To Niagara by James Warner Ward

ward

ward
Niagara Falls by H. C. Tunison, 1899

Rapt and amazed, midst scenes of rarest loveliness,
Stand I alone, entranced in awe and ecstasy
Gazing in silence o’er the cliffs precipitous,
Whence, with united front, thy waters ponderous
Tranquilly take their giant leap, Niagara!

Forward declining, wreathed in conscious majesty,
Shimmering spray and jewelled drop, tossed back from thee,
Wave pressed to wave in serried ranks, as, steadily,
Man against man, sweeps on a line of infantry, —
Into the vortex rolls thy flood intrepidly.

In the fierce rapids, many a sharp rock, secretly,
Under thy foaming current lay in wait for thee,
Gashing and tearing thy rent bosom wantonly ;
Lovliest of Rivers, sad and dire similitude,
So in life’s breakers strives man’s heart with destiny.

Tossed in their raging stream by waves impetuous,
Glamor of hope and youthful dreams deserting it,
So have we seen, — ah River wild and beautiful,
Art thou not here of “fortune’s buffets” typical? —
Under life’s chaos sinks heart-broke humanity.

Hither and thither whirled in eddies infinite,
Leaping in lambent jets and cascades showery.
Over the sunk rocks pourest thou unceasingly;
So in life’s drift and swirl man writhes defiantly,
Only in wreck at last to end disastrously.

Cometh a change to Life and River, presently;
Out of its perils Life emerges, jubilant,
E’en as thy waters seek in calm serenity,
Under this arched and rainbow broidered canopy,
Torrent immortal, rest an instant in thine agony.

Haste is there none, but eagerness and promptitude;
Frivolous things are cast aside disdainfully;
Nothing the brink can pass but heaven-lit purity;
As on they emerald crown, we see, Niagara.
Naught but the gem-like gleams from the blue sky over thee.

Out of the far off past emerging regally,
Stately in step, thy grandest one now daring thee, —
Architect fine and subtle, never loitering,
Minute by minute, frost and whirlwind aiding thee,
Toilest thou deftly, thine own highway channelling.

Onward proud River! — many a voiceless century
Into the shadow past had vanished recordless,
Did not the lines and chinks of thy shrewd chiseling,
Scarring the polished tablets of thy cenotaph,
Tell us the mystic story of thy genesis.

Source: The Magazine of  Poetry and Literary Review, vol. 6: American Poetry. 1894

Originally published in Niagara River and Falls. Buffalo: Thos. F. Fryer, 1886; also in Warren, Ina Russelle (ed.) The Poets and Poetry of Buffalo. Buffalo: Charles W. Moulton, n.d.

The Song of Niagara (1911) by Katharine Lee Bates

bates song 2

bates song 2
Statue of Katharine Lee Bates at Falmouth, Massachusetts library.

An alien song. Though day by day I listen,
No syllable of that majestic chant
May my adoring passion comprehend.
With many a lucent, evanescent hue
The plunging torrents glisten.
Far-seen, colossal plumes of spray ascend,
Their dazzling white shot through and through
With quivering rainbows, until every plant,
Each hoar, blue-berried cedar loved of bird,
Each fine fern tracery, the cold mists christen
To spirit grace. The frosted branches bend
With sparkle of such jewels as transcend
All fantasy of elfin-craft. Yet who
Interpreteth the great enchantment’s word?

Ye are the primal Sibyls, Sisters twain ;
Far elder than the whispering Cumaean,
Or Delphi’s burning prophetess, ye hold
Your splendid thrones unvisited of Time,
— One robed in rushing waters whose rich gold,
Imperial fold on fold,
Was wrought from sunsets of an earlier aeon,
Of an intenser clime,
Yet tinged by April willows and the rain
Of forest leaves autumnal, powdery drift
The eddies bring as tribute gift
Of Huron and Superior ; and One,
More graciously sublime,
Mantled in raiment spun
From foliage of some strange, supernal spring,
Such pure ethereal green
That Heaven stoops down, her holy azure fain
To blend with it and revel in the sun;
And oftentimes each iris-scarfèd Queen,
As angel-wing reflecteth angel-wing,
Puts on her sister’s sheen.

