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


Under the Bridge at Niagara by Samuel Longfellow


Samuel Longfellow, 1819 – 1892

We sat beneath the wooden bridge
‡‡As in a sheltering tent,
And watched the water’s emerald ridge
‡‡And marvelous white descent

The schoolboys, ruddy-cheeked and fair,
‡‡Stood round in lightsome mood,
Nor saw the awful presence there, —
‡‡The spirit of the flood.

And yet on one of them, thought I,
‡‡Some deeper influence stole
To touch the slumbering chords that lie
‡‡Even in childish soul.

And when, in later years, his ways
‡‡Beside these steeps shall be,
The wonder-joy his foot that stays
‡‡Shall seem half memory.

Oh, may some heavenly influence
‡‡Still to my soul be nigh
To blend the child’s unconscious sense
‡‡With manhood’s seeing eye!

Written in 1857

Source: Samuel Longfellow.  Hymns and Verses.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1894

Virginia A. D**** by William B. Tappan


Young Girl in a Coffin. Courtesy Shirley Stoner / Niagara Falls Public Library

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Have thou never seen,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡When the orb of day
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Lightens with his sheen
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Dark Niagara,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡How his glories act
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡On the foam, and show,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡O’er the cataract,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Heaven’s beauteous bow?
She, who lately plumed for flight, seeking rest above,
Saw thus over Jordan’s tide, arched, the bow of love.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Hath, at eve, thine eye
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Watched the little billow
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Rise and gleam and die,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡On Atlantic’s pillow —
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡When it seemed to thee
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Sighing into rest,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Melting peacefully
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Into ocean’s breast?
She, as kindly in repose, sighed away her breath,
Peacefully and gently thus, blended into death.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Saw’st thou, when, in light,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Sabbath glories rose?
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡She, a Sabbath bright,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Saw, yet not like those.
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Longed she then to go,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Rest above, to spend?
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Yes! begun below,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Rest that ne’er shall end.
Voices heard she, loved ones saw, sweetly from the sky
Beckoning to their holy home, wooing her to die.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡In the troublous hour,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡In life’s weary doom,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡When disease hath power,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡When appears the tomb —
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Where’s the sovereign arm,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Strong and swift to save?
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡What can chase alarm,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡What adorn the grave?
She could answer, HE was there, swift, the sufferer knew,
HE that through the grave had passed, strong to bear her through.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡When Niagara
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Lifts his bow no more,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡When have fled away
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Ocean and the shore, —
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡She shall live again,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Where the mortal sigh
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Heaves not, and where pain,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Yea, and Death shall die.
She, a child, a seraph now, leans on Jesus’ breast,
Oh, for wings!  that we might be, sweet one!  thus at rest.

Source:  William B. Tappan. Poet’s Tribute; Poems of William B. Tappan. Boston: King, Crocker & Brewster, 1840


Niagara by William B. Tappan


William Bingham Tappan, 1794-1849. From his Poet’s Tribute.

Niagara! — the poetry of God!
Whose numbers tell, in everlasting hymn,
Only of God!    The morning stars that woke
Music along their courses, early caught
Its far off echoes, and in wild delight
Returned them, softened, round the universe.
Think not, think not, Earth’s triflers!  that for you
And garish Day, these melodies chime on.
When ye, diminished, lost, are known not, Night,
Night to the aweful anthem ever hearkens,
And ever with new joy.    Oh, how sublime
The symphony, that, under the expanse
Of stars, peals on in unexhausted power:
Niagara! — and the sole listener, Night!

Source:  William B. Tappan. Poet’s Tribute; Poems of William B. Tappan. Boston: King, Crocker & Brewster, 1840

Niagara by Joseph Cook


Falls of Niagara by George Heriot, 1801.. Colour tint by Erna Jahnke. Courtesy Niagara Falls Public Library

I hear the thunderous thud, the muffled roar
I see the blinding, wheeling, smiting mists,
The greens, the grays, purples, and amethysts,
From Heaven’s wide palm thy frightened cataracts pour,
And I look up beneath them and adore.
Above me hang chain lightnings on the wrists
Of summer tempests.  In the awesome lists
Of contests are the thunders and thy shore.
Beneath thy quivering riven cliff I lie
And gaze into the lightning and the sky
But I hear only thee and touch and see
A hand which undergirds immensity.
Thou speakest much, but speaketh most of him;
God, God, God walks on thy watery rim.

Source: Charles Mason Dow. Anthology and Bibliography of Niagara Falls. Albany: State of New York, 1921. p 825

Originally published in Joseph Cook. Overtones: a Book of Verse. New York: Knickerbocker Press, 1903