Niagara by Thomas Gold Appleton

Bust of Thomas Gold Appleton in Boston Public Library. By Sculptor Cantalamessa-Papotti. Daderot took this photograph.

Though the dusk has extinguished the green
And the glow of the down-falling silver,
In my heart I prefer this subdued,
Cathedral-like gloom on the water:
When the fancy capriciously wills,
Nor loves to define or distinguish,
As a dream which enchants us with fear;
And scarce throbs the heart unaffrighted.
With a colour and voice of its own
I behold this wondrous creature
More as a living thing.
And joyous with joy Titanic,
Its brothers in sandstone are locked,
Yet from their graves speak to it.
It sings to them as it moves,
And the hills and uplands re-echo,
The sunshine kindles its scales,
And they gleam with opal and sapphire.
It uplifts its tawny mane,
With its undulations of silver,
And tosses through showers of foam,
Its flanks seamed with shadow and sunshine.
Like the life of man is its course,
Born far in some cloudy sierra,
Dimpled and wayward and small,
O’erleaped by the swerving roebuck;
But enlarging with mighty growth,
And wearing wide lakes for its bracelets,
It moves, the king of streams,
As man wears the crown of his manhood.
It shouts to the loving fields,
Which toss to it flowers and perfume;
It eddies and winds round its isles,
And its kisses thrill them with rapture;
Till it fights in its strength and o’ercomes
The rocks which would bar its progress.
The earth hears its cries of rage,
As it tramples them in its rushing,
Leaping, exultant above
And smiting them in derision;
Till at length, its life fulfilled,
Sublime in majestic calmness,
It submits to death, and falls
With a beauty it wins in dying,
Still, wan, prone, till curtains of foam enclose it,
To arise a spirit of mist,
And return to the Heaven it came from.

As deepens the night, all is changed,
And the joy of my dream is extinguished:
I hear but a measureless prayer,
As of multitudes wailing in anguish;
I see but one fluttering plunge,
As if angels were falling from Heaven.
Indistinctly, at times, I behold
Cuthullin and Ossian’s old heroes
Look at me with eyes sad with tears,
And a summons to follow their flying,
Absorbed in wild, eerie rout,
Of wind-swept and desolate spectres.
As deepens the night, a clear cry
At times cleaves the boom of the waters;
Comes with it a terrible sense
Of suffering extreme and forever.
The beautiful rainbow is dead,
And gone are the birds that sang through it.
The incense so mounting is now
A stifling, sulphurous vapour.
The abyss is the hell of the lost,
Hopeless falling to fires everlasting.

Source: Myron T. Pritchard, comp. Poetry of Niagara. Boston: Lothrup Publishing Co., 1901.


Also published in Johnson, Richard L. (ed).  Niagara: Its History, Incidents and Poetry. Washington: Walter Neale General Book Publisher, 1898

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