Niagara by William Wetmore Story

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William Wetmore Story. From the Brady-Handy Collection in the Library of Congress

‡‡Like hell-hounds from their slumber waking,
And panting madly for their prey,
‡‡Their whitening manes in fury shaking,
And howling down their rocky way,
‡‡From Erie’s sleep, in rushing rapids breaking,
‡‡‡‡Storms down Niagara —
Wildly towards their dread abyss
Hurrying they rage, and foam, and hiss,
Over their shelving precipice ;
Yet pausing on those awful steeps,
‡‡Firm, solid, and compact,
With heavy plunge, and solemn anthem, sweeps
All — all — together in one emerald mass,
‡‡The thundering cataract ;
And evermore its solemn roar
Peals up the heavens, and down the shore —
While from the unremitting storm
‡‡Of seething foam below,
Rises the water’s ghostlike form,
‡‡In its shroud of foamy snow.

‡‡With thee the wrestling storm hath striven !
The wintry blast hath grasped thee by the mane !
And from the summer’s darkening heaven,
Plunging into thy breast its forked levin,
The thunder answered to thy call again ;
But undecaying in thy pauseless power,
Heedless of storm, and reckless of the hour,
Deep, deep, with everlasting trumpet-tone,
Thou soundest ever on !

‡‡A thousand harvests of the human race,
Hath Death’s keen sickle shorn,
Since thou wast in convulsions born ;
‡‡But like a passing mist across thy face,
Year follows year, and age succeeds to age,
And terrible as at thine hour of birth,
Thy hoary locks thou shakest wildly forth,
And scarless, in eternal youth, dost age.

‡‡Falling, falling, as if in huge despair,
Thy watery weight descends ;
‡‡Rising, rising, as Hope were even there,
To heaven again it tends ; —
And Faith her rainbow-bridge uprears
Upon the shattered spray of tears,
And o’er the roaring gulf its arch extends.

Strong as thou art, there is for thee an hour !
‡‡There is for thee a law !
Its limits an almighty power
‡‡Around thy strength can draw ;
Who forged the universe unto his will,
Can chain thy fury, bid thy storm be still ;
He who hath given paths unto the stars,
And meted to the universe its bound,
Who clothed thy being with the voice of wars,
Hath set thee thine appointed bound.
Thundering thou dashest on, with awful roar,
Yet bendest humbly to His stern decree ;
And thou unto His eye art nothing more
Than the frail swallows, that forever soar
Above thy terrors, by his law made free ;
Flames over thee, and all the fiery sword, —
Thou servest ! Thou art bondsman to the Lord !


Source: The Phi Beta Kappa Key, vol 3, no, 2 (January 1917)

Story, Harvard University Class of 1838, wrote this poem on July 6, 1843

Read about William Wetmore Story

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