Thoughts On Niagara by Michael McGuire

 

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Niagara Falls: From the Canada Side.
Currier & Ives, 1856 (?). Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

I stood where swift Niagara pours its flood
Into the darksome caverns where it falls,
And heard its voice, as voice of God, proclaim
The power of Him, who let it on its course
Commence, with the green earth’s first creation ;
And I was where the atmosphere shed tears,
As giving back the drops the waters wept,
On reaching that great sepulchre of floods, —
Or bringing from above the bow of God,
To plant its beauties in the pearly spray.

And as I stood and heard, though seeing nought,
Sad thoughts took deep possession of my mind,
And rude imagination venturing forth,
Did toil to pencil, though in vain, that scene,
Which, in its every feature, spoke of God.
Oh, voice of nature ! full of strength and awe; —
Unceasing sermon, where Omnipotence
Is at once the theme and illustration.
O thou pervading sound !  o’erwhelming all
With vast conceptions of might infinite !
Hallow my inspirations, and subdue
Whatever in me jars with holy thought.
Let thy loud tones speak to my inmost soul,
And teach it ever to acknowledge God.

Full of thyself, great flood, how vain the task
To tell thy might, or adequately know
How vast thou art, — so very small are we !
If such the thoughts are which thy voice stirs up,
Then what the awe that would entrance the mind
At viewing thy dread strength, thy power sublime!
Or beauty that o’ertops the highest range
Of boldest fancy, whose most lofty flight
Would fall beneath thee far, and much abashed.
Oh place most sacred ! full of awe and God !
Where every sound, and all that’s seen, combine
To teach our minds to humbly trust in Him,
Whose fiat called, and who sustains the world.
O spot !  if any spot on earth can be
A temple, where Jehovah is felt most,
Raise my dejection, and enable me
To speak as may befit thee and myself ;
And teach me to address, in proper terms,
Him, for whose honor thou wast form’d to flow,
And talk forever of his power supreme.
O Thou, that givest all that we possess,
Whose might is infinite, and goodness, too,
Bend to my voice thy always ready ear,
And hearing grant, O grant my earnest prayer,
One which hypocrisy hath ne’er abused,
Nor has been by the drowsy formalist.
The verdant earth which thou hast made,
The sky through which the blazing sun doth ride,
And the moon with her large train make progress ;
These are thy works, which well assert thy might
And goodness, and addressing us, doth speak
Wherever culture rules or nature reigns.
Yet, sight of sky, of sea, or of the earth,
Of wild plant, or of cultivated flower,
Of quiet lake that sleeps in loveliness,
Wound in a belt of perfect solitude, —
Of streams that flow contented in their course,
And leave a legacy of flowers behind, —
Is not to me vouchsafed, — nor may I look
Upon the cataract’s unfetter’d rage,
That wildly hurries it to the abyss,
Which, like a gap in nature, waits the flood
Which, ever rolling, leaves it waiting still.
Of this, imagination tells alone !
Is forced to copy, oh, how faint transcribe,
Where all its paintings must be in itself,
Nature’s designer, and her artist, too.
For me, the world is black, and filled with gloom ;
Huge darkness sits recumbent on the air,
Oppressing it with universal night,
And making melancholy joys supplant,
Till cheerfulness removes from where gloom reigns,
Leaving the mind a prey to thoughts unblest.

And here, where Thou art ever felt to be,
Where nature loudly owns Thee as her God,
Whose praise is sounded by the cataract,
Hearken to me, and my petition hear,
As from each recess of my struggling soul,
The sighs of sickly hope, assembling fast,
Meet in a perfect flood of fervent prayer, —
Which all express’d is this, — Lord, give me sight: —
And that so long unheard, is unheard still.


