Niagara: A Poem by Rev. C.H.A. Bulkley

Bulkley ‘s poem is 132 pages long, followed by copious notes about religious references and history and descriptions of the events described in the poem. The full text of the poem can be found on the Hathi Trust site:

 

From Charles Mason Dow’s Anthology and Bibliography of Niagara Falls (p. 742-743):

The author tells us that these 3,600 lines are an attempt to answer the demand for a ” poem of more than ordinary length, truly American in its character ” on Niagara Falls. He says that his ” object has been not so much to describe at length the scenery of Niagara, in order to excite emotions in the reader similar to those of the beholder, for this would be vain endeavor, as to give a transcript of what passes through the mind of one who is supposed to witness so grand an achievement of nature.” The poem is tedious, with commonplace intervals, although it occasionally rises to the heights of true poetry. The analysis which follows gives an idea of the ambition and scope of the undertaking.


Analysis

Introductory apostrophe — themes proposed. Apostrophe to the Fall as a vast form of life. The presence-chamber of God. A knight-errant. Restless spirits. The streams — their lament — its uselessness. The Torrent like Time. A mourner over men and nations. The Indian — his chase — his death-song — his fall. Apostrophe to the Cataract as a Destroyer — an Historian — a warning Prophet — an oracle of Truth — a Chronicler undying — a tireless Laborer — and unswayed by man. The islands — refuge-spots — so are some hearts. Winter — the Fall ice-imprisoned. Spring — with a song of Liberty. Apostrophe to Niagara River — passage down its banks. The Cliffs — Death of Hungerford. The Cave of the Winds. The Pinnacle-Rock. The Whirlpool. Apostrophe to the Fall respecting its origin and early life. The Fall’s Invocation to the Creative Spirit for the Seasons. Evening and Night. The Hermit of the Fall — his birth-place and character — his strain — his melancholy and aspirations — his strife, disappointment, doom, fearful deed, remorse, and death. The Fall a witness of Redemption. Sunrise — typical of Genius. Hymn of Praise. Noon. The Flood’s Invocation. Poet. Musician. The Table- Rock. Beneath the Sheet. The Cataract’s hymn to the Creator. Proof of Deity. The Doom of Time, with the Flood’s death-dirge and fall. The Farewell to the Cataract.


A selection from the poem by Bulkley chosen by Dow:

Spirit of the Fall

What towering form erects its figure here,
To check the footsteps of inquiring man,
As if it were a sentry at his post,
To guard with faithfulness the narrow pass?
It is the Rock of Manitou, the Pinnacle
On which the gloomy spirit of the Fall,
Sits brooding o’er the tide below, that shows
His fearful frowns reflected in its wave,
Or feels the movements of his busy hand
Searching its depths and torturing its course,
Till its full currents reel in conscious pain!

How high the Water-God his altar rears
With jagged summits from a liquid base!
How green the moss that decks its time-worn crown,
Like youthful forms that cluster round old age !
From yonder cliff, impending o’er the stream
With shadowy fringes of the evergreen,
This massive pile, like an inverted cone,
Seems hurled in other years with giant hand,
Upon the kindred masses dashed below!


Source: Rev. C.H.A. Bulkley.  Niagara. A Poem. New York: Leavitt, Trow & Co., 1848

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