“It was a Sabbath of the Soul”;
I heard the distant cataract roll
Its choral anthem high,
Whilst from the forest’s deep repose
A breath of mingled fragrance rose,
Like incense to the sky.
Its azure dome was o’er my head,
The green leaves started at my tread,
As if disturbed in prayer;
‘T was nature’s worship — we alone
Could jar its harp-strings — not a tone
But breathed in concert there.
I saw, below my verdant seat,
The swift Niagara at my feet,
As in a prison bound;
A rocky bed, with graceful bend
And narrow outlets at each end,
Encircled it around.
While the proud rapids seem to pause
Indignantly to view the cause
Of their unwont delay —
In solemn majesty, they turned,
Lingering, as if themselves they spurned,
In durance thus to stay.
In circling eddies round and round,
I saw the careless driftwood bound,
And watched it on its way,
Borne gayly on the rapids’ crest,
Till on the water-giant’s breast,
The passive victim lay.
Within the whirlpool’s false embrace,
Condemned with never-ceasing pace
Their aimless course to run,
Without a hope or goal in view,
An endless journey to pursue,
Beginning, never done.
Yet viewlessly these links confine,
Brighter than diamond sparks they shine,
And merrily they flow,
Whilst each fair shore stands smiling by,
And still the dancing waters fly,
To music, as they go.
And then I felt like one who dreams,
And all his airy visions deems
Realities of life;
The senseless logs like men were seen, —
A metamorphosis, I ween,
Not much with truth at strife.
For is not human life a stream,
Whose rapids (cares and pleasures) seem
To us but infant’s play,
Till, into passion’s current hurled,
Amid its restless vortex whirled,
We chase the hours away?
What are the chains the hands have wrought?
The strongest chain is made of thought,
The poet said of yore;
Spellbound by habit, thus we see,
The ocean of eternity,
Yet seek its bliss no more.
O would we nature’s lessons read,
And draw our pure, exalted creed
From her celestial lore,
All earth would then be hallowed ground,
In every stream some virtue found
The spirit’s woes to cure.
Source: Myron T. Pritchard, comp. Poetry of Niagara. Boston: Lothrop Publishing Co., 1901.
Originally published in Susan Hill Todd’s Occasional Poems: a New Year’s Offering. Boston: W. Crosby and H. P. Nichols, 1851
Niagara Falls, great cataract sublime,
Whose mists, like dragons, curl against the sky;
O thund’ring god, whose movement over time
Has gouged a mile-wide path, where seagulls fly
And trace your giant steps, each twist and turn,
Down yawning gorge to where the whirlpool boils
Beneath the dancing rapids — wild they churn,
Twisting, as round great rocks the river coils —
Why now the tears? The thousand voices sighing?
Do you not hear the reverent silence? Awe
And fear upon each frozen tongue? The dying
Exhalations of spirits, which, like straw
Before the winds, are strewn to airy silence?
You hear, you see, with pity not defiance.
From lake to lake,
the Niagara River flows
it rolls and rolls
skirting the shores, the towns
villages and cities, hurriedly
embracing the green isles
before finally the River
races towards the Falls
Skipping over rocks and whipping up rapids
it digs and dives. A mountain of
water in majestic emerald green,
a sight and sound
unseen, anywhere in this world;
deep down the Falls
it falls … then
roars up in mystical clouds
like a unicorn
with a rainbow as crown.
With proud hurry the noble Niagara
wanders on and on
under the bridges
which arch in glory
carrying traffic and people
of every race and nation
back and forth
back and forth.
But the old Niagara goes on as it did for eons,
carrying the seeds and scents
from its flowering shores
and clamouring with pride
a great and courageous past
silently saluting the landmarks
where still the spirits linger.
And the blue Niagara River
goes on as ever
drawing Whirlpools as if marking
the sacred spots as to remember
where our heroes fell, and
solemn vows were made
holy alliances pledged
and often as not were betrayed.
Then the mighty Niagara rushes on
running head on in a cul-de-sac
white gray forbidding rocks
are hovering high up
walling up its road, forcing it
to the right, taking its power
where it is reined, stored
and scientifically divided.
But now that Niagara, that powerful river
smiles and spreads calmly out
like a kind mother her skirts
to hold more in her lap.
In silence the white sailed boats
come criss-crossing up the blue river
to escort it with dignity and grace
to Ontario’s glorious lake.
Source: Grol, Lini, ed. by Kevin McCabe and Lynne Prunskus. Lake to Lake: Lini Grol’s Niagara. St. Catharines: Blarney Stone Books, c2000.