The Hermit of the Falls by Lydia Huntley Sigourney

sigourney hermit
Hut on Goat Island Used By Francis Abbott. the Hermit of Niagara, from 1829-1831. Sketch by C. Breckinridge Porter

It was the leafy month of June,
And joyous Nature, all in tune,
‡‡With wreathing buds was drest,
As toward Niagaras fearful side
‡‡A youthful stranger prest;
His ruddy cheek was blanched with awe
And scarce he seemed his breath to draw,
‡‡While bending oer its brim,
He marked its strong, unfathomed tide,
‡‡And heard its thunder-hymn.

His measured week too quickly fled,
Another, and another sped,
And soon the summer rose decayed,
The moon of autumn sank in shade;
Years filled their circle, brief and fair,
Yet still the enthusiast lingered there,
‡‡Till winter hurled its dart:
For deeper round his soul was wove
A mystic chain of quenchless love,
That would not let him part.

When darkest midnight veiled the sky,
Youd hear his hasting step go by,
To gain the bridge beside the deep,
That where its wildest torrents leap
‡‡Hung thread-like oer the surge,
‡‡Just there, upon its awful verge,
‡‡‡‡His vigil hour to keep.

And when the moon, descending low,
Hung on the flood that gleaming bow,
Which it would seem some angels hand
With heavens own pencil tinged and spanned,
Pure symbol of a Better Land,
He, kneeling, poured in utterance free
The eloquence of ecstasy;
Though to his words no answer came,
Save that One, Everlasting Name,
Which since Creations morning broke,
Niagaras lip alone hath spoke.

When wintry tempests shook the sky,
And the rent pine-tree hurtled by,
Unblenching mid the storm he stood,
And marked sublime, the wrathful flood,
While wrought the frost-king fierce and drear,
His palace mid those cliffs to rear,
And strike the massy buttress strong,
And pile his sleet the rocks among,
And wasteful deck the branches bare
With icy diamonds, rich and rare.
Nor lacked the hermits humble shed
‡‡Such comforts as our natures ask
‡‡To fit them for their daily task,
The cheering fire, the peaceful bed,
The simple meal in season spread: —
While by the lone lamps trembling light,
As blazed the hearth-stone clear and bright,
‡‡Oer Homers page he hung,
Or Maros martial numbers scanned,
For classic lore of many a land
‡‡Flowed smoothly oer his tongue.
Oft with rapt eye, and skill profound,
He woke the entrancing viols sound,
‡‡Or touch’d the sweet guitar;
Since heavenly music deigned to dwell
An inmate in his cloistered cell,
‡‡As beams the solemn star
All night with meditative eyes,
Where some lone rock-bound fountain lies.

As through the groves with quiet tread,
On his accustomed haunts he sped,
The mother-thrush unstartled sung
Her descant to her callow young.
And fearless oer his threshold prest
The wanderer from the sparrows nest;
The squirrel raised a sparkling eye,
Nor from his kernel cared to fly
As passed that gentle hermit by:
No timid creature shrank to meet
His pensive glance, serenely sweet;
From his own kind, alone, he sought
The screen of solitary thought.
Whether the world too harshly prest,
Its iron oer a yielding breast,
Or taught his morbid youth to prove
The pang of unrequited love,
We know not, for he never said
Aught of the life that erst he led.
On Iris isle, a summer bower
He twined with branch, and vine, and flower,
And there he mused, on rustic seat,
Unconscious of the noon-day heat,
Or neath the crystal waters lay
Luxuriant, in the swimmers play.

Yet once the whelming flood grew strong,
And bore him like a weed along,
Though with convulsive grasp of pain,
And heaving breast, he stove in vain,
Then sinking ‘neath the infuriate tide,
Lone as he lived, the hermit died.

On, by the rushing current swept,
The lifeless corpse its voyage kept,
To where, in narrow gorge comprest,
The whirling eddies never rest,
But boil with tumultuous sway,
The maelstrom of Niagara.
And there, within that rocky bound,
In swift gyrations round and round,
‡‡Mysterious course it held,
Now springing from the torrent hoarse,
Now battling as with manic force,
‡‡To mortal strife compelled.

Right fearful ‘neath the moonbeam bright,
It was to see that brow so white,
‡‡And mark the ghastly dead
Leap upward from his torture-bed,
‡‡As if in passion-gust,
And tossing wild with agony,
To mock the omnipotent decree,
‡‡Of dust to dust.

At length, where smoother waters flow,
Emerging from the gulf below,
The hapless youth they gained and bore,
Sad to his own forsaken door:
There watched his dog with straining eye,
And scarce would let the train pass by,
‡‡Save that with instincts rushing spell,
Through the changed cheeks empurpled hue,
And stiff and stony form, he knew
‡‡The master he had loved so well.

The kitten fair, whose graceful wile,
So oft had won his musing smile,
As round his slippered foot she played,
Stretched on his vacant pillow laid.
While strewed around, on board and chair,
‡‡The last plucked flower, the book last read,
‡‡The ready pen, the page outspread,
‡‡The water-cruise, the unbroken bread,
Revealed how sudden was the snare
‡‡That swept him to the dead.

And so he rests in foreign earth,
Who drew ‘mid Albions vales his birth;
Yet let no cynic phrase unkind
Condemn that youth of gentle mind,
Of shrinking nerve, and lonely heart,
And lettered lore, and tuneful art,
‡