To-day I stand a pilgrim on thy verge,
Old Niagara! and my willing ear
Drinks in the deep bass of thy wondrous voice—
“The voice of many waters”! On they come,
From Erie’s greener depths, and bright St. Clair,
And Huron fathomless, and far off Michigan;
And chaste Superior hoardeth not his wealth,
But sends his affluence to thy giant tide.
On, on they come, commingling as they run,
And, leaping in their joyance, in one mighty flood,
Pour their libation from thy trembling verge.
Earth’s joyous angel, Beauty, hovers round,
And plumes her wing amid thy snowy cloud;
And when yon glorious orb is slanting o’er
Thy battlements his beams, her mystic hand
Shapes from the elements a child of light;
Thy cloud of incense its baptismal font,
And cradle of her offspring newly born.
Now as I gaze, Time’s solemn centuries,
Hoar spirits of the past, call from their hollow tomb,
Nor tell us when thou wert not. When Horeb’s rock,
Touched by the feeble wand of Israel’s leader, gave
Its fountains for her lips, e’en then thy thunder tones,
Vibrating along these cliffs, shook earth and air.
When bearded time was in his infancy,
He played amid thy foam. When Memnons marble gave
It’s first weird music to the morning beam,
A kindred shaft fell on thy pillared mist,
And Iris lingered round these rocks, and smiled.
Sublimity is thee; thou art sublimity;
And the great seal of Deity is fixed
forever on thy brow! ’Tis no idolatry
To stand a mute-lipped worshipper at thy shrine,—
To feel our weakness, while our spirit kneels
Thus in the presence-chamber of the great I AM!
And listens to the anthem thou art ringing,
Ever from off thine altar to His praise.
A note to Frederick Douglass from Robinson, published before the poem:
Friend Douglass, —Being recently a November visitant at the great wonder of our western hemisphere, l ventured to pencil some thoughts upon a theme, which, although the frequent subject of the painter and the poet, will forever remain exhaustless.
As I stood upon the shelving ledge, and saw the mighty volume, sheeted with foam, making its majestic plunge into the fearful abyss, I thought it not an inapt emblem of the vast flood of light which Truth is now pouring upon the world; some rays of which, I trust, your Star is about to disseminate.
J. E. Robinson
Rochester, November, 1847.
This poem appeared in the first issue of The North Star, Frederick Douglass’ anti-slavery newspaper, published in Rochester, NY. Read more about The North Star
Robinson also wrote the song We’re for Freedom Through the Land, published in Anti-Slavery Songs: A Selection From the Best Anti-Slavery Authors. Salem, Ohio: J. Truscott & Co., 1849
Many thanks to Arden Phair and Dennis Gannon for tracking down this poem and referring it to the NFPP