To Niagara by James Warner Ward

ward

ward
Niagara Falls by H. C. Tunison, 1899

Rapt and amazed, midst scenes of rarest loveliness,
Stand I alone, entranced in awe and ecstasy
Gazing in silence o’er the cliffs precipitous,
Whence, with united front, thy waters ponderous
Tranquilly take their giant leap, Niagara!

Forward declining, wreathed in conscious majesty,
Shimmering spray and jewelled drop, tossed back from thee,
Wave pressed to wave in serried ranks, as, steadily,
Man against man, sweeps on a line of infantry, —
Into the vortex rolls thy flood intrepidly.

In the fierce rapids, many a sharp rock, secretly,
Under thy foaming current lay in wait for thee,
Gashing and tearing thy rent bosom wantonly ;
Lovliest of Rivers, sad and dire similitude,
So in life’s breakers strives man’s heart with destiny.

Tossed in their raging stream by waves impetuous,
Glamor of hope and youthful dreams deserting it,
So have we seen, — ah River wild and beautiful,
Art thou not here of “fortune’s buffets” typical? —
Under life’s chaos sinks heart-broke humanity.

Hither and thither whirled in eddies infinite,
Leaping in lambent jets and cascades showery.
Over the sunk rocks pourest thou unceasingly;
So in life’s drift and swirl man writhes defiantly,
Only in wreck at last to end disastrously.

Cometh a change to Life and River, presently;
Out of its perils Life emerges, jubilant,
E’en as thy waters seek in calm serenity,
Under this arched and rainbow broidered canopy,
Torrent immortal, rest an instant in thine agony.

Haste is there none, but eagerness and promptitude;
Frivolous things are cast aside disdainfully;
Nothing the brink can pass but heaven-lit purity;
As on they emerald crown, we see, Niagara.
Naught but the gem-like gleams from the blue sky over thee.

Out of the far off past emerging regally,
Stately in step, thy grandest one now daring thee, —
Architect fine and subtle, never loitering,
Minute by minute, frost and whirlwind aiding thee,
Toilest thou deftly, thine own highway channelling.

Onward proud River! — many a voiceless century
Into the shadow past had vanished recordless,
Did not the lines and chinks of thy shrewd chiseling,
Scarring the polished tablets of thy cenotaph,
Tell us the mystic story of thy genesis.

Source: The Magazine of  Poetry and Literary Review, vol. 6: American Poetry. 1894

Originally published in Niagara River and Falls. Buffalo: Thos. F. Fryer, 1886; also in Warren, Ina Russelle (ed.) The Poets and Poetry of Buffalo. Buffalo: Charles W. Moulton, n.d.

Niagara River Below the Falls by Emma Lazarus

lazarus river

lazarus river
Emma Lazarus, 1849-1887

Flow on forever, in thy tranquil sleep,
Thou stream, all wearied by thy giant leap;
Flow on in quiet and in peace fore’er,
No rocky steep, no precipice is there.

The rush, the roar, the agony are past;
The leap, the mighty fall, are o’er at last;
And now with drowsy ripplings dost thou flow,
All murmuring in whispers soft and low.

Oh tell us, slumb’ring, em’rald river, now,
With that torn veil of foam upon thy brow;
Now, while thou sleepest quietly below, —
What are thy dreams?    Spent river, let us know.

Again, in thought, dost dash o’er that dread steep,
By frenzy maddened to the fearful leap?
By passion’s mists all blinded, cold and white,
Dost plunge once more, now, from the dizzy height?

Or else, forgetful of the dangers past,
Art dreaming calm and peacefully, at last,
Of that fair nymph who pressed thy livid brow,
And gave thy past a glory vanished now?

The Rainbow, whom the royal Sun e’er wooes,
For whom, in tears, the mighty Storm-king sues;
Who left her cloud-built palace-home above,
To crown thy awful brow with light and love.

Yes, in thy tranquil sleep, O  wearied stream,
Still of the lovely Iris is thy dream;
The agony, the perils ne’er could last;
But with all these the rainbow, too, has past.

No life so wild and hopeless but some gleam
Doth lighten it, to make a future dream.
Thy course, O Stream, has been mid fears and woe,
But thou hast met the Rainbow in thy flow.

