Niagara by Arthur William Fisher

Niagara by Arthur William Fisher
Portrait of Arthur William Fisher
                        I

NIAGARA, how charms thy name
    Resounding from thy high walled sheer!
How sweet thy water's far acclaim
    That bursts upon my pricking ear!
How beams my eye with kindling flame
    As to thy presence I draw near,
Where beautied grandure's falling swell
Weaves still time's awful, mystic spell!

I gaze at thee from nearest shore,
    Close by the impending brink,
In wonder at thy fearful pour
Of waters, til, amazèd more
    Than I can tell or think,
I only see thy mist's fine shower
    That wafts upon these walls,
And vision dim that mighty Power,
    The Great Spirit of the Falls.

                    II

But lo ! up stream, in fitful dream,
    The rolling, rumbling rapids roar,
And toss and tilt and turn and teem,
And gurgle in their cascades' gleam
    From isle to isle and isle to shore;
        And oft repeat the dazzling feat,
Display their leaping wonders more,
Rush round the rocks with flaring locks,
Lead as bellweathers do their flocks,
    While through their tree-trimmed way they pour,
        These bounding waters, fleet, more fleet,
To gather in one onward rush
    Adown their troubled, rocky bed,
And struggle, straggle, gurgle, gush,
    To follow where their leaders led;
        But panting now for breath,
            They stagger to the edge
            Of overhanging ledge,
        Fearing the plunge beneath;
When forth in foam their fellows come,
Cheering and jeering the faltering and fearing,
Till onto the precipice they rush with a roar,
Exulting and leaping, as comrades before;
Yet staring, stumbling, crashing, crumbling,
    As host with host o'erpowering,
Each glistening wight of air commingled,
    They fall in gulf devouring;
Or, flaring, flashing, darting, dashing,
    To break as gleaming snow,
While splitting, splashing, gnawing, gnashing
    Upon the rocks below;
Whence o'er the heights their spirits towering,
Sweeping, swaying, rising, lowering,
    Rejoin the ceaseless flow,
That with recurring, falling shock,
    Born on the wind's bluff blast,
Wears e'er amain the shelving rock,
    And undermines aghast.
    There as by mighty hand,
A cavern forms, carved by the storms
    Of vexed spray's pelting wave;
    And in that rocky cave
Rough columns stand with altar grand;
    While fittingly conforms
The spray-worn dome and bowlder pave,
Round which reëcho e'er a stave
    Of wailing wind's weird band;
And there before the cavern door,
Attended with intoning roar,
    E'er falls the Bridal Veil
    And sweeps the filmy rail,
Which now through Bridal Hall are fanned,
Now screen that Wind's Cave from the land. 



                            III

The pearly mists sweep on the breeze,
    Lift far aloof and bear away,
Bathing the green of Island trees,
    Laving their roots 'mid rocks of gray,
Hoarding a stand of every kind
That breathes the air of Northern wind,
    While plants and flowers all rankle here,
    Grow undisturbed from yester year;
And here, within their fastness deep,
    The virgin forests yet declare,
    That in their stately, tangled lair,
Full many a Brave lies deep in sleep.
    Above his head and round about
    No fitter scenes were e'er found out:
Woods for his bow, his arrow, spear,
    The tree or bark for his canoe
Were native to the Island here;
    And here his temple found he, too,
For then, as now, the Island malls
Reëchoed to the summoning calls
Of the Great Spirit of the Falls.

                        IV

How, from the Island's breasting shore,
    His keen eye danced to see the waves
Ruffling and rumpling with rippling roar,
    Their voices reëchoed in varying staves;
As from the clouds they seemed to pour,
    A boundless sea that no shore saves.
On come the waves with sparkling foam,
    So imminent they must confound him;
So tower they o'er his Island home,
    They must engulf -- but lo! surround him,
Sweeping his isle on either side,
    To dash a neighbor islet spur,
Or whirl around the jutting rocks,
There throw to wind their spumy locks,
    And speed again with splash and splur
Down rugged rapids far and wide
    With many a dipping dash and whir. 
They dance down cascades' shelving stiles
That spread between the Sister Isles
    And wing far out across the stream.
    Tumultuous in their tumbling dream,
Now springing here, now falling there,
They gallop down the rough-hewn stair,
    And whirl away in fine caprice,
    To find nowhere a sure release
Of impulses that ever strive
To dominate their leap and dive.
    Though rocks and shoals beset their way.
    Yet know they not a moment's stay;
    Their restless spirit calls for play.
The torrent tumbles down defile,
    Still seething, rolling, rushing still,
Like restless quirks of fretful youth,
Oblivious of the eternal truth:
    Though shooting time's grand rapids thrill,
Life's longest span's the briefest while.
    May border nations ne'er surcease
To watch the useless strife and toil
Of buffeting and foul embroil
And the swift current's sure recoil,
    Then tread the smoother ways of peace.

