Ode to Niagara by William Chambers Wilbor

Panorama view of Niagara Falls, river and gorge, from Victoria Park, Canada, 1913, by David Ellis. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

From far-famed lofty Table Rock, in wide-
Extending vision, I behold, entranced,
The magnitude and symmetry of thy
Proportions. In one grand panoramic
Picture thou stretchest out before me — thy
Spacious overflowing gulf, thy distant
Falling flood, an avalanche of silver
Sheen, thy wooded islands’ intervening
Crags, and, near at hand, thy massive bending
Horseshoe : while far above the ascending
Rapids thy broad expanse of azure waves
Blend with the skies which frame the inspiring scene.

Long ages past, when the primeval woods
Sheltered thy banks, and fierce barbaric tribes
Threaded the forest trails to look on thee
And listen to thy voice, they felt in their
Untutored hearts the presence here of the
Great Spirit brooding o’er thy heights sublime
And foaming depths profound.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Fit temple art
Thou for the living God. Nature perpetual
Sabbath keeps within thy precincts, and man’s
Soul, awed by the thunder of thy deep tones,
Hushes the discords of a world of strife
And, low before the universe’s King,
In spirit worships and with him communes.

Cool breezes blow thy mists between thee and
Mine eyes, yet, by thy roar, I surely know
Thou rollest on in that uneven course through
Which thy way hast led long eons while the
Feet of those who on thee gaze forever
Vanish from thy side. Vapors are transient.
Soon the sun’s warm rays suspend before thy
Face serene a double rainbow. Lo, the
Zephyrs die, all clouds disperse, and thy clear
Sapphire-emerald blending hues gleam fresh and
Bright in the transparent air.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Upon the
Calm, still bosom of thy stream the gliding,
Flashing waters flow, with ever-quickening
Pace, to make the awful plunge of thy vast
Cataract; then, placid for a while, press
On impetuous downward through thy gorge, ‘twixt
Palisades of high-built walls of rock, like
Herds of wild unbridled steeds rearing and
Rushing on through eddying whirlpool’s mad
Uproarious waves, till they find rest at
Length in the smooth deeps of plains beyond,
And fall asleep in blue Ontario.

Poised in the path of thy swift-flowing surge
Enchanting isles divide thy fleet cascades
And hang suspended on the dizzy edge
Of towering precipice and beetling cliff.
Secluded dells, ‘neath grateful shade of trees
With many a winding way ‘mid fairy
Bowers, are decked with feathery foliage
Of silver birch and spruce. Festooning vines
Of the wild grape there diadem thy brows
With verdant chaplets twined with sylvan grace.

Within this paradise restored the mind
May think upon thy gentler, softer lines
As, far below, upon thy splendor and
Sublimity, it views the no less skillful
Handiwork of God, and lauds his boundless
Wisdom and love of all things beautiful.

Within thy drenched and gloomy Cave of Winds
I hear, appalled, the loud and dreadful crash
And uproar of thy frightful leap, and learn
Anew thy measureless and matchless power.
Like liquid veil thy crystal deluge falls
With headlong speed and far-resounding rage,
Dashing its weight of water on shattered
Trembling ledge of stone, escapes in glistening
Effervescent surf, and whirls along to
Join the fleeing billows which haste away
From the dread home of chaos and dispute.

The Rock of Ages rising at thy feet.
Where strike most furiously thy ponderous blows,
Bears all the swellings of thy tempest great
Unmoved. It braves the o’erwhelming shock
And stands for aye the symbol of that Rock
Which holds the Christian faith secure and strong
‘Mid ceaseless conflicts in a realm of doubt.

Thou hast for me a weird, unearthly charm
At midnight, when thy melody has lulled
To rest the multitudes who throng thy side
By day. Then the faint gleam of twinkling stars
And crescent moon their dim rays shed upon
Thy curved crest, and weave a halo soft,
Unknown to glaring light, which crowns thee with
A mystic glory and a shadowy glow.

There in the solitude and on the brink
Of thy unseen abyss, with darkness filled.
The sound of many waters and the ghostly
Sheet of foam about thee, are speech and forms
Of other worlds to me. Amazed, and with
‘Bated breath, I seem to stand, upon the
Verge of time, alone with thy Creator.

Thy strange caprice in winter I behold
With admiration and surprise as, of
Thy cloudlike spray frozen to Parian
Marble, thou carvest images grotesque,
And, drooping from laden branch of tree and
Shrub, thou hangest wreaths of ivory and
Coral white, and drap’st with purity all
That yield to the influence of thy magic spell.
While, at the foot of thy great waterfall,
There grows from day to day, an icy mount
Almost to level of thine altitude.
While, far beneath thy jagged bridge of ice,
Which spans thy hidden bed; thou hurriest on,
Resisting all constraint of frost and snow.

Eternity is symboled in thy strong,
Full, ceaseless life through an unmeasured flight
Of years. A hand omnipotent, from earth’s
Reservoirs exhaustless, pours within the
Brimming shores of thy swift, unresting waves
Floods ever full yet ever new supplied.
Thou teachest all who come to learn of thee
The endless length and breadth and depth and height
Of beauty, grandeur, and of power divine.

Thou runnest on unchanged by aught that e’er
Transpires among the races of the earth.
Kings rise to power and pass away. Armies
Are mustered in, and nations’ destinies
Are sealed upon the battlefields where they
Forever disappear. Generations
Come and go unheeded and unmarked by
Thee, as, ever moving on, defiant of
The lapse of time, thy rugged stream flows through
The long unnumbered centuries the same.

Source: William Chambers Wilbor.  Ode to Niagara. Buffalo: C.E. Brinkworth, 1907

Also published in his Ode to Niagara and Other Poems. New York: Eaton & Mains; Cincinnati: Jennings & Graham, 1911.
(Some punctuation differs in this edition)

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