Hymn on Niagara by Thomas Grinfield

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grinfield
Canadian Falls from Road to Ferry by John Herbert Caddy, 1839. Colour tint by Erna Jahnke. Courtesy Niagara Falls Public Library.

An anthem, ‘like the sound of many waters !’
The prophet heard it, as in wondrous vision
He lay entranced upon the cliffs of PATMOS ;
And wouldst thou hear its emblem, go and listen,
In deep and dread delight, to NIÀGARA !
That everlasting anthem which hath peal’d
Nor paus’d a moment, from the birth of ages !
And, fitting emblem of celestial chorus,
The loud eternity of rushing music
Disturbs not, but subdues and fills, the spirit
With feelings of unutterable stillness,
And infinite tranquillity, excluding
The world with all its dissonance of passions.
‡‡There, too, a cloud of ever-offer’d incense
From nature’s altar,— in the vapoury column
On which bright rainbows beam the smiles of mercy, —
Hath risen well-nigh six thousand years to heaven,
In unison with that astounding chorus
Of multitudinous and white-robed waters,
So glorious in the fury of their rapture
Around their awful and mysterious centre !
‡‡And oft, stupendous Cataract, as winter
Comes listening to thy choral hallelujahs,
And gazing on thy pomp of rising incense;
With mimic semblance of some mighty temple
He loves to grace thee, and thy shaggy borders
Fantastically silvers o’er with frost-work;
Pranking with icy pinnacles and pillars
The walls of thy magnificent Catherdral :
But ne’er Cathedral owned a crypt so dreadful
As thine, o’er-arch’d with such a thundering deluge.
‡‡And still the thunder of the eternal anthem,
And still the column of ascending incense,
Shall draw remotest pilgrims to they worship,
Shall hold them breathless in thy sovereign presence,
And lost to all that they before had look’d on;
Yea, conjur’d up by strong imagination,
Shall sound in ears that never heard the music,
Shall gleam in eyes that ne’er beheld the vision;
Till the great globe, with all that it inherits,
Shall vanish, — like that cloud of ceaseless incense, —
In thunder, — like that falling world of waters.
‡‡Oh peerless paragon of earthly wonders !
Embodying, in their most intense expression,
Beauty, sublimity, might, music, motion,
To fix and fill at once eye, ear, thought, feeling;
And kindling, into unknown exaltation,
Dread and delight, astonishment and rapture !
Sure GOD said, let there be a NIÀGARA !
And, lo, a NIÀGARA heard His bidding;
And glimmer’d forth a sparkle of His glory,
And whisper’d here the thunder of Omnipotence !

Clifton, April 1839

Source:  Barham, William. Descriptions of Niagara; selected From Various Travellers. Gravesend: William Barham, [1847], p176-177

grinfield

The Falls of Niagara by J. Wellsteed

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wellsteed
Horseshoe Falls, circa 1895 by George Barker. Library of Congress

All must confess who view this wondrous scene,
That if God were not, this had never been;
His voice here thunders in the mighty flood,
And these rent rocks proclaim, their maker God.
I love the dullness of the Cataract’s roar,
And the wild grandeur of its craggy shore,
I love to look upon the gulf below,
Foaming and white like wildly-drifting snow;
I love to watch the cloud-like mists that rise,
To pay their weeping homage in the skies,
And when the blazing orb of day burns low,
I love to gaze upon the glorious bow,
And mark the beauties of that “bridge where time,
“Of light and darkness, forms an arch sublime,”
These wonders calm the passions of the mind,
And waken thoughts that leave the world behind.
I love to linger till the envious night,
Draws for her dark curtain o’er the gorgeous sight,
And when again the “balmy hour of rest,”
Returns, soft soother of the world distress’d,
The Cataract’s roar shall lull me to repose,
And slumber shut the door of mem’ry on my woes.

Source: Western Literary Messenger, July 1849. p232

To Niagara by James Warner Ward

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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.

The Song of Niagara (1911) by Katharine Lee Bates

bates song 2

bates song 2
Statue of Katharine Lee Bates at Falmouth, Massachusetts library.