                            V

But ah, mad torrent, farther flown,
Thy waves are spent, thy anger gone;
And dread, sheer dread thy face wears now,
When pale remorse surmounts thy brow.
Thou sweepest placid to the brink,
Where wave and air in bright sprays link
And bend about the far-flung fall,
That plunges o'er its' horseshoe wall
    To the awful abysm beneath,
        Where the Mistmaiden waits on death;
    Or rising again ensheath,
        She lingers always in its breath.
    On a pinnacled cone she is born,
        That spurts to realms of day;
    A shadow to adorn,
        She lives in the jutting spray.
    Behold the spirit lone
        Of Neuter maid that died,
In times that long are gone,
    Upon this vengeful tide.
The fairest offering she
    That sprang from bowered halls
To appease the wrath in Thee,
    Great Spirit of the Falls.
Though living voice be still,
    Her sacrificial song
Yet listening ear may fill
    By bowed winds born along:

                    VI

"Great Spirit of the Falls, I come,
    In white canoe bedecked with flowers,
    The fairest of these woodland bowers,
Peace-offering meet, through billowy foam.

"War's weapons have our warriors thrown
    Into Thy rapids' restless flood
    To wash away their guilt of blood,
And on Thy waves their war-garb strown.

"Such sacrifice for war we make,
    Thy gathering anger to appease,
    And must till tribal wars shall cease;
So take me for my people's sake.

"Then may all peoples on these banks
    Desist from strife's relentless woe,
    Regard Thy stream's insatiate flow,
That gulps our offerings bare of thanks.

"A maid am I, unknown in war;
    My youth, my life I bring to Thee;
    I fling them on Thy wrathful sea,
And know that it will bear them far.

"Yet cling I to our ancient truth:
    A moment from this border strand
    Will bring me to Thy spirit land,
Where I shall ever live, a youth.

"I join the maidens that have gone
    In other years to watch and wait
    The luckless, whose appointed fate
Has drawn them to Thy Fall's drear moan --

"How swift I float upon Thy tide!
    I near, I near Thy awful Fall!
    Its cloud of mist shall be my pall;
Therein I ever shall abide.

"I feel my spirit sweeping home,
    From war-worn earth a calm release --
    Now all Thy presence whispers:
            'Peace' --
Great Spirit of the Falls, I come --"

                    VII

So passed the song; so passed the maid;
Into the Fall's great bight she strayed,
Into the mists that swept and swayed,
    And, darting, rose on high;
Over that bolting bole of green
Where wonder doubts the marvelous sheen,
Beautiful as the forest queen
    That o'er it glided by.

'Neath Iris' bow that arched the flood,
Crowning the sprays with radiant good,
Stemming the stream of useless blood,
    The maiden took her way,
Hymning the story, known of old, --
At rainbow's end the pot of gold
Is peace between the nations poled.
    So may it stand for aye.

So passed she from appallèd sight,
Passed as the arrow in its flight,
Passed as the shooting star at night,
    Beautiful, gleaming spark;
Yet her burdened song still stings the ear,
Resounding clearer and more clear
To tribes and nations gathered here,
    For a song shall pierce the dark.

                    VIII

Into this seething gulf below,
From whose churned lap I watch its glow,
Incessant pours the great flood's flow.
    It seems as I approach it more,
    A realm of waters whose fountains pour
    Down from the skies with thunderous roar, --
A mighty symbol of Infinite Power,
That wields the world till twilight hour,
And showers on man a multiple dower.
    'Tis a deluge vast, whose pent up strength
    From the bosom of space bursts forth at length
And leaps the barrier's uttermost verge --
And falls, -- a cataract's crumbling surge.
    It furls and falls; it leaps and lunges,
Like deserate life whose will is spoken;
    Down to the gulf's deep depths it plunges;
Its path is bent; its course is broken!
    But oh, the grandure of that leap!
The loveliness of that falling curve!
With the pearlèd mist scuds' sweeping swerve,
    That dappling veil the beryled deep
    From wave-worn wall to island keep.
And there, above, a hovering cloud
Spreads its broad wings like eagle proud,
    Wheeling above an eyried steep;
While there, in belched spray's billowing height,
    The sunbeams gleam and glow anew,
And bend their tokened bow of light
    For floods to flee its archway through;
And there, within the scroll-wrought flood,
Another bow now bends its good,
    And warps a circle nearly round,
    From surface varying to profound,
Forming with other hues well blent
A picture most magnificent.

