A Shropshire Lad by John Betjeman


Matthew Webb Killed in the Whirlpool Rapids July 24 1883. Image courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

The gas was on in the Institute,
The flare was up in the gym,
A man was running a mineral line,
A lass was singing a hymn,
When Captain Webb the Dawley man,
Captain Webb from Dawley,
Came swimming along the old canal
That carried the bricks to Lawley.
Swimming along –
Swimming along –
Swimming along from Severn,
And paying a call at Dawley Bank while swimming along to Heaven.

The sun shone low on the railway line
And over the bricks and stacks
And in at the upstairs windows
Of the Dawley houses’ backs
When we saw the ghost of Captain Webb,
Webb in a water sheeting,
Come dripping along in a bathing dress
To the Saturday evening meeting.
Dripping along –
Dripping along –
To the Congregational Hall;
Dripping and still he rose over the sill and faded away in a wall.

There wasn’t a man in Oakengates
That hadn’t got hold of the tale,
And over the valley in Ironbridge,
And round by Coalbrookdale,
How Captain Webb the Dawley man,
Captain Webb from Dawley,
Rose rigid and dead from the old canal
That carries the bricks to Lawley.
Rigid and dead –
Rigid and dead –
To the Saturday congregation,
Paying a call at Dawley Bank on the way to his destination.

Source: Betjeman’s Banana Blush: Sir John Betjeman the Poet Laureate Reads His Verse.  Charisma Records, 1973.

Read about Sir John Betjeman

Captain Matthew Webb was a world-renowned swimmer who attempted to swim the Whirlpool Rapids at Niagara Falls on July 24, 1883. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Niagara Falls, New York. Read about Captain Webb here.

Click here for another story about Webb’s ghost

Ah There! Niagara ! by E.G. Fowler

The Falls of Niagara From Goat Island, 1853, by George Wallis. Showing the Terrapin Tower and Terrapin Point. Image courtesy of Library of Congress


Ah there ! Niagara !  Again I’m here,
I, Fowler, the tuneful tenor-poet
Of Port Jervis, who just a year
Ago did visit thee and afterward let
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡all the wide world know it !
Niagara ! Thou art a Jim-dandy !
Niagara ! Thou art a Jim-daisy !
Thou enthusest me like brandy
Saturated with macerated rock candy.
(Which, when traveling, always comes in
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡mighty toothsome and palatesome and
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡stomachsome as well as hygenically
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡handy !)
Thou drives me nearly crazy
With gruesome delight.
Hail, hilarious sight !
What a grand dynamic,
Emerald frolic,
Thou art !
Great Scott !
This glorious spot
Fills my heart
With dithyrambic,
Trochaic, iambic
And sesquipedalian treasures
Of poeticalized pleasures
That would knock the ancient poets limp and cold,
But emotions like mine in ordinary language can never be satisfactorily told!
Ah there ! Niagara !
Thou art a staggerer !
Thou sluggest all other earthly scenes, maudlin and silly !
Thou makest a man a poet, willy-nilly !
Thou despumatory
Cam a man, who only dust is,
Do thee justice ?
Thou fallest. bawlest, squallest, callest
To me with a willowy whoop of roars,
And thy misty beard on the breeze to the zenith soars!
I am an emphatic
Niagaratic !
Like the wingful, flysome gull o’er thy curling crest I’d soar,
But not with the cranks in a cask down thy Horseshoe plunge I’d pour !
O no !
I’m not built THAT way !
I do my raving on terra firmay !
Quite so !
Ah there ! Terrapin Point I see,
So named because right there thee terror pins the tourist’s trembling knee!
August Niagara ! The pun excuse !
But surely, thou dost me so enthuse
That scarce I know
If, sitting down, I stand, or standing still as
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Stock or stone I swiftly onward, roundward go !
But now, Niagara, my time is up, my pass is
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡out, the walking’s bad twixt here and
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡P. J., my credit’s poor among these
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Canucks who glower on me, and these
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Fierce heesmen who look, wise laws,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡like sat-down-upon criminals, and I
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡must say more adieu ! Adieu ! Adieu !
Next year I’ll try again to come and visit yieu !

Source: Tri-States Union, December 29, 1887

Click to see the accompanying newspaper article about the visit Fowler made to Niagara Falls.