Source:  Artman, Wm. and Hall, L.V.  Beauties and Achievements of the Blind.  Dansville, N.Y. : Published for the Authors, 1854

From Frank Severance’s Old Trails on the Niagara Frontier:

That Niagara’s supreme appeal to the emotions is not through the eye but through the ear, finds a striking illustration in “Thoughts on Niagara,” a poem of about eighty lines written prior to 1854 by Michael McGuire, a blind man. Here was one whose only impressions of the cataract came through senses other than that of sight. As is usual with the blind, he uses phrases that imply consciousness of light; yet to him as to other poets whose devotional natures respond to this exhibition of natural laws, all the phenomena merge in “the voice of God.”

The poem, which as a whole is far above commonplace, develops a pathetic prayer for sight; and employs much exalted imagery attuned to the central idea that here Omnipotence speaks without ceasing; here is
“A temple, where Jehovah is felt most.”

Across the Gulf by Lily Alice Lefevre

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Cave of the Winds & Bridal Veil Falls, Niagara Falls. Courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

WHERE the great cataract, Niagara, fills
The air with mist, the earth with shuddering sound,
A winding path leads to the utmost verge
And down the steep a narrow stair is flung,
Confronting in its fragile nothingness
The world of hurling waters. There, alone,
A blind girl stands. As on the dizzy brink
Of Alpine heights, a snowdrop half afraid
Hangs trembling petals o’er the dark abyss
White-robed she bends above the roaring gulf
And clasps with timid hands the slender rail
That guards the deep descent. A pale, sweet face
Upraised to wonders that she cannot see,
And tremulous with passionate despair,
Half-parted lips that in their tender curves
Droop mournfully, and heavy lashes wet
With sad and hopeless tears.

 

Before her sweeps
The crystal glory rounding from the rock
And melting into mists of pearl and rose.
A thousand changing tints of opal light,
Bright magic blossoms of the sunlit wave,
Flash upward in their flights of fairy bloom
Like garlands tossed in triumph to the sky.
Higher and higher in showers of starry spray
Till one wild leap flings to the farthest crag
Its vivid splendour, and across the foam
There glows a rainbow arch of victory!

 

But not for her the beauty or the power,
She hears the sound of mighty harmonies
And vainly pictures the Unseen. And yet
Not hers, not hers the pain that wrings the heart
Of one who gazes on her sightless eyes,
And knows not why the kind, the cruel world
Holds Blindness and Niagara!

 

So stands
The soul who comes at last to that dim verge
Where Reason falters and where Science fails,
These were his chosen guides who led him far
Down shadowy vistas of the shrouded past
Through myriad forms of faint, primeval life
Back to the great First Cause,—a step, and then
He hears the waters of Eternity
Sounding mysterious music through the night,
He trembles on the verge of the Unknown,—
The Darkness closes round him—he is blind!

 

Oh, Light of faith! touch thou his closèd eyes,
And lo! the vision of a rainbow flung
Across the viewless depths of Time and Space,—
A sacramental splendour set aloft
In sevenfold glory, mystical, divine,
To span the gulf that lies ‘twixt God and Man!

Source: Lily Alice Lefevre. A Garden by the Sea and Other Poems. London: Arthur L. Humphreys, 1921.

 

Helen Keller at Niagara Falls by Meryl Stratford

helen keller

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Cover of Helen Keller’s The World I Live In. Helen Keller, Anne Sullivan, Edmund Lyon, and Polly Prate at Niagara Falls, ca. 1893

She could not see the avalanche cascade
from foam-flecked marble rapids, being blind,
but torrents of egrets and apple blossoms played
whirlpools of nebulous beauty in her mind.
She could not hear, tumultuous mystery,
the thunderous plunge, a sea’s storm-breaking crests,
crescendo of a choral symphony,
only the silence when the music rests.
But the earth beneath her trembled. She could feel
a power like perseverance, truth, or love,
the joyous lifting of a bridal veil,
a thirst fulfilled, the mist, the memory of
her teacher’s cool, wet fingers like a brand,
burning that first word water in her hand.

 

Meryl Stratford is a poet living in Hallandale Beach, Florida.


First Published August 7, 2014 on The Society of Classical Poets website