The Whirlpool of Niagara River Viewed on a Sabbath Morning by Susan Hill Todd

Early View of the Niagara River Whirlpool, from a Copper Negative. Photo Courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library
“It was a Sabbath of the Soul”;
I heard the distant cataract roll
     Its choral anthem high,
Whilst from the forest’s deep repose
A breath of mingled fragrance rose,
     Like incense to the sky.

Its azure dome was o’er my head,
The green leaves started at my tread,
     As if disturbed in prayer;
‘T was nature’s worship — we alone
Could jar its harp-strings — not a tone
     But breathed in concert there.

I saw, below my verdant seat,
The swift Niagara at my feet,
     As in a prison bound;
A rocky bed, with graceful bend
And narrow outlets at each end,
     Encircled it around.

While the proud rapids seem to pause
Indignantly to view the cause
     Of their unwont delay —
In solemn majesty, they turned,
Lingering, as if themselves they spurned,
     In durance thus to stay.

In circling eddies round and round,
I saw the careless driftwood bound,
     And watched it on its way,
Borne gayly on the rapids’ crest,
Till on the water-giant’s breast,
     The passive victim lay.

Within the whirlpool’s false embrace,
Condemned with never-ceasing pace
     Their aimless course to run,
Without a hope or goal in view,
An endless journey to pursue,
     Beginning, never done.

Yet viewlessly these links confine,
Brighter than diamond sparks they shine,
     And merrily they flow,
Whilst each fair shore stands smiling by,
And still the dancing waters fly,
     To music, as they go.

And then I felt like one who dreams,
And all his airy visions deems
     Realities of life;
The senseless logs like men were seen, —
A metamorphosis, I ween,
     Not much with truth at strife.

For is not human life a stream,
Whose rapids (cares and pleasures) seem
     To us but infant’s play,
Till, into passion’s current hurled,
Amid its restless vortex whirled,
     We chase the hours away?

What are the chains the hands have wrought?
The strongest chain is made of thought,
     The poet said of yore;
Spellbound by habit, thus we see,
The ocean of eternity,
     Yet seek its bliss no more.

O would we nature’s lessons read,
And draw our pure, exalted creed
     From her celestial lore,
All earth would then be hallowed ground,
In every stream some virtue found
     The spirit’s woes to cure.

Source: Myron T. Pritchard, comp. Poetry of Niagara. Boston: Lothrop Publishing Co., 1901.

Originally published in Susan Hill Todd’s Occasional Poems: a New Year’s Offering. Boston: W. Crosby and H. P. Nichols, 1851

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