Journal of a Day’s Journey in Upper Canada in October, 1816 by Erieus (Adam Hood Burwell)

burwell
Niagara Falls. To Thomas Dixon esq. this view of the American Fall taken from Goat Island / painted & engd. by W.J. Bennett, 1829. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

The air was soft, the sky was clear
October’s sun shone mild and fair,
With orb depress’d and slanting ray,
While hastening round the autumnal day;
With mellow fruit the orchard hung,
Where birds the parting chorus sung,
And spread their opening wings to fly —
For winter frown’d in northern sky,
Black o’er the wide-extended plain
The crested buckwheat wav’d amain;
The Indian corn along the vale
Bow’d rustling to the passing gale —
Scene of delight! Reward of toil,
The product of a genial soil.
‡‡Fort Gorge is now far in my rear,
And the great cataract I hear: —
And shall I pass? No, turn and see
Thy wonders, famed Niagara.**
There the Saint Lawrence silent glides,
A broad and smooth, yet rapid, tide;
Then, tumbling with a sudden force,
It tosses on its foaming course,
Resistless o’er its craggy bed,
Where many a huge rock lifts its head;
Then down the steep the torrent rolls,
And scarce the rock its rage controuled.
The bowels of the earth profound
It pierces with unfathom’d wound,
There dark and deep the chasm lies,
Round which huge cliffs tremendous rise;
Dense clouds of spray, an awful brow!
O’erhang, obscure, the space below,
Admitting scarce the dubious eye
Where, half conceal’d, dark wonders lie.
The bow of heaven, a glorious sight,
Arches the spray in splendour bright,
While, unobscured, the king of day
Shoots down his bright effulgent ray,
The wandering fish-hawk, seeking prey,
Hither perchance, directs his way;
But ah! he finds no finny brood
To tempt him in the foaming flood,
The eagle, as he passes by,
Casts o’er the scene a scowling eye;
Amazed, looks from the dizzy height,
And claps his wings for surer flight.
While the deep bellowing thunder breaks,
The trembling earth, percussive, shakes —
It totters on its quivering base,
And seems as moving from its place.
Heaven’s thunders scarce, tho’ dread to hear,
More dreadful strike the astonish’d ear,
Or dire tempest rolling vast,
Borne on the force compelling blast —
The terrors of the storm combined,
So forcibly can strike the mind,
Emerging from a veil of spray,
The river shoots its giddy way,
Deep channel’d in its rocky course
With eddies, whirls, and sweeping force.
The towering rocks, a dreadful show,
Dark frowning, shade the tide below,
And cast a drear and solemn gloom,
Like deep destruction’s yawning tomb.
There, from the river’s stormy breast,
An island rears its shaggy crest:
With rugged rocks ’tis verged around —
With venerable hemlocks crown’d,
And cedars tall, whose evergreen
Adds to the bold, majestic scene.
Below the isle, from both its sides,
Two tumbling torrents join their tides,
And boiling, plunging, foam away,
Mantled in froth, and veiled in spray.
‡‡Here oft the raised spectator stands
Astonish’d — with uplifted hands —
His eye is fix’d in steadfast gaze —
His soul is chain’d in deep amaze —
His tongue forgets its power to speak —
Imagination — wilder’d weak —
Fancy, unfledg’d descends from flight, —
Confounded — lost, in such a sight! —
What dread sublimity is here!
What awful grandeur doth appear!
We ponder on the scene before
Our eyes — we turn — we view once more:
Then turn away with mind deep fraught —
Big with unutterable thought.
‡‡But yonder is that bloody field
Where war’s dire thunders lately peal’d,
With mingled groans, and savage yell,
While death-guns told their awful knell.
Yes, here, though dreadful to be told,
Here has the rage of battle roll’d,
Here tears of blood Columbia shed,
And here Britannia’s bosom bled,
Here the war-trump’s provoking blast
Roused many a soldier for the last —
And here life’s crimson flow’d amain,
While hundreds bit the gory plain.
And here the cannon’s fiery breath
Belch’d out destruction, flames, and death.
O’er the sad subject of this tale
Night hung a dark and sable veil.
Confusion rear’d his gorgon-head,
While fate was glutted with the dead.
Ah! must the mournful harp be strung!
Ah! must the solemn dirge be sung.
Shall widow tears in torrents flow
While listening to the tales of woe?
Must parents mourn their offspring dear,
And orphans murmur as they hear?
The maid betrothed, in beauty’s bloom —
Ah! death has waved his sable plume
O’er him whose vows engaged thy heart —
But cease recording muse! I start!
My soul recoils, and hangs between —
Come, silence, then, and close the awful scene!*
‡‡No longer could I bear to stay,
But up the river bent my way,
And sought the old paternal spot
Where first existence frail I got, —
Where first the breath of life I drew,
And first my mother’s kindness knew,
Serene in mild effulgence drest,
The sun was sinking down the west,
And Erie murmur’d on his shore
A gentle, dying, soothing roar.
The well known sound I quickly knew —
My boyish rambles rose to view,
Distinct in idea, though away
On time’s swift flight full many a day,
In youth how often did I lave
My limbs in Erie’s limpid wave,
Or sat me down upon the shore
To hear the tumbling billows roar,
Or have I climb’d the hill and stood
To view the tempest-beaten flood
