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”

“She’s Coming!” by Joan Murray

Murray

murray
Annie Edson Taylor Before Her Trip Over the Horseshoe Falls. Photo courtesy Niagara Falls Public Library

A crowd flowed onto the Suspension Bridge.
Another onto Prospect Point.
A third onto the Three Sisters Islands
—all along the railings in the gorge.
Across the river, a thousand more poured down to Table Rock.
And up the shore, a hundred others—
men, women and children—
stood by the dock at Truesdale’s cottage, waiting to see me off.
There were no clouds that morning,
and so much light it seemed ten suns were whirling
as I stepped into the skiff—in a tossing sea of handkerchiefs—
and waved to them (while Russell blew a kiss)
amidst the general hurrah.

Then we set out—with Truesdale straining the tiller
against the single, headstrong sail—
and Billy Holleran, a strong, strapping boy, manning the furious oars.
The barrel rode upright behind us, bucking to run its course
—and was jerked back to correction by the stern instruction of our rope.
A quarter way out, we stopped on an island where I changed my clothes:
no hat or dress now, but a blouse left open at the throat,
and a skirt hemmed just below the knee.
I made them turn away while I backed in through the rim—
then they fastened down the lid,
rolled me to the shore,
turned me upright—
pushed me in.

Four boats now. And behind the first,
the towed barrel, weighed down with me—
yet still intractable.
And in the last, a cameraman recording every stroke
as they rowed a mile across to the Point of No Return—
where the river starts to churn,
and a sailor knows he’d better bend his back
—or else go over.
There they knocked. And cut the rope.
They must have pulled hard then to turn themselves south,
but I went north—(a half mile more before I’d reach the brink).
I careened and spun. Once it tossed me clear up out of the water.
I went unbidden—and unwelcome—where it rushed me.

I wished I could have watched from some place overhead
and heard the voices racing down the shore—
passing on the message—
dock to island, island to rock, rock to bridge:
“She’s coming!”
I would have liked to see them turn their heads—
wave after wave, as each new group heard the murmur
and craned their necks to catch a glimpse.
I’d have liked to see the trolley racing down the shore,
and the incline railway rushing down the gorge
—so the ones who’d waved from Truesdale’s dock
could be standing on the rocks below the Falls,
looking up—to see if anything would come.

from Queen of the Mist,
a novel in verse about the first person to go over Niagara in a barrel

Visit Joan Murray’s website

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