New York, November 3rd, 1865

Source:  Emma Lazarus. Poems and Translations.  New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1867

Niagara by Florence Wilkinson

wilkinson florence

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

THE WATER TALKED TO THE TURBINE
‡‡AT THE INTAKE’S COUCHANT KNEE:
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.

THE TURBINE TALKED TO THE MAN
‡‡AT THE SWITCHBOARD’S CRYPTIC KEY:
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.

THE MAN STROVE WITH HIS MAKER
‡‡AT THE CLANG OF THE POWER-HOUSE DOOR:
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?

THE MAKER SPAKE WITH THE MAN
‡‡AT THE TERMINAL-HOUSE OF THE LINE:
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

wilkinson florence

The Limit of Suspension by Jane Urquhart

urquhart limit   

urquhart limit
Upper Steel Arch Suspension Bridge. Photo courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

On three small scraps of paper
grandmother writes

‡‡‡‡‡‡how the suspension bridge
‡‡‡‡‡‡fell down

‡‡‡‡‡‡how the cotton wool
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡crash
‡‡‡‡‡‡pulled her from
‡‡‡‡‡‡starched sheets to the
‡‡‡‡‡‡lung-stopping chill
‡‡‡‡‡‡of the january night

‡‡‡‡‡‡how her shoes squeaked
‡‡‡‡‡‡in the snow

and looking at the
suspension bridge
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡lying
broken-backed against the ice
like an injured dragon
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡grandmother

must have wondered at
each of her magic crossings

but writes here
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡only
the suspension bridge
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡fell down

and it did make a noise

Source: Urquhart, Jane. False Shuffles. Victoria: Press Porcépic, 1982. Section entitled The Undertaker’s Bride. 

Click to see more of Urquhart’s The Undertaker’s Bride poems 

The Suspension Bridge collapsed during a storm on the night of January 19, 1889

Uncle Alvin at Niagara by Almon Trask Allis

Alvin   

alvin
Artist’s Sketch of Three Sisters and Goat Islands Just Above Niagara Falls. Courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

“The last excursion of the year,” I read the other day,
Affordin’ opportunity to see grand old Niagara ;
And for a dollar and a half, to go up there and back,
And see the sights, and ride above two hundred miles of track,
Seemed like we’d get our money’s worth, if we could get away,
And leave the farm and kitchen cares behind us for a day.
We’d been a-wantin’, all these years, to go and see the falls,
But, somehow, when the chances came there’ d be so many calls
For both our time and money, that the chances slipped away,
While year climbed on the top of year, ’til we are growin’ gray ;
And still the cares we have to meet are such a clingin’ kind,
It’s often mighty difficult to slip them off behind,
And dump them in a heap somewhere, or lay them on a shelf,
While we get out from under, and can slip off by ourself.
But nature seemed to favor us ; the season was so fine
We got our summer’s work along a bit ahead of time ;
And nothin’ seemed a-crowdin’, like, and coaxin’ to be done,
As is the case too frequently, to keep us on the run ;
And Nancy hadn’t been away, exceptin’ to the fair,
To loosen up the constant strain of daily wear and tear
Of wrestlin’ with problems which perplex a woman’s brain,
And keep her fingers busy, and her muscles on the strain,
For such a long time back that I’m almost ashamed to tell,
And if I really wanted to, I couldn’t very well ;
And I, myself, had worked so long, as farmers have to do,
To keep the work from snarlin’, like, and keep it payin’, too,
That I was glad to see a chance to lay aside the strain
Which makes the years to tell on me as well as Nancy Jane ;
And when I read the notice, why, it seemed to strike us so,
That both of us together said, “I guess we’d better go.”
And so the thing was settled, and we’d picked our grapes and plums
To be ahead of frost or thieves, provided either comes ;
For frosts may be expected almost any pleasant night,
And thieves, if not expected, are so plenty that they might ;
And Nancy had our luncheon baked, and I had bought some cheese,
And she had found a paste-board box, as handy as you please
To put our picnic dinner in ; so when the mornin’ came,    Continue reading “Uncle Alvin at Niagara by Almon Trask Allis”