Niagara by Wilson MacDonald

portrait of Wilson Pugsley MacDonald
Wilson Pugsley MacDonald

Thy mother, Erie, loves each furious form:
The crash of water and the howl of wind
Are ever in her mind,
For she is called the sweetheart of the storm.
And thou, Niagara, art thy mother’s child —
And with thy restless spirit now I go
The world’s most tragic water-way, and lo!
Like thee to narrow ways unreconciled.

And yet thine early childhood was serene
And fraught with blackened quays and humble craft,
And often thou had’st glimpses of pure green
Where tourists sang and laughed;
But soon thy mother’s whisper bade thee rise
And hurl thy laggard body toward the skies —
And thou did’st then forget
All else save wildness and the haste of life,
And that far, roaring, curving parapet
That called thee to its strife
And then thy feet the maddest race began
That ever waters ran —
Madder than oceans in their wildest hour,
And moving without plan,
Even as chaos ere the worlds began.

Plaque honouring Wilson Pugsley MacDonald
Plaque honouring Wilson Pugsley MacDonald

If all the mountain snows
Could melt into the beauty of one rose,
That ermine bloom would not more lovely be
Than this pale flower I see —
This curving verdure, crashing into white
More lovely than pure light
And colder than the spirit of the night.

Here all the fury since the world was young
Is chanted on one tongue.
Here all the beauty since the earth was born
Is beaten, bruised and torn.
Here all the passions of the stifled cries
Of sages, who were martyred, wildly rise.
Here is the protest in the daring art
Of all true poets of the rebel-heart.

To westward of thy cataract’s tired spray
I watch now thy descent at break of day,
Gaining the thrill of war without its sorrow
And feeding sweet disorder to my soul —
And in my rhyme you’ll find upon the morrow
The tamelessness of thy great river’s roll.
And, as I wait, I plead for power to be,
For but one flash of time, a part of thee!
To taste the full nutrition of that kernal
Whose passions never die
But keep the fury of a storm eternal,
While days and years and ćons wander by.

There is a tiger in thy veins, thy tongue
Is white and furred and thou hast often drawn
A draught of human blood and coldly flung
Full many a broken body to the dawn;
The tiger’s eyes are in thy water’s gleam,
The tiger’s purr is in thy warning call,
A tiger leaps when thy soft-footed stream
Takes her long plunge from off thy granite wall.

Come, Chaos, toss thy wildness in my pen!
Sound thunder and flash lightnings in my heart!
That I, the most peace-loving of all men,
May limn thee as thou art
In that wild leap of water where is caught
A thousand rivers in a single thought.

Before that plunge thy spirit hungered strife,
But in that wayward moment came to thee
The deeper beauty of that passive life;
And now thy spirit flows from madness free —
And here, at night, it wears the stars once more
And learneth of the passing sky and shore.

Then goest now in peace — but not for long,
For soon thy mother’s spirit doth advise,
And goads thee to another, wilder song
Than thy first furious pćan of surprise;
And then the sinew of some hidden brawn
Pulls at thy throat and thou are downward drawn.

Drawn in that coiling whirlpool’s silent fold,
The last adventurous plunge of thine begins.
Thou comest here a youth and leavest old
And weary of thy tempest-loving sins.
Thine enemies were visible before:
The rock, the leap, the narrow way of stone;
But here a foe is eating at the core
Of all the seaward passion thou hast known;
And we, who know the foe that smites within,
See, with full joy, thy waters rise and win.

Yet one more tragic run and thou art soon
Where thou dost hold inviolate the moon;
Here thou hast time to note the clouds that pass,
The crimson bank and sloping fields of grass.
Here, with an old man’s eyes,
Thy gaze is turned forever to the skies —
I stand at Queenston and behold thy face,
Veined like blue marble and from passion cool,
And on it not one sorrow for that race
From Erie to thy serpent-winding pool.

Niagara!   I have run a course like thine,
Like thee I’ve marched to beauty through great throes,
Like thee I lost the stars, and doubtings rose
About the slender moon’s nocturnal sign.
Yet I went forward when my doubt was strong,
And never ceased my song,
But took with joy the valiant leap of life
And gained the peace that cometh after strife;
Nor kept it long ere I was called to fight
A more insidious might —
The enemy that takes the victor’s crown,
The coiling whirlpool that drags ever down —
And I have beaten this with furious blows,
And hurled its slimy winding from my soul:
And soon I’ll wear like thee the sunset’s rose
And then, like thee, go smiling to my goal,
With all my stars of faith alight again,
To prove I have not passed this way in vain.


Source: Wilson MacDonald. Out of the Wilderness.  Ottawa: The Graphic Publisher’s Limited, 1926.

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