Adelaide Crapsey was born on September 9, 1878 in Brooklyn, New York. She was the third daughter of Episcopalian Rev. Algernon Sidney Crapsey and Adelaide Trowbridge Crapsey. She was an honours student at Vassar College, and then became a teacher. She contracted tuberculosis somewhere around 1903, and died on October 8, 1914.
She had been working on a study of metrics that proved too exhausting for her to continue after the onset of her illness, and so she concentrated on poetry. She is known as the inventor of the cinquain – a poem of 5 short lines of unequal length, of which Niagara is one. Her poems were published posthumously.
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.
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.
‘Tis the boom of the fall with a heavy pour,
Solemn and slow as a thunder cloud,
Majestic as the vast ocean‘s 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