Hymn on Niagara by Thomas Grinfield

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Canadian Falls from Road to Ferry by John Herbert Caddy, 1839. Colour tint by Erna Jahnke. Courtesy Niagara Falls Public Library.

An anthem, ‘like the sound of many waters !’
The prophet heard it, as in wondrous vision
He lay entranced upon the cliffs of PATMOS ;
And wouldst thou hear its emblem, go and listen,
In deep and dread delight, to NIÀGARA !
That everlasting anthem which hath peal’d
Nor paus’d a moment, from the birth of ages !
And, fitting emblem of celestial chorus,
The loud eternity of rushing music
Disturbs not, but subdues and fills, the spirit
With feelings of unutterable stillness,
And infinite tranquillity, excluding
The world with all its dissonance of passions.
‡‡There, too, a cloud of ever-offer’d incense
From nature’s altar,— in the vapoury column
On which bright rainbows beam the smiles of mercy, —
Hath risen well-nigh six thousand years to heaven,
In unison with that astounding chorus
Of multitudinous and white-robed waters,
So glorious in the fury of their rapture
Around their awful and mysterious centre !
‡‡And oft, stupendous Cataract, as winter
Comes listening to thy choral hallelujahs,
And gazing on thy pomp of rising incense;
With mimic semblance of some mighty temple
He loves to grace thee, and thy shaggy borders
Fantastically silvers o’er with frost-work;
Pranking with icy pinnacles and pillars
The walls of thy magnificent Catherdral :
But ne’er Cathedral owned a crypt so dreadful
As thine, o’er-arch’d with such a thundering deluge.
‡‡And still the thunder of the eternal anthem,
And still the column of ascending incense,
Shall draw remotest pilgrims to they worship,
Shall hold them breathless in thy sovereign presence,
And lost to all that they before had look’d on;
Yea, conjur’d up by strong imagination,
Shall sound in ears that never heard the music,
Shall gleam in eyes that ne’er beheld the vision;
Till the great globe, with all that it inherits,
Shall vanish, — like that cloud of ceaseless incense, —
In thunder, — like that falling world of waters.
‡‡Oh peerless paragon of earthly wonders !
Embodying, in their most intense expression,
Beauty, sublimity, might, music, motion,
To fix and fill at once eye, ear, thought, feeling;
And kindling, into unknown exaltation,
Dread and delight, astonishment and rapture !
Sure GOD said, let there be a NIÀGARA !
And, lo, a NIÀGARA heard His bidding;
And glimmer’d forth a sparkle of His glory,
And whisper’d here the thunder of Omnipotence !

Clifton, April 1839

Source:  Barham, William. Descriptions of Niagara; selected From Various Travellers. Gravesend: William Barham, [1847], p176-177

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To Niagara by James Warner Ward

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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.

Niagara River Below the Falls by Emma Lazarus

lazarus river

lazarus river
Emma Lazarus, 1849-1887

Flow on forever, in thy tranquil sleep,
Thou stream, all wearied by thy giant leap;
Flow on in quiet and in peace fore’er,
No rocky steep, no precipice is there.

The rush, the roar, the agony are past;
The leap, the mighty fall, are o’er at last;
And now with drowsy ripplings dost thou flow,
All murmuring in whispers soft and low.

Oh tell us, slumb’ring, em’rald river, now,
With that torn veil of foam upon thy brow;
Now, while thou sleepest quietly below, —
What are thy dreams?    Spent river, let us know.

Again, in thought, dost dash o’er that dread steep,
By frenzy maddened to the fearful leap?
By passion’s mists all blinded, cold and white,
Dost plunge once more, now, from the dizzy height?

Or else, forgetful of the dangers past,
Art dreaming calm and peacefully, at last,
Of that fair nymph who pressed thy livid brow,
And gave thy past a glory vanished now?

The Rainbow, whom the royal Sun e’er wooes,
For whom, in tears, the mighty Storm-king sues;
Who left her cloud-built palace-home above,
To crown thy awful brow with light and love.

Yes, in thy tranquil sleep, O  wearied stream,
Still of the lovely Iris is thy dream;
The agony, the perils ne’er could last;
But with all these the rainbow, too, has past.

No life so wild and hopeless but some gleam
Doth lighten it, to make a future dream.
Thy course, O Stream, has been mid fears and woe,
But thou hast met the Rainbow in thy flow.

New York, November 3rd, 1865

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

Niagara by Florence Wilkinson

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Ontario Power Co. Generating Station, Opened 1905. Courtesy Niagara Falls Public Library

THE WATER TALKED TO THE TURBINE
‡‡AT THE INTAKE’S COUCHANT KNEE:
Brother, thy mouth is darkness
‡‡Devouring me.

I rush at the whirl of thy bidding;
‡‡I pour and spend
Through the wheel-pit’s nether tempest.
‡‡Brother, the end?
Before fierce days of tent and javelin,
‡‡Before the cloudy kings of Ur,
Before the Breath upon the waters,
‡‡My splendors were.

