At Niagara by Clark W. Bryan

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The American Falls from Below
illustration for this poem from Good Housekeeping Magazine

 

GREAT waters gathered from far mountain streams,
From murmuring rivulets, rushing rivers,
And broadened lakes enchained with silvery links,
All held within the hollow of God’s Hand,
To be poured boldly, generously out
Upon His trembling footstool, swinging now
In space, that once was without form and void.

To look and listen where these waters fall,
Grave thoughts come thick and fast, but words are few ;
The inmost soul fain lists and looks in awe,
And yet how forcefully it throbs against
Its prison walls, as if to tear away
The shreds of flesh and nerve that bind it fast.

Sentiment keeps silence, thought steals away,
Erewhile such Real Presence passes by ;
Idea wanders aimlessly about,
Anear the throne of such immensity,
Where grandeur and magnificence hold sway
’ Mid rolling thunder’s warring elements,
Above the fearful sweep of perilous descent,
Rushing down ‘ neath bending bows of beauty,
In diapason deep, in whelming sound,
And sending up along its rocky balustrade,
The smoke of incense to the Heavens above.

From seething caldrons full and overflowing,
Where witches wild and furies fierce come up,
From seething wells of foam, enclosed and held
By rocky walls, by cliff and precipice,
By frowning battlements worn and beaten,
Seamed and scarred by gathering storms of years,
By telling ravages of Time and Age,
But holding well and firmly their allotted place
As when “ In the beginning ” it was said,
By Him, “ Let there be light ; and there was light. ”

Niagara ! where rainbows rest in beauty,
Where majesty sublime sits full enthroned,
Where Power Eternal walks and waits,
Where weak and finite strength dares not approach
The Infinite, mankind full well may gaze,
May listen , meditate and moralize,
Coming not too near, but worshiping afar,
May ask, “ Who built these ribbed and rocky walls ?
“ Who pours these gathered rapids with such force,
“ Headlong adown their steep and rugged way,
“ Into the fathomless abyss below ?
“ Who holds these foaming torrents in their place,
“ Taking their full measure, calms their violence,
“ And bids them go in peace again , to bear
“ The sails of commerce and to turn the wheels
“ Of the great world’s industries anew ? ”

‘ Twere well to ask, and those who ask and say
There is no God, may look and list and learn
A lesson full of meaning and of moment,
From out the book of nature, boldly spread
Before the eyes of man above, below,
Or near where falls the waters of Niagara.

Such restless volume ever flowing on,
And falling ever ; always following
Closely in the wake of what has gone before,
Plunging madly down this fearful cataract,
On through angry whirlpools, grand old gorges,
Soon calmly waiting in some sleeping lake,
Or held in close embrace by sunny slopes
Or broad and bending river, dotted thick
At times with rock-bound, leaf-embowered
Homes of water nymphs on Isles of Thousands,
Where beauty reigns and rest for man is found.

Great waters , moving on , in motion ever,
As though from out the world of which we know,
Away to distant realms of unknown seas ,
Where “ deep calleth unto deep,” and where
The streams that once dashed down Niagara’s rocks,
So weird and wild are now engulfed and lose
Themselves among the ceaseless rolling billows
Of the boundless ocean—going out in turn,
From mountain brooks, from restless rivers,
And placid lakes, as from the stream of Time,
Into the realms of a vast Eternity ;
Rolling ever on, ever and forever,
Where proudly stand Niagara’s world-famed rocks,
Mirroring in thought the earthly life of man,
From mountain rill, rough water-tides and currents,
Each in their course presenting features rich and rare ;
Intermingling reverent thought with low inquiry : —
“ Who poureth all these waters from His hands, ”
“ From which uprise the thunders of Niagara ? ”

To answer give to inquiries that come
Forcefully to the human soul and sense,
While sitting at Niagara’s feet,
With eyes and ears filled with all the wondrous
Sights and sounds which there come crowding in upon
The contemplative mind, wrapt in reverent thought,
Where whirlwinds roar, and incense rises
Heavenward, the human voice dares not give
Answer to these soul questionings at once : —
“ Who poureth all these waters from His hands ? ”
“ Who holdeth them in bounds so close and firm ? ”
“ Who bids them go in peace from out their rocky
“ Fastnesses ? Who sends them forth in peaceful
“ Paths toward the sea, o’erwhelmed and lost,
“ Within the boundless realms of waves and tides
“ And billows ? ”
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Man may not boldly venture
To reply, where heavenward rise the thunders
Of Niagara’s fall .

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡But still there comes
The same inquiry, whether within hearing
Of the deafening roar of wind and wave,
Or out upon Ontario’s placid face,
Or down the restless rapids of St. Lawrence,
In its course, or when engulfed within the
Billowy embrace of the broad Atlantic,
Holding itself in quick abeyance to a
Spirit nature that falls in tones sublime
Upon the mortal ear, save to recite
From out the book of Holy Writ, wherein
We read that in the Morning of Creation
The bounds were set and lines were closely drawn
Between “ the waters under the heavens,
And the dry land called earth ” for aye and ever.

God ” saw that this was good ,” and ever hence
Have poured, and continually will pour, in bounds
Already set,, on through coming ages,
And pass unchanged, the waters At Niagara.


Source: Good Housekeeping, February, 1894

Bryan was the founder and editor (1885-1899) of Good Housekeeping magazine. Read more about Bryan here.

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