Describe Niagara! Ah, who shall dare
Attempt the indescribable, and train
Thought‘s fragile wing to skim the heavy air,
Wet with the cataract‘s incessant rain?
The “glowing muse of fire“ invoked in vain
By Shakespeare, who shall hope from Heaven to win?
And “burning words“ alone become the strain,
Which to the mind would bring the awful din
Where seas in thunder fall, and eddying oceans spin.
Long had the savage on thy glorious shroud,
Fringed with vast foam-wreaths, gaz‘d with stoic eye
And deemed that on thy rising rainbow cloud
The wings of the Great Spirit hovered nigh;
And, as he marked the solemn woods reply
In echoes to thy rolling thunder tone,
He heard His voice upon the breeze go by,
And his heart bowed — for to the heart alone
God speaking through His works, makes what he utters known.
But ages passed away — and to the West
Came Europe‘s sons to seek for fame or gold;
And one, perchance, more daring than the rest,
Lured by the chase or by strange stories told
By Indian guide of oceans downward rolled,
Felt on his throbbing ear thy far-off roar,
Then sped the mighty wonder to behold,
Thy voice around him and thy cloud before,
Till breathless — trembling — rapt — he trod thy foaming shore.
Upward he gazed to where with furious hiss
The waters spurn the precipice and leap
Into the vexed and indistinct abyss,
Where Rage and Tumult ceaseless battle keep,
Filling with roar monotonous and deep,
The wearied echo; — there he fixed his gaze,
Like one entranced who fears to break his sleep,
Lest the wild vision fade that sleep doth raise,
All thought locked up and chained in stern and strange amaze.
Till, slowly rallying from the first surprise,
Thought from its magic prison breaks at last —
The gazer from the foam-whirl lifts his eyes,
And scans the whole arena wild and vast;
From point to point his eager glances cast,
Take by degrees thy wide circumference in,
And as his speechless wonder slowly passed,
Delight succeeded, deep, intense and keen,
Heart, soul, and sense absorbed in that unrivalled scene.
Then through his mind like lightning flashed the thought,
Once o‘er the Patriarch‘s soul in Bethel thrown,
“Sure, God is with me, and I knew it not;
I see His power in yon majestic zone
Of mighty waters, and its thunder tone
Brings to my ear His voice — and deeply felt
And almost seen His presence reigns alone.“
Then meekly by the rock the wanderer knelt,
Feeling in awe and love his heart‘s full fountain melt.
And long with shaded eye and bended head
He prayed before the Temple‘s wondrous veil,
While from its foot, in ceaseless eddies spread,
The mist-cloud rose, like incense, on the gale;
And half he deemed that on its pinion frail
His prayers, upborne, would blessed acceptance know,
He rose with gladdened eye and heart to hail
Mercy‘s fair type and seal, the rainbow‘s glow
Spanning with calm embrace the troubled scene below.
And when the westering daybeam warned him back,
Lingering he stood, as spellbound by the strain,
And oft he started on his homeward track,
And oft returned, one parting glance to gain;
And twilight had usurped its fitful reign
Ere to thy foam his last farewell he bade,
Then like an arrow, o‘er the woody plain,
Homeward he hurried through the deepening shade,
Again in dreams to view thy wonders round him spread.
And oft alone, and oft with friends, he came
To scan thy charms and worship at thy shrine,
And feel again devotion‘s hallowed flame
Blaze in thy presence, fanned with breath divine:
And oft from morning until day‘s decline
He sat and mused beside thee, for his eye
Saw nowhere majesty and grace like thine:
And in his soul thy mighty minstrelsy
Woke stern and glorious thoughts and visions wild and high.
In silence long forgot the wanderer sleeps:
But still as when thou met‘st his startled gaze,
Thy glorious scene the heart in wonder steeps
Of him who seeks thee in these later days:
Sublime in simple grandeur! Art can raise
No rival to thy throne, nor words convey
Thine image to the mind, though noblest lays
Have vied in thy description. Day by day
Thy roar shall speak of God till nature fade away.
Source: Myon T. Pritchard, comp. Poetry of Niagara. Boston: Lothrop Publishing Co., 1901.
First published: Joseph Hart Clinch. Captivity in Babylon and Other Poems. Boston: J.Burns, 1840