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  • By Daniel Leach

The Devil at Woodstock

Listen to a recording of this piece here.

I was a mere sixteen that Summer day

We all piled in a beat-up car and drove

To Woodstock, or someplace we had been told

That a great spectacle was to occur—

An earth-shaking event where all the stars

That lit a generation’s sky would be

Together, like an astronomical

Alignment—all their energies would merge,

And give voice to the coming brighter dawn

We all felt was awakening in those times—

A spirit free of all the bitter strife

Our parents’ lives had known, and free of all

The forms of tyranny; the little rows

Of doll-houses in suburbs, where the chains

Of smug conformity, in silence grow,

And rigid, time-encrusted old beliefs,

That led the world in mad pursuit of power

To war and to the very brink of doom;

Again sat mute as merchants of that trade

Enslaved the beautiful Promethean fire

Of Reason to their grim and violent ends—

Yes, even as we blithely breathed the air

Of Summer’s freedom in those sunny fields,

Across the world, in steamy jungle hells,

Our brothers bled and died and went insane,

And only last Summer, our cities burned,

When the last one of those great prophets fell,

And hatred, like a cataclysmic storm,

Loomed over the horizon of our lives;

And though we heard the voice of our own kind

Proclaim the god-like feat that had been done,

As they stood on the face of a new world,

Across the radios and TV screens

Of our whole world, the weak and crackling sound

Fell as a lover’s words, when love is gone—

The bygone dreams of days that were no more.

For we were a new generation born

Not for the narrow realm of ordered thought,

The world of soulless men and cold machines,

And empty phrases that no one believed,

But piously repeated, just the same;

Of gods who punished or rewarded men

As they obeyed like herded sheep, or not—

No! We were born to be the golden ones,

Free from all law save what was in our hearts,

And free from Time, but what each moment gave

To pleasure mind and body without guilt–

That greatest of the chains of tyranny.

And so we came to the appointed place

And joined the thousands, walking on the roads

Like pilgrims to some mystic, holy shrine,

And I became as if one of that throng

And lost myself in that great, surging crowd,

Becoming like a leaf born on the winds

That came from where we knew not, but which drove

Our minds and bodies on as with a tide,

Where thought and feeling melted into one,

A moment with no future and no past,

Where I was free to passively observe,

Without the mirror of falsely judging eyes

As if truly opened for the first time;

And I saw many things bizarre and new;

The wild profusion of free-growing hair,

And every possible exotic state

And hue of clothing, or of nakedness;

And people dancing mid the Summer corn

To waves of mystical, hypnotic tones,

And odors of hashish and cannabis

Which sweetly drifted over all that place,

Like incense in some ancient Doric rite;

And just beyond the tumult of this scene,

Upon a path that led into the woods,

I noticed a lone figure sitting there,

With such a placid look upon his face,

Yet so intense, as if by force unseen,

I was drawn to him, and as I came near,

It seemed as if a gentle light played ‘round

His head and brightened with his widening smile,

And I could not resist a certain charm

That seemed to flow forth from his very form,

For he was beautiful in that strange way

That blends the essence of woman and man;

Long, flowing locks and penetrating eyes,

Broad forhead, and that knowing, smiling mouth;

“What brings you here?” he said, as I stood there,

Not knowing what he meant, and so I said,

“Do you mean here with you, or do you mean

The here that is this general event,

Or here upon this earth to walk a time?”

“Good answer!” he replied, and with a laugh,

Invited me to sit down by his side.

As we looked out upon that human sea,

The magic of his speech, like music, charmed

My soul into believing that we were

Above all place and time, and free to see

The hidden truths that guide the human heart.

“I’ve waited a long time for this,” he said,

With almost a paternal love and pride,

“No single day in all those ancient times,

No pious rite or pagan spectacle

Of Greece or Rome, no conquering warrior host,

No angry revolutionary mob,

Or zealous movement, marching in the streets

Will change the world as will this day,” he said,

And smiled as he stared far away, it seemed,

And I said, “who can tell what noble dreams

Are sleeping in the minds that gather here?”

“Nobility?” he said, with laughing sneer,

“No, pleasure is the only god who reigns

Today, as it will rule the Age to come—

And he shall raise the Self above all else,

And make the universe revolve around

The sovran being, as if it were God,

And they will drink the power of that wine,

As each to each they smiling pass the cup,

Until they have forgotten that which once

Had bound their souls together, and the words

Which echo from the future and the past,

And even that great being who exists,

In whom they had believed in innocence,

That great, eternal tyrant of the soul,

They will deny, or jealously reject,

As if he were the hated enemy.”

He fell into a long and silent smile,

“You speak of God,” I said, in reverent tone,

More out of fear for where these thoughts might lead,

He said, “He has no power here on earth,

Save what the minds of men have been deceived

To forfeit of their natural, true birthright—

For they are born of that same flesh and blood

As all the creatures of this lovely earth,

And share with them the same deep, primal urge

To live and breathe each moment to the full,

And love and recreate in all the joy

That mind and spirit lend to pleasure’s sway;

And merging with that universal dance

Of Life, they find an immortality

Of joy and pleasure, ever born anew;

The Great Deceiver would have them believe

That they must sacrifice for some reward

That never was, and robs them of the thing

That makes each moment like a paradise.”

