Lines in a Young Lady’s Album by Peter A. Porter

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Col. Peter Augustus Porter (1827-1864)
Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

 

An artist, underneath his sign, (a masterpiece, of course),
Had written, to prevent mistakes, ‘This represents a horse’;
So ere I send my Album Sketch, lest connoisseurs should err,
I think it well my Pen should be my Art’s interpreter.

A chieftain of the Iroquois, clad in a bison’s skin,
Had led two travelers through the wood, La Salle and Hennepin.
He points, and there they, standing, gaze upon the ceaseless flow
Of waters falling as they fell two hundred years ago.

Those three are gone, and little heed our worldly gain or loss—
The Chief, the Soldier of the Sword, the Soldier of the Cross.
One died in battle, one in bed, and one by secret foe;
But the waters fall as once they fell two hundred years ago.

Ah, me! what myriads of men, since then, have come and gone;
What states have risen and decayed, what prizes lost and won;
What varied tricks the juggler, Time, has played with all below:
But the waters fall as once they fell two hundred years ago.

What troops of tourists have encamped upon the river’s brink;
What poets shed from countless quills, Niagaras of ink;
What artist armies tried to fix the evanescent bow
Of the waters falling as they fell two hundred years ago.

And stately inns feed scores of guests from well replenished larder,
And hackmen drive their horses hard, but drive a bargain harder;
And screaming locomotives rush in anguish to and fro:
But the waters fall as once they fell two hundred years ago.

And brides of every age and clime frequent the island’s bower,
And gaze from off the stone-built perch—hence called the Bridal Tower—
And many a lunar belle goes forth to meet a lunar beau,
By the waters falling as they fell two hundred years ago.

And bridges bind thy breast, O, stream! and buzzing mill-wheels turn,
To show, like Samson, thou art forced thy daily bread to earn;
And steamers splash thy milk-white waves, exulting as they go,
But the waters fall as once they fell two hundred years ago.

Thy banks no longer are the same that early travelers found them,
But break and crumble now and then like other banks around them;
And on their verge our life sweeps on—alternate joy and woe:
But the waters fall as once they fell two hundred years ago.

Thus phantoms of a by-gone age have melted like the spray,
And in our turn we too shall pass, the phantoms of to-day:
But the armies of the coming time shall watch the ceaseless flow
Of waters falling as they fell two hundred years ago.


Source:  Johnson, Richard L. (ed).  Niagara: Its History, Incidents and Poetry. Washington, Walter Neale General Book Publisher, 1898

Also Published in Holley, George W., ed.  The Falls of Niagara and Other Famous Cataracts.  Baltimore: A.C. Armstrong & Son, 1883

Holley says of this poem: “The most graceful verses on Niagara ever written by a resident are the following by the late Colonel Porter, who was an artist both with the pencil and the pen. They were written for a young relative in playful explanation of a sketch he had drawn at the top of a page in her album, representing the Falls in the distance, and an Indian chief and two Europeans in the foreground.”

Read The Poetry of Peter A. Porter by Michelle Ann Kratts

Read about Colonel Peter A. Porter 

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