Hymn on Niagara by Thomas Grinfield

grinfield

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 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

 

Niagara by Emma Lazarus

lazarus

lazarus
Clifton House Hotel, ca 1860. Photo courtesy Niagara Falls Public Library

Thou art a giant altar, where the Earth
Must needs send up her thanks to Him above
Who did create her. Nature cometh here
To lay its offerings upon thy shrine.
The morning and the evening shower down
Bright jewels, — changeful opals, em’ralds fair.
The burning noon sends floods of molten gold,
The calm night crowns thee with her silver veil,
And o’er thee e’er is arched the rainbow’s span, —
The gorgeous marriage-ring of Earth and Heaven.
While ever from the holy altar grand
Ascends the incense of the mist and spray,
That mounts to God with thy wild roar of praise.

Clifton House, Niagara Falls, Canada, August 24th, 1865

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

 

Under the Bridge at Niagara by Samuel Longfellow

longfellow

longfellow
Samuel Longfellow, 1819 – 1892

We sat beneath the wooden bridge
‡‡As in a sheltering tent,
And watched the water’s emerald ridge
‡‡And marvelous white descent

The schoolboys, ruddy-cheeked and fair,
‡‡Stood round in lightsome mood,
Nor saw the awful presence there, —
‡‡The spirit of the flood.

And yet on one of them, thought I,
‡‡Some deeper influence stole
To touch the slumbering chords that lie
‡‡Even in childish soul.

And when, in later years, his ways
‡‡Beside these steeps shall be,
The wonder-joy his foot that stays
‡‡Shall seem half memory.

Oh, may some heavenly influence
‡‡Still to my soul be nigh
To blend the child’s unconscious sense
‡‡With manhood’s seeing eye!

Written in 1857

Source: Samuel Longfellow.  Hymns and Verses.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1894