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

Niagara by Florence Wilkinson

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

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.

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.

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?

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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Niagara by Mrs. Phebe A. Hanaford


Mrs. Phoebe A Hanaford, Universalist Minister, women’s rights activist, lesbian, and author

Awe-struck I stand
Beside this avalanche of waves, and hear
The voice of God from out these watery depths.
Emotion-full, my soul in vain essays
To speak the thoughts that by this scene have birth.
Hark! to the voice of many waters here:
Like that great voice in Patmos heard by John,
It speaks of power, resistless energy,
And mighty purpose unconfined by man.
To me it speaks of God’s almighty love,
Forever surging round the human soul:
The rocks of sin, the shoals of ignorance,
But bid those waves of love in tumult rise,
In rapids like old ocean’s storm-waves, or, as here,
In one vast water-sheet, the cataract’s plunge.
Thus shall it flow till time shall be no more,
And every soul is borne upon its waves,
All cleansed by its pure waters, to the land
Where, joyful, they shall all be moored at last.


Source: Charles Mason Dow. Anthology and Bibliography of Niagara Falls. Albany: State of New York, 1921. p. 756-757

Originally published in Mrs. Phebe A. Hanaford.  From Shore to Shore and Other Poems. Boston: D. B. Russell; San Francisco: A. L. Bancroft & Co., 1871.

Niagara Captive: a Poem by Edward Zaremba


Horseshoe Falls with a Storm, 1847, by Henry Samuel Davis, hand-tinting by Erna Jahnke. Courtesy Niagara Falls Public Library

Niagara captive!   And by ribbons led!
His mighty force with that of toiling head
And hand to join.   So changed since ancient days
When red men chanted hymns of praise;
In flower-laden white canoe
Each spring their fairest maiden sent into
The Thunder of the Waters.

Niagara an adult and to Effort bred —
No more to play the livelong day,
But proudly share the sweat and grime
Of stalwart manhood’s laboring prime.
The evergrowing purpose runs; —
Earth’s wealth is measured, not the sun’s;
The stewards of great treasure may
Not waste Tomorrow’s dire need
For Pleasure’s or for Profit’s greed.

Oh, Hercules, still at thy labors keep!
Canst take the raging current from the flood
And swiftly, silent ’round a cable sweep?
Ye Seven Wonders of the ancient world,
Long since into oblivion hurled,
Your kings and gods born to commemorate —
‘Tis to the people do we dedicate
The Wonders of Today.


Source: Charles Mason Dow. Anthology and Bibliography of Niagara Falls. Albany: State of New York, 1921.  p840-841.

Originally published in Metallurgical and Chemical Engineering, March, 1913