I salute you, O Frenchman, fellow-republican,
Crosser of chasms, traverser of rivers,
Walking on a rope of hempen fiber
Above the roaring thunder of mighty Niagara.
A human miracle over a natural wonder,
You walk step by step on the tautened rope
Above the spume, the spray, the ever-rising vapor
Of the cataract’s incessantly tumbling torrent.
On a filament, balanced between America and Canada,
You perform mid-crossing an impudent somersault
Over a cumulus cloud of spray-water rising.
Small man with balancing-pole, in circus costume,
You wear a blindfold and saunter over the abyss
In the watery smells of the misty air.
You cannot hear the shouts and cheers of the thousands
Watching your nimble footwork over precipitous vistas,
As we applaud the magnitude of your achievements
Above the magnificent drop of the roaring waters.
O Blondin, bridger of chasms,
I extol your unique intrepidity
As I salute Niagara afresh in this song.
The torrent unabashed, unabated, rushes headlong to crash
Into the tumult of the diluvian waterfall,
A half-drowned rainbow spectral in all that spray.
Above it you walk on a tightrope and all the while
Blue Erie moves towards Ontario
Over mighty Niagara falling, night and day.
First published in his collection Voice Mail, 2002
This poem was inspired by the painting by Silveira at the top of the page.
Poet Duncan Forbes is the author of seven collections, the most recent of which is Human Time (2020) His poems have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies and have been published by Faber, Secker and Enitharmon who brought out a Selected Poems in 2009.
Born and educated in Oxford, he has taught English Language and Literature for many years and – apart from writing poetry – is also interested in painting and the visual arts. Duncan has written essays and articles on a variety of subjects.