Niagara by Henry Howard Brownell

Henry Howard Brownell
Henry Howard Brownell

Has aught like this descended, since the fountains
    Of the Great Deep broke up, in cataracts hurled
And climbing lofty hills, eternal mountains,
    Poured wave on wave above a buried world?

Yon tides are raging, as when storms have striven,
    And the vexed seas, awaking from their sleep,
Are rough with foam, and Neptune’s flocks are driven
    In myriads o’er the green and azure deep.

Ere yet they fall, mark (where that mighty current
    Comes like an army from its mountain home)
How fiercely yon wild steeds amid the torrent,
    With their dark flanks, and manes and crests of foam,

Speed to their doom – yet in the awful centre,
    Where the wild waves rush madliest to the steep,
Just ere that white unfathomed gulf they enter,
    Rear back in horror from the headlong leap;

Then, maddening, plunge – a thousand more succeeding
    Sweep onward, troop on troop, again to urge
The same fierce flight, as rapid and unheeding –
    Again to pause in terror on the verge.

. . . . . . . .

Oft to an eye half closed, as if in solving
    Some mighty, mystic problem – half it seems
Like some vast crystal wheel, ever revolving,
    Whose motion, earth’s – whose axle, earth’s extremes.

We gaze and gaze, half lost in dreamy pleasure,
    On all that slow majestic wave reveals,
While Fancy idly, vainly strives to measure
    How vast the cavern which its veil conceals.

. . . . . . . .

Whence come ye, O wild waters? by what scenes
    Of Majesty and Beauty have ye flowed,
In the wide continent that intervenes,
    Ere yet ye mingle in this common road?

The Mountain King, upon his rocky throne,
    Laves his broad feet amid your rushing streams,
And many a vale of loveliness unknown
    Is softly mirrored in their crystal gleams.

They come – from haunts a thousand leagues away,
    From ancient mounds, with deserts wide between,
Cliffs, whose tall summits catch the parting day,
    And prairies blooming in eternal green;

Yet the bright valley, and the flower-lit meadow,
    And the drear waste of wilderness, all past –
Like that strange Life, of which thou art the shadow,
    Must take the inevitable plunge at last.

Whither we know not – but above the wave
    A gentle, white-robed spirit sorrowing stands,
Type of the rising from that darker grave,
    Which waits the wanderer from Life’s weary lands.

How long these wondrous forms, these colors splendid,
    Their glory o’er the wilderness have thrown!
How long that mighty anthem has ascended
    To Him who wakened its eternal tone!

That everlasting utterance thou shalt raise,
    A thousand ages ended, still the same,
When this poor heart, that fain would add its praise,
    Has mouldered to the nothing whence it came.

When the white dwellings of man’s busy brood,
    Now reared in myriads o’er the peopled plain,
Like snows have vanished, and the ancient wood
    Shall echo to the eagle’s shriek again.

And all the restless crowds that now rejoice,
    And toil and traffic, in their eager moods,
Shall pass – and nothing save thine awful voice
    Shall break the hush of these vast solitudes.

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

Originally published in his Poems. New York: D. Appleton, 1847

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

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