Oh, could I gaze forever on thy face,
Unwearied still, thou matchless waterfall,
Whose twining spells of majesty and grace
My ardent sense bewilder and enthrall!
In all my moods thy charms‘ puissant sway
Enforce my will their master-spell to own;
My heart leaps at thy voice — or grave or gay —
And every chord is vibrant to thy tone.
So many years I have come back to stand,
With reverent awe, before thy glorious shrine —
So close and long thy lineaments I‘ve scanned —
It seemed thou should‘st grow something less divine.
I know thy face, its shifting glooms and smiles,
As cloud or sun upon thy bosom lies;
Thy wrathful guise, thy witching rainbow wiles
Can wake no more for me the sweet surprise.
I know thy voice — its terror and its glee
Have in my ear so oft their changes rung;
Nor forest winds nor anthems of the sea
Speak to my soul with more familiar tongue.
My feet have scaled thy storm-scarred battlements,
And pressed the moss most emerald with thy tears;
And still profaned thy lucent caverns, whence
The neophyte comes pale with ghostly fears.
Yet, as the more of God the soul perceives,
And nigher Him is drawn, it worships more;
So, in my heart, its matchless beauty leaves
Constraint, in thine, His grandeur to adore.
Within thy courts I come this vernal day,
Ere Fashion‘s chimes invite the thoughtless throng;
Almost alone I watch thy curling spray,
And lose my breath to swell thy ceaseless song.
I mark the flowers upon thy marge that blow,
Sweet violets and campanule‘s white bells;
Their azure shines unblanched, unblushed their snow:
These timid things feel not, as I, thy spells.
And in thy woods the birds heed not thy roar,
Where the brown thrush and painted oriole,
All unabashed, their tides of song outpour,
As if thy floods in terror did not roll.
They do not know the flowers and birds around,
How wonderful, how grand, how dread thou art!
But I, transfixed by every sight and sound,
Stand worshipping thy Maker, in my heart.
I must go back where tides of commerce flow,
And the dull roar of traffic cleaves the air;
But in my heart sweet memories shall glow,
And to my dreams shall summon visions fair.
Niagara! thou wilt freshen all my thought,
And cool the breath of fevered noons for me!
My days shall lapse with thy remembrance fraught,
Thy voices chant my nights‘ weird lullaby.
Great torrent, speed thee to the lake and sea,
With tireless smoke of spray and thund‘rous roar;
I bless my God for all thy joy to me,
Though I should see thy marvelous face no more.
Source: Myron T. Pritchard, comp. Poetry of Niagara. Boston: Lothrop Publishing Co., 1901.
Originally published in Harper’s Magazine, September 1865.