A Legend of Niagara by Florio

Upper Niagara River and Goat Island. Photograph by Andrew Porteus, 2004

An Indian, in the days of yore —
Of “fish and fur’s” abounding store —
Would cross Niagara’s stream —
Just where the river, smooth and wide,
Pours toward the gulf its treacherous tide,
Like some deceitful dream.

Near by, a bear was crossing, too :
Whose head no sooner rose to view,
Than straight the “Brave” urged his canoe
To grasp an easy prey ;
But Bruin fled not — glad to greet
A resting-place for weary feet,
He turned and swam his foe to meet,
Upon the watery way.

They met — the paddle’s blow was dealt ;
With paw received, or scarcely felt
By fur-protected bear.
Who, reaching up as for a bough,
Climbed gracefully into the prow
And sat serenely there.
The astonished “Brave” sought in his turn
The “ultima thule” of the stern,
And then sat down to stare.

And thus in armed neutrality
They sat in thoughtful “vis-à-vis,”
While the bark drifted silently
To meet the breakers white ;

But when the Indian seized an oar,
To stay his course, or seek the shore,
Admonished by an ominous roar,
He dropped it in affright :

For in those cavernous jaws he sees
Molars, incisors, cuspidés —
Enough a hero’s heart to freeze
Or dentist to delight.

More dreadful still, the angry Fall,
Like some huge monster seemed to call,
Impatient for its prey ;
And shows its breakers’ flashing teeth,
To welcome him to depths beneath ; —
And breathes its breath of spray.

Visions of fire and frying pan
Encompassed that bewildered man
(Tho’ watery fears oppressed)
And Shakspeare’s thought his bosom fills
“Better to bear our present ills
Than fly” — you know the rest.

Whether the Brave proved dainty fare,
And then the Fall devoured the bear,
Though unto them the “loss was sair”
To us is less ado :
But still, arrayed in fancy’s gleam,
Have floated down Tradition’s stream
The twain in that canoe —
And furnished to the faces pale,
The matter to “adorn a tale,”
And “point a moral,” too.

We float upon life’s lapsing tide
While toward some gulf the waters glide
With unremitting might ;
And some black bear holds us in awe,
Like the “black Care” which Horace saw
Behind the Roman knight.

We fain would seize an oar to reach
Some sylvan shore, some silvery beach ;
But still the moment miss —
For Pride, or Ease, or Care, or Fear,
Sits with o’erwhelming presence near ;
The saving hand we dare not lift,
And gently thus we drift, drift, drift,
Into the dread abyss.

Our land, which boasts that it prepares
Its morel and material wares,
Should make its legends, too :
And mixing one of native clay,
Let’s drop “a lion’s in the way,”
And in its stead hereafter say —
A bear’s in the canoe.”

Source: The Crayon, vol. 8, no. 7, July 1861.

Florio is possibly a pseudonym used by Clement Clarke Moore.  Two poems published in the New York Evening Post under the name of Florio later appeared in Moore’s 1844 book Poems, as outlined in the blog post Two Poems by Clement C. Moore, as First Published in the New York Evening Post


COVID – Niagara Falls: A (Very) Short Poem by Andrew Porteus

Very Few Visitors to Niagara Falls During the COVID-19 Lockdown. Photo by Alison Langley, Niagara Falls Review

(Newspaper Headline: People Gathered at Table Rock issued $880 fines for violating COVID-19 Rules)

Fine to view
Fined for viewing

Source: The author, January 2021

Submitted to the League of Canadian Poets’ Very Small Verse Contest. Not a winner. 

Read the article on the Niagara Falls Review website, January 17, 2021

Untitled by Zaney

The title page of the Table Rock Album

Yes, traveler, go under;
And amidst the wild thunder,
The spray and the dashing,
The stones and the crashing,
Turn not on one side,
But cling to the guide —
He’s safe tho’ he’s black.
N. B. — Pay when you come back.

Source: Table Rock Album and Sketches of the Falls and Scenery Adjacent. Buffalo: Steam Press of Thomas and Lathrops, copyright by Jewett, Thomas & Co.,1856c.1848

This link takes you to the scanned version of  the 1855 version of Table Rock Album from the Hathi Trust

See the Table of Contents of the Table Rock Album on this site.