And his words lulled my soul like opium,

As I gazed out across the teeming fields;

A myriad of beautiful young souls

Were sharing thoughts and feelings as a one,

All swaying to the same entrancing tones,

As if one, powerful wave that could rise up,

And sweep the world with it’s all-cleansing force,

And he said, “Yes, and they will come of age,

Inheriting the reigns of power in the world,

But still the freedom of this moment will,

Like half-remembered dreams, enchant their souls,

Then cold necessity will intervene,

Few will to their precious ideals stay true,

But rather justify their wild pursuit

Of money and material things, as means

To that imagined earthly paradise

That they believed themselves, alone, deserve;

And some will seek the power to impose

The empire of their will upon the world,

And many will uphold them in their greed,

For they will seem to gain by loyalty,

And from the flattery of their self-love.

But as their power and riches multiply,

So does their taste for greater pleasure grow

In more insipid, mindless decadence,

So that those lords of plunder who exploit

The blood and sweat of the vast, aching world,

Must feed them ever more to satisfy

Their lust and ever more rapacious greed;

And after their own lands have been sucked dry,

They will, by age-old logic, turn to war,

That ultimate corrupter of the soul—

And all will cheer as victims are contrived

And hatred for the enemy inflamed—

Their hearts will harden then, to the most cruel

And bestial methods of the ancient days—

For weakness will become the greatest sin—

But the most passionate in their vehemence

Will be the pious ones who once confessed

That noble faith of human love and peace,

For love had long since vanished from their hearts,

That puling, weak and poisonous idea

Which plagued the world for two millenia,

That all are destined to an equal worth,

And with some innate sacredness are born—

For it was never so in Nature’s realm,

Where strength and beauty are their own reward,

And mankind, lacking this necessity,

Will never rise to all that he can be—

Terrible and beautiful in his might,

Conquering all the universe he sees!”

When he had finished, something in his eyes

Seemed as if burning with unnatural fire,

That I had never seen, yet chilled my soul,

For I was impotent to answer him,

As I stood on the edge of an abyss

Of doubt and fear, for I could not deny

That all he saw existed like the seeds

Of some dark tragedy, already sown

In this bright moment, and my darkest fears,

That often haunted me in feverish dreams—

A world gone mad, in which I roam alone

Among the ghostlike beings, unheard, unseen;

And as I wept, I thought I heard him say,

But only now like a voice from within,

“You will not have the strength to stand alone,

Forever alien to those creatures’ love.”

I walked away, and never looked behind,

But heard him laugh in piercing mockery,

Which echoed in my soul throughout those days

And long into the years that passed since then,

Each time our common folly would fulfill

Somehow again, that fateful prophecy,

I heard that laugh, as I can hear it now,

Out in the street, in churches and in homes,

And in the very corridors of power.

Daniel Leach is a poet living in Houston, Texas. He has spent much of his life fighting for the ideals of classical culture and poetry. More of his writings on culture can be found here. His volumes of poetry, compiling over 20 years of composition are entitled Voices on the Wind and Places the Soul Goes.


Sep 11, 2021

Impressive. I do not know whether Mr. Leach was at Woodstock or not, but the vividness of the description is convincing. The prophecy is a mordant indictment of what the poet's generation has done since then.

Overall, the poem reminds me of Wordsworth's and Coleridge's reflections on their naive espousal of the French Revolution early on, only to watch it turn into the massacres of the Terror. Our revolution has moved at a snail's pace by comparison, but it's ending up in the same place.

I commend the choice of blank iambic pentameter. The setting of the prophecy (and the references to Prometheus) evoke the classical Pythia or Sybil, and therefore the blank verse of Greek and Latin poetry. Milton…


Sep 09, 2021

It's a pity perhaps that this poem wasn't written in terza rima.

Unknown member
Aug 27, 2023
Replying to

It’s funny, because when I read the poem, it reminded me of Milton and his famous portrayal of Satan in Paradise Lost. In light of that, I thought it was very appropriate that the poem was written in blank verse. After reading your comment and rereading the poem, I do agree with you that it possesses some Dantean elements as well. Either way, I think this poem is absolutely fabulous! I think it should become a classic of modern literature. It strikes me as something that could easily have been written by one of the great poets of history.


Sep 09, 2021

I think Daniel missed an opportunity here to show his classical credentials - he should have called this poem Paradise Lost, then put his own title below it (as a subtitle) in brackets, but apart from that, it's a fine poem.


Sep 08, 2021

"And some will seek the power to impose 160

The empire of their will upon the world"

Hmmmm?....some compelling reflections here!....I wonder if Dick Cheney was at Woodstock?

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