Niagara in Winter by Susan Frances Harrison (“Seranus”)

Nor similes nor metaphors avail!
All imagery vanishes, device
Dies in thy presence, wondrous dream of ice!
Ice-bound I stand, my face is pinched and pale,
Before such awful majesty I fail,
Sink low on this snow-lichened slab of gneiss,
Shut out the gleaming mass that can entice,
Enchain, enchant, but in whose light I quail.

While I from under frozen lashes peer,
My thoughts fly back to take a homeward course.
How dear to dwell in sweet placidity,
Instead of these colossal crystals, see
The slender icicles of some fairy “force,”
And break the film upon an English mere!

Source: Professor Gregory Betts, Brock University, Department of English. First published 1891.

Too near the falls by Virginia Conn

We used to joke about honeymooning here, be home
in time for dinner at my mother’s every night.
But only if we could play movie stars, arriving
by train under a canopy of thick gray celluloid smoke.
I’d even marcel my hair.

We’re here now on a whim.  A drive without anticipation,
almost detouring into the mall at the last minute.
We forget to open the windows after customs, until
the sound thuds against the glass, that low, deep thunder
under the asphalt, the precise moment when the road joins
the adventure.  We follow the tourists; we need them
to help us fully appreciate this.  Besides, it is too loud
to discuss which way to go.  Whoever takes the lead must lead.

We’re handed slickers before the ride begins; I carry mine.
I didn’t come to be wrapped in plastic and float safely
through the mist.  I want to kick something into the rush
and track its furious ride down the cascade of water
drawn from deep in the earth and slammed back in its face.

I step back into you; you lift a damp lock of my hair
and it coils on your finger.  It is so loud.
Your heart, or mine, or both, responds with the same pulse,
or is it always there, the only beat the earth knows.

Source: The author, 2001.

Originally published in The Buffalo News.

At Niagara Falls by Anson G. Chester

In the Maytime, at Niagara,
As a Sabbath morning broke,
Full of glory, peace and beauty,
From his dreams the sleeper woke.

All was quiet, save the thunder
That forever there prevails —
That, throughout the gathering ages,
Never pauses, never fails.

But the thunder of the torrent
Of a sudden died away,
Just as if a spell of silence
On the rampant waters lay.

For a robin, at the casement,
Trilled its carols sweet and strong,
And he heard the roar no longer —
It was vanquished by the song!

On thine ear the roar and tumult
Of the noisy world must fall,
But a little song of love and trust
Will overcome it all.

Source: Kevin McCabe, ed. The Poetry of Old Niagara. St. Catharines, Ont. : Blarney Stone Books, 1999.

 Originally published in Poets and Poetry of Buffalo. 1904.

The Niagara Fall by William Ellery Channing

‘Tis the boom of the fall with a heavy pour,
Solemn and slow as a thunder cloud,
Majestic as the vast oceans roar,
Through the green trees round its singing crowd;
And the light is as green as the emerald grass,
Or the wide-leaved plants in the wet morass.

It sounds over all, and the rushing storms
Cannot wrinkle its temples, or wave its hair.
It dwells alone in the pride of its form,
A lonely thing in the populous air.
From the hanging cliffs it whirls away,
All seasons through, all the livelong day.

Source: Myron T. Pritchard, comp. Poetry of Niagara. Boston: Lothrup Publishing Co., 1901.
Originally published in his Poems, 1843

Signor Farini by Ian Bell

“The Great Farini” walking on his tightrope, 1860

High overhead at the peak of the barn,
A ragged tin rooster is raising the dawn;
Along with the creature of curious grace,
Who takes his position and rests in his place,
And then with the slightest of smiles on his face,
He raises a foot and steps off into space.


Oh for an ounce of the courage I lack,
Oh for the feel of the wind at my back,
Oh for a tongue to cry passion and fire,
Signor Farini is walking the wire
Farini so high on the wire

The Great Farini walking the tightrope, 1860

Walking on air with the greatest of ease,
A tangle of barn swallows sharing the breeze.
Down from the lightning rod out to the tree,
Quick pirouttes and a bow from the knee.
Don’t breathe a word of the things that you see,
Nobody knows him like you and like me


Better to follow the long straight path,
Better to walk than to fly,
This field is too narrow to cut a wide swath,
Better to look to your feet than the sky,
Better look to your feet not the sky
Not the sky.

Up on the wire can you still smell the ground?
High, up so high can you still hear the sound
That comes from the people who all look so small,
Searching the sky with their backs to the wall
Hands in their pockets and necks craned so tall,
Patiently waiting to see if you fall?

Signor Farini stunting on the tightrope at Niagara Falls, 1860


Source: Ian Bell and The Dawnbreakers. Signor Farini and Other Adventures, Paris, Ont.: Free Range Recordings, ©2000.

The Dawnbreakers are: Kate Murphy, Brian Pickell, Geoff Somers, with Dave Zdriluk and Anne Lederman

Click here to hear Ian Bell and The Dawnbreakers singing Signor Farini

Click here to contact Ian Bell to purchase the CD Signor Farini and Other Adventures

Images courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library’s Historic Niagara Digital Collections