lawns and your rooftops.
   You know the devilish son, thirteenth son of Mother Leeds—cursed son.
   Twelve mortal children had fit in her womb by turns and had suckled.
   Loose as it hung from her, skin could not hold in her bitterness—maddened,
   Weeping, she prayed that this one be a devil. Darkness had filled her,
   Darkness to cover the sun like a storm cloud, night without morning,
   Sticky and crying he lay in his crib while she died on her bedsheets.
   Lying alone in his crib, how he grew, like the wave in the ocean,
   Last child of Mother Leeds, thirteenth child, winged child, sharp-toothed child, cursed child,
   Fearing his father's kind, leaving the towns behind, flying he found us.
   Devils thirst for blood but we gave him pine sap to suckle,
   We fed him pine sap and bear flesh. He needed no shelter from danger,
   Men were in flight from their towns in the woods by the banks of the red bogs,
   Bogs full of iron for forges and hammers to beat into weapons.
   Free of their blades and their shovels we covered their roads and their clearings,
   Rotted and broke through their fences and shrouded their markers and signposts,
   Scattered young acorns to grow in the cracks of the walls and the rooftops,
   (Driving their roots in as wedges to throw down the walls and the roof beams),
   Scraped off their roofs and broke in their windows with wind-swaying branches,
   Heaved up foundations. We jumbled and heaped up their stables and workshops,
   Churches and schoolrooms and houses, so mice could make nests in their bedsheets.
   Nothing is sweeter for forests than violently taking their own back,
   Nothing like claiming the ruins. We watch all your cities and highways,
   All of your wire-strung poles and your towns while they glow in the night-time,
   Ready and hungry we plan their destruction. We wait for your weakness,
   Sending our acorns to test your defenses. The day that you falter,
   Our god will walk out among you clearing the way for us,
   Violently clearing the way for the oaks and the pines that adore him.
   Empty, your sky-scraping towers will rust out, buckle and falter.
   Kneaded and twisted by roots even concrete will crack up and shatter.
   Trees will soon grow in your roads, in your lawns and your cellars and playgrounds,
   Vines will soon pull down your wires and smother the masted antennas,
   Spiders will seal up your houses and mice will make nests in your bedsheets.