Red hurricanes of roving worlds,
‡‡Huge wallow of the uncharted Sea,
The formless births of fluid stars,
‡‡Remember me.
A glacial dawn, the smoke of rainbows,
‡‡The swiftness of the canoned west,
The steadfast column of white volcanoes,
‡‡Leap from my breast.

But now, subterranean, mirthless,
‡‡I tug and strain,
Beating out a dance thou hast taught me
‡‡With penstock, cylinder, vane.
I am more delicate than moonlight,
‡‡Grave as the thunder’s rocking brow;
I am genesis, revelation,
‡‡Yet less than thou.

By this I adjure thee, brother,
‡‡Beware to offend!
For the least, the dumbfounded, the conquered,
‡‡Shall judge in the end.

THE TURBINE TALKED TO THE MAN
‡‡AT THE SWITCHBOARD’S CRYPTIC KEY:
Brother, thy touch is whirlwind
‡‡Consuming me.

I revolve at the pulse of thy finger.
‡‡Millions of power I flash
For the muted and ceaseless cables
‡‡And the engine’s crash.
Like Samson, fettered, blindfolded,
‡‡I sweat at my craft;
But I build a temple I know not,
‡‡Driver and ring and shaft.

Wheat-field and tunnel and furnace,
‡‡They tremble and are aware,
But beyond thou compellest me, brother,
‡‡Beyond these, where?
Singing like sunrise on battle,
‡‡I travail as hills that bow;
I am wind and fire of prophecy,
‡‡Yet less than thou.

By this I adjure thee, brother,
‡‡Be slow to offend!
For the least, the blindfolded, the conquered,
‡‡Shall judge in the end.

THE MAN STROVE WITH HIS MAKER
‡‡AT THE CLANG OF THE POWER-HOUSE DOOR:
Lord, Lord, Thou art unsearchable,
‡‡Troubling me sore.

I have thrust my spade to the caverns;
‡‡I have yoked the cataract;
I have counted the steps of the planets.‡‡
‡‡What thing have I lacked?
I am come to a goodly country,
‡‡Where, putting my hand to the plow,
I have not considered the lilies.
‡‡Am I less than Thou?

THE MAKER SPAKE WITH THE MAN
‡‡AT THE TERMINAL-HOUSE OF THE LINE:
For delight wouldst thou have desolation
‡‡O brother mine,
And flaunt on the highway of nations
‡‡A byword and sign?

Have I fashioned thee then in my image
‡‡And quickened thy spirit of old,
If thou spoil my garments of wonder
‡‡For a handful of gold?
I wrought for thy glittering possession
‡‡The waterfall’s glorious lust;
It is genesis, revelation,—
‡‡Wilt thou grind it to dust?

Niagara, the genius of freedom,
‡‡A creature for base command!
Thy soul is the pottage thou sellest;
‡‡Withhold thy hand.
Or take him and bind him and make him
‡‡A magnificent slave if thou must —
But remember that beauty is treasure
‡‡And gold is dust.

Yea, thou, returned to the fertile ground
‡‡In the humble days to be,
Shalt learn that he who slays a splendor
‡‡
Has murdered Me.
By this I adjure thee, brother,
‡‡
Beware to offend!
For the least, the extinguished, the conquered,
‡‡
Shall judge in the end.

Source: Outlook February 24, 1906  p. 432-433

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Salutation by Evelyn M. Watson

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‡‡‡‡‡‡‡
I. To Niagara

watson salutation
Niagara Falls (From near Clifton House), 1837, by W.H. Bartlett engraving by J. Cousen. Courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

‡‡‡“My heart is fixed; therefore I sing.” ― Bible

Niagara, my singing heart is fixed;
I love the rich contentment of your wood,
Your wind-scourged cliffs and that calm sisterhood
Of islands.    As man-birds crest the wind betwixt
The Falls and the farther skies, on azure highways,
So poets look from heights yet more sublime,
Inviting Nature-lovers from life’s byways
To experience beyond all touch of time,
Aware of rhythm in a heart that’s living
Become attuned to fuller consciousness
Exalting joys that consecrate and bless. . .
Niagara, we join your song Thanksgiving.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡II   To the Public

Oh love the character of rocks, each tree
Along this course, each grot in solitude
With phantom—eerie ponds—the wind’s mood—
This thundering torrent in its majesty
With Nature’s attitude so grave and stern.
One feels the unity of truth and good
With beauty on life’s course—without return
Both condemnation and Beatitude.
Join now these staves of melody, the chording
Organ-tones with birds in blending choir—
And note heart-aching charms of misty fire:
May Memory receive each jewel for hoarding.

Source: Evelyn M. Watson. Poems of the Niagara Frontier. New York: Dean & Company, 1929.

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