An alien song. Though day by day I listen,
No syllable of that majestic chant
May my adoring passion comprehend.
With many a lucent, evanescent hue
The plunging torrents glisten.
Far-seen, colossal plumes of spray ascend,
Their dazzling white shot through and through
With quivering rainbows, until every plant,
Each hoar, blue-berried cedar loved of bird,
Each fine fern tracery, the cold mists christen
To spirit grace. The frosted branches bend
With sparkle of such jewels as transcend
All fantasy of elfin-craft. Yet who
Interpreteth the great enchantment’s word?

Ye are the primal Sibyls, Sisters twain ;
Far elder than the whispering Cumaean,
Or Delphi’s burning prophetess, ye hold
Your splendid thrones unvisited of Time,
— One robed in rushing waters whose rich gold,
Imperial fold on fold,
Was wrought from sunsets of an earlier aeon,
Of an intenser clime,
Yet tinged by April willows and the rain
Of forest leaves autumnal, powdery drift
The eddies bring as tribute gift
Of Huron and Superior ; and One,
More graciously sublime,
Mantled in raiment spun
From foliage of some strange, supernal spring,
Such pure ethereal green
That Heaven stoops down, her holy azure fain
To blend with it and revel in the sun;
And oftentimes each iris-scarfèd Queen,
As angel-wing reflecteth angel-wing,
Puts on her sister’s sheen.

Mysterious ! if eyes can hardly bear
The glory of your opalescent robes,
Your diamond aureoles and veils empearled,
May the stunned ear divine
Your awful oracle? August, yet wild,
Do your tremendous paeans still prolong
Creation’s old, unhumanized delight,
The laughter of the Titans? Were ye there
With your deep diapason answering
The archangelic, chanting, golden globes,
What time they chorused forth their crystalline,
Exultant welcome to the stranger world?
Or is it, tolling Cataracts, the doom,
The unrevealable, forbidden thing,
Your antiphonic, solemn voices boom?
Or peradventure do your peals proclaim
Some all-triumphal Name
That could it once be won by mortal ear
Would ecstasy the griefs we suffer here
And charter Love to wing
Her radiant flight beyond oblivion ?
Dread Sisters, ye who smite
The senses with intolerable roar,
Is there no meaning in your ceaseless song,
No word of God in all your mighty throng
Of multitudinous thunders evermore?

Source: Katharine Lee Bates.  America the Beautiful and Other Poems.  New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, Publishers, 1911

Click to see an earlier version of this poem

bates song 2

The Song of Niagara (1910) by Katharine Lee Bates

bates song 1

bates song 1
Katharine Lee Bates

An alien song. Though day by day I listen,
No syllable of that majestic chant
May my adoring passion comprehend.
With many a lucent evanescent hue
The plunging torrents glisten.
Far-seen, colossal plumes of spray ascend,
Their dazzling white shot through and through
With quivering rainbows, until every plant,
Each hoar, blue-berried cedar loved of bird,
Each fine fern tracery, the cold mists christen
To spirit grace. The frosted branches bend
With sparkle of such jewels as trancsend
All fantasy of elfin-craft. Yet who
Interpreteth the great enchantment’s word?

Ye primal Sibyls, if eyes hardly bear
The glory of your opalescent robes,
Your diamond aureoles and veils impearled,
May the stunned ear divine
Your awful oracle? August, yet wild,
Do your tremendous paeans still prolong
Creation’s old, unhumanised delight,
The laughter of the Titans? Were ye there
With your deep diapason answering
The Archangelic, chanting, golden globes,
What time they chorused forth their crystalline,
Exultant welcome to the stranger world?
Or is it, tolling cataracts, the doom,
The unrevealable, forbidden thing,
Your antiphonic, solemn voices boom?
Or peradventure do your pearls proclaim
Some all-triumphal Name
That could it once be won
By mortal ear
Would ecstasy the griefs we suffer here
And charter love to wing
Her radiant flight beyond oblivion?
Dread Sisters, ye who smite
The senses with intolerable roar,
Is there no meaning in your ceaseless song,
No word of God in all your mighty throng
Of multitudinous thunders evermore?

Source: Canadian Magazine, May 1910, p 58

Click to see a later version of this poem

bates song 1