Or frolick’d round in wanton play,
Or chaunted to the woodland lay!
But ah! those happy days are past —
For me a different die is cast —
The silver lake remains no more —
The sandy beach — the pebbly shore —
They all are fled — and manhood brings
A thousand cares upon his wings:
The chequer’d paths of pain and woe
Engross my steps where’er I go,
While clouds of error gather round
Impenetrable, dark, profound,
Alas! frail man! it is thy lot,
And sure thou canst avoid it not.
But for these troubles all combined,
Can we no consolation find?
Is there nought in this world below
But toil and trouble, pain and woe?
O yes! a cure for every wound
Has our adored creator found: —
He’s told us friendship, love, and truth
Should guard us, up to age from youth,
And meek religion’s heavenly ray
Direct us to eternal day.
‡‡I pass’d the wood, where, when a lad,
With cudel arm’d, and buck-skin clad,
With faithful Gunner by my side,
On such emergencies oft tried,
I’d venture forth to seek the cows,
And drove them home at night from browse,
Led by the tinkling of the bell,
Which welcome news to me did tell.
Oft have I sought, and sought in vain,
And luckless turn’d me home again,
Retraced my steps with eager bound,
Yet watched, alarm’d at every sound;
For then the sun had sunk to lave
His disc in Huron’s purple wave.
Oft then as I remember well,
The owl began his evening yell,
And hooted from his hollow tree,
Gods! how his screeches frightened me! —
Gunner I’d call, yet scarce could spare
A whistle or a breath of air,
And keep him closely by my side,
For on his courage I relied.
Bears, wolves and foxes, dreadful foes,
In my imagination rose,
And all the formidable train
Terror could picture on my brain.
Whene’er I heard the bushes crack
I thought them bouncing on my back,
And twitch’d about my head to see
What monster was attacking me!
But ah! how would my bounding heart
Within my bursting jacket start,
When thro the opening trees I saw
The fields, the house, the barn and a’,
Then courage kindled in my breast,
And boldly I defied the beast
That howled so hideous in my rear,
And made my body quake with fear.
Around the evening fire I’d tell
Of the terrific, frightful yell,
And having just escap’d the claw
Of monster that I never saw.
My listening brothers gather’d near,
Intent my every word to hear,
Believed the stories that I told,
And wondered how I was so bold.
‡‡But now I see the fields arise
And greet my long desiring eyes —
My father’s fields — where early day,
My boyish years I pass’d away.
There stand, deep rooted in the soil
The stumps, memorials of my toil: —
There have I swung the axe around
And fell’d the tall trees to the ground,
And listened to the echoing roar,
The fields resounding o’er and o’er:
There have I often held the plow,
And mark’d the field with furrows thro’: —
And here my father once did crack
The oxgood smartly round my back,
Because I did refuse to do
What he was pleased to bid me to.
There oft beneath that plumb tree’s shade, [sic]
I’ve loll’d a summer’s day and play’d.
Or early at the rising morn
I’ve scared the black-birds from the corn,
Arm’d with a sling, and nimbly thrown
Amidst their flocks the whizzing stone,
And forced  the thief to quit his prey,
And spread his wings and flit away.
There old Van Hoozer once went by,
And caught me treading down the rye: —
He call’d —  I ran — he broke a switch —
But I was quickly out of reach.
There oft, beneath the burning sun
The sharp, the keen-edged scythe I’ve swung,
Or spread the new-mown swathe to dry,
While Phoebus glowed in southern sky.
Oft have on this same ground I tread,
My inexperienced fingers bled,
When first I did the sickle wield
To reap the harvest off the field: —
But what for that? — the golden year
Brought the reward of labour near, —
The sheaves upraised their heads around,
And joy and pleasure did abound.
‡‡But cease! — my journey’s at an end —
Out bounces Gunner — good old friend! —
With hearty welcome home once more
He turns to lead me to the door: —
My parents are alive and well, —
Then think the rest — I can not tell.


Port Talbot, U.C.

Adam Hood Burwell published poems under the pen name Erieus

Source: Burwell, Adam Hood.  The Poems of Adam Hood Burwell, Pioneer Poet of Upper Canada. ed. by Dr. Carl F. Klinck. (Western Ontario History Nuggets no. 30, May 1963). London, Ont.: Lawson Memorial Library, The University of Western Ontario, 1963

First published in The Scribbler of Montreal, in two parts.  vol. 2, 18 July 1822, p. 39-42 & * p. 47-52

Click here for a biography of Adam Hood Burwell

** [A note by the Editor of The Scribbler]: “The rhyme here would require Niagara to be pronounced Niagaree. It is singular that the name of this celebrated cataract should be pronounced in a totally different manner on this side of the Atlantic, from what it is in Europe. Here. and all over the new continent, it is pronounced, Niagara, Europeans call it Niagara, which is the way it is accented by Thomson, and the other English poets who have occasion to use it. As it is originally an Indian name, it would be worth while to inquire how the aborigines pronounced it; old inhabitants say that in their youth, it was pronounced even here, Niagāra.”

 

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