I wandered through the ancient wood
That crowns the cataract isle.
I heard the roaring of the flood
And saw its wild, fierce smile.
Through tall tree-tops the sunshine flecked
The huge trunks and the ground;
And the pomp of fullest summer decked
The island all around.
And winding paths led all along
Where friends and lovers strayed;
And voices rose with laugh and song
From sheltered nooks of shade.
Through opening forest vistas whirled
The rapids’ foamy flash,
As they boiled along and plunged and swirled,
And neared the last long dash.
I crept to the island’s outer verge,
Where the grand, broad river fell —
Fell sheer down mid foam and surge,
In a white and blinding hell!
The steady rainbow gayly shone
Above the precipice;
And a deep, low tone of a thunder-groan
Rolled up from the drear abyss.
And all the day sprang up the spray,
Where the broad, white sheets were poured,
And fell around in showery play,
Or upward curled and soared.
And all the night those sheets of white
Gleamed through the spectral mist,
When o’er the isle the broad moonlight
The wintry foam-flakes kissed.
Mirrored within thy dreamy thought,
I see it, feel it all, —
That island with sweet visions fraught,
That awful waterfall.
With sunflecked trees, and birds, and flowers,
The Isle of Life is fair:
But one deep voice thrills through its hours,
One spectral form is there, —
A power no mortal can resist,
Rolling forever on, —
A floating cloud, a shadowy mist,
And through the sunny vistas gleam
The fate, the solemn smile;
Life is Niagara’s rushing stream;
Its dreams — that peaceful isle!
Source: Christopher Pearse Cranch. The Bird and the Bell, with Other Poems. Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1875
Also published in Myron T. Pritchard, comp. Poetry of Niagara. Boston: Lothrop Publishing Co., 1901.
Also published in R. L. Johnson. Niagara: Its History, Incidents and Poetry Washington: W. Neale, 1898