                    IX

    I watch the lesser flood ring out
    Its sweeping surf in rolling rout,
And see it break in jetlet streams
Of beaded fillets bright with gleams,
As tassels toss in fairy dreams.
    A rippling curtain hangs this fall
    That waves before a battlement wall,
    That stretches so wide and rises so tall
    The earth seems hidden behind its pall.
Now seems the wave that breaks its brow
An avalanche of wind-blown snow,
    That, slipping down the mountain side,
    Finds here the edge of crevasse wide,
And constant pours into vale below.
    So, too, the winds that scarf assail,
    Which hangs a gorgeous bridal veil,
    Sweeping it on the altar rail,
Or tossing it on the pillared row --
But ah! here chimes the sunset glow,
    And with its ruddy fingers touch
    The crystal droplets, staining such
With tints that color western skies
Aglow with cloud-bright harmonies.
    Now seems this chasm a minster tall,
As through that art-stained window streams
The light that on these draperies gleams,
    Till tinged with wavering hues they fall;
While on the incense rising high,
Or sweeping through the aisles, I spy
    The lingering sunbeams blessing all.

                    X

Then, when there shines
In liquid lines
The moonlight's softened glow,
Which crowns the spray
In limpid play
With glittering silver bow;
And illumined waves,
As flashing glaves,
Swing ceaseless to and fro;
While round the rocks,
Like maiden's locks
The spurting streamlets flow;

And all around,
From dark profound,
Gleam out like brightest snow,
Such pearly flakes
As light the lakes
When freshning west winds blow;

Oh, then, for me,
With cloud and tree
A shadow round to throw,
Likes of this scene
Of beauty's sheen
The earth holds few, I trow.

                    XI

The morning light on the falling streams
Shows clear and bright 'gainst moonlight dreams,
And sharp reveals the crannied seams
    Of midstream island's sheer,
The lichen tenants and the moss,
The plated rocks and talus dross;
Age piled on age, they lie across,
    For tier on crowded tier.

And there below, along its base,
The centuries' sentinels I trace,
The bowlder rocks of rugged face,
    The silent Workman's chips;
And farther, 'neath the Falls, they lie,
As from incessant strokes they fly
In heapèd piles, by waves thrown by
    Like tost and stranded ships.

And there, on either side, arise
The chiseled cliffs, the bold emprise;
The workmanship of waves and skies
    Stands out in clear relief;
The Master toils from age to age;
The work seems slow, but oh, the wage
Is progress to the final stage;
    His works compel belief.   

                        XII

When Winter masks this gloried scene,
And spreads about his luster keen
On rock and tree, the high and mean,
    And starry twigs shine bright,
And ere the ripples of the Falls
Are frozen into madrigals,
From shore to shore an echo calls
    That speaks the frost king's might.

A captin, in austere command,
He calls, and yields the fortressed land
Nor dares oppose the magic wand,
    That leads his steady climb;
In brilliant garb his army hies;
No temporal ruler may despise
His cohort of the centuries
    In the onward march of time.

                    XIII

Most lovely Summer is his queen;
She holds her sway with gracious mien;
A milder force does she convene;
    But still she marches on;
Slowly, surely she clears away
The rocks, that in an earlier day
The earth king piled across her play,
    And will till they are gone.

Her roaring Falls are roaring still;
The waters topple from their hill;
While Summer sings her own sweet will,
    Her time she may abide;
Below the abysmal cauldron rolls;
Ebullient eddies whirl in scrolls;
Their curling forms sweep depths and shoals
    In hoary figures wide.

                         XIV

O massive bowl, thy height and space
Is work of a titanic race;
But workmanship of such a grace
    Long ages doth require;
Through tabled rock thou hadst been worn;
Thy towering sides had straight been shorn
By river gods in earth's fair morn,
    Ere man thou didst inspire.