Mysterious ! if eyes can hardly bear
The glory of your opalescent robes,
Your diamond aureoles and veils empearled,
May the stunned ear divine
Your awful oracle? August, yet wild,
Do your tremendous paeans still prolong
Creation’s old, unhumanized delight,
The laughter of the Titans? Were ye there
With your deep diapason answering
The archangelic, chanting, golden globes,
What time they chorused forth their crystalline,
Exultant welcome to the stranger world?
Or is it, tolling Cataracts, the doom,
The unrevealable, forbidden thing,
Your antiphonic, solemn voices boom?
Or peradventure do your peals proclaim
Some all-triumphal Name
That could it once be won by mortal ear
Would ecstasy the griefs we suffer here
And charter Love to wing
Her radiant flight beyond oblivion ?
Dread Sisters, ye who smite
The senses with intolerable roar,
Is there no meaning in your ceaseless song,
No word of God in all your mighty throng
Of multitudinous thunders evermore?

Source: Katharine Lee Bates.  America the Beautiful and Other Poems.  New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, Publishers, 1911

Click to see an earlier version of this poem

bates song 2

The Song of Niagara (1910) by Katharine Lee Bates

bates song 1

bates song 1
Katharine Lee Bates

An alien song. Though day by day I listen,
No syllable of that majestic chant
May my adoring passion comprehend.
With many a lucent evanescent hue
The plunging torrents glisten.
Far-seen, colossal plumes of spray ascend,
Their dazzling white shot through and through
With quivering rainbows, until every plant,
Each hoar, blue-berried cedar loved of bird,
Each fine fern tracery, the cold mists christen
To spirit grace. The frosted branches bend
With sparkle of such jewels as trancsend
All fantasy of elfin-craft. Yet who
Interpreteth the great enchantment’s word?

Ye primal Sibyls, if eyes hardly bear
The glory of your opalescent robes,
Your diamond aureoles and veils impearled,
May the stunned ear divine
Your awful oracle? August, yet wild,
Do your tremendous paeans still prolong
Creation’s old, unhumanised delight,
The laughter of the Titans? Were ye there
With your deep diapason answering
The Archangelic, chanting, golden globes,
What time they chorused forth their crystalline,
Exultant welcome to the stranger world?
Or is it, tolling cataracts, the doom,
The unrevealable, forbidden thing,
Your antiphonic, solemn voices boom?
Or peradventure do your pearls proclaim
Some all-triumphal Name
That could it once be won
By mortal ear
Would ecstasy the griefs we suffer here
And charter love to wing
Her radiant flight beyond oblivion?
Dread Sisters, ye who smite
The senses with intolerable roar,
Is there no meaning in your ceaseless song,
No word of God in all your mighty throng
Of multitudinous thunders evermore?

Source: Canadian Magazine, May 1910, p 58

Click to see a later version of this poem

bates song 1

 

Niagara by Katharine Lee Bates

bates

bates
Katharine Lee Bates, 1859 – 1929

PASSION of plunging waters, blanched to spray,
‡‡‡‡But shot with sheen of chrysolite and beryl ;
Columnar mist and glistening rainbow play ;
‡‡‡‡A splendid thrill of glory and of peril.

 

Source: Katharine Lee Bates.  America the Beautiful and Other Poems.  New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, Publishers, 1911

 

Niagara by Emma Lazarus

lazarus

lazarus
Clifton House Hotel, ca 1860. Photo courtesy Niagara Falls Public Library

Thou art a giant altar, where the Earth
Must needs send up her thanks to Him above
Who did create her. Nature cometh here
To lay its offerings upon thy shrine.
The morning and the evening shower down
Bright jewels, — changeful opals, em’ralds fair.
The burning noon sends floods of molten gold,
The calm night crowns thee with her silver veil,
And o’er thee e’er is arched the rainbow’s span, —
The gorgeous marriage-ring of Earth and Heaven.
While ever from the holy altar grand
Ascends the incense of the mist and spray,
That mounts to God with thy wild roar of praise.

Clifton House, Niagara Falls, Canada, August 24th, 1865

Source:  Emma Lazarus. Poems and Translations.  New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1867