But trees the wounded rocks had healed,
And shrubs and plants the cut veins sealed,
Ere scarce the titans were repealed,
    Still other work to do;
But yet, e'en yet are scalings bare,
That show the scores the gods wrought there;
So marked their journer in their stair
    The centuried gorge-way through.

                        XV

Oh, narrow is the gorge;
    Yet narrower the river;
Its waters choke and forge
    Precipitate and quiver,
Impinging on the rock,
With many a buff and knock,
Recoiling from the shock
    All shattered and a-shiver;
They gather up again,
Swift swelling with the strain,
While surging on amain,
    A more determined river.
It chafes along its sides,
    And rumples up its back;
Though ever forward glides,
    Yet all is reel and rack;
Uptossing here in waves,
    It there in eddies curls;
Now seeks the shore it laves,
    Now beats a-back in whirls.
Wave against wave is tost,
The channel crost and recrost,
Yet never the way is lost
    In its heedless, fateful plunge.
The mid-stream rocks sharp gore
    The rashly rushing tide,
While jutting jags chafe sore
    And wound its leaping side,
Provoking rush-rumbling roar.
    Yet onward, onward lunge
The waters in their sweep;
And, rocking high and deep,
    Flee from their frantic driver;
For oft the waves will heap
All in a maddened leap,
    Themselves to swift deliver
From every earthly tie,
And fling them to the sky,
    And leave the torn, teased river.
There, leaps one higher yet;
A glorious fan-shaped jet
    Of spray the wave displaying
Upon its boisterous crest,
As chief his head-gear drest,
    With stately feathers raying.
Waves heap and heave again,
    Each time the fair sky wooing,
Like billows of the main,
    Striving for self-outdoing.

                    XVI

The frothing, swirling tide,
    Pushing and parting and swaying,
Purling from side to side,
    Doubling, but never delaying,
Comes where the rapids wend,
Comes to the sharp, broad bend,
    The elbow of the river;
Where from grim Scylla, the rock,
It darts with dread and shiver,
Only to feel the lock
    Of Charybdis' arms; to deliver
Itself to the dizzy frock
    Of the mighty whirlpool's maze,
    Her waltz's twirling craze,
    Till swimming eyes blank gaze
    At the whirring, whizzing haze
About and above the water.
    She whirls by night, by day,
        The wind's grand measures vamping;
    She steps, while charm-scrolls play,
        Strangely the figures stamping,
Does Neptune's giddy daughter.
Ever the gurgling whirl,
    The intricate gyrations
        Entice in this soundless bowl,
With sucking, vortical swirl,
    The offerings and libations;
        But tells no tale of soul
Of man or boy or girl,
    That falls to its temptations,
        Though round and round they roll.
E'en Neptune has no power
To take from her the dower
    That falls within her cup;
        But zephyr, whispering to her,
        If he essay to woo her,
She, reluctant, gives them up.

                    XVII

The waters purl and shiver
    Swing onward in their foam,
Dreadingly quake and quiver,
    As on they roll and roam,
        Till orgic dances cease;
They must themselves deliver,
    Bewildered though they come,
Through the swiftly coursing river
    And its lower rapids, home,
        At last to flow in peace.

                    XVIII

Niagara, thou Thunderer Stream,
    Not pen of mine can tell thee;
Nor pictures of the Falls' bright gleam,
Nor all the arts that man may scheme,
Nor wildest fancies of his dream,
    In truth can ever bell thee;
Thou only canst thy beauties show,
    And then the lovely story
Will best be known unto the brow
    That is attuned to glory.

There, romping rapids rolling by
    Enmesh in witches' netting;
Here, hangs the Falls' calm majesty,
    With foam-hues past forgetting;
And there, the mist clouds luringly
    Sway round the Island jetting;
While yon, the Gorge's walls defy
    The Whirlpool Rapids' fretting --
I rank not splendours o'er
From shore to beautied shore;
Man only can adore
    The while they are besetting!

Oh, who can comprehend it all
    Until the rushing waters cease,
Since finite mind is far too small
To know the works of nicer call
Of the Great Spirit of the Fall?
Yet all men know His Promise Bow
That spans the wonder-working flow,
    Emblazons aye the legend: "PEACE".

Source: Arthur William Fisher. Niagara and Other Poems. Boston: The Christopher Publishing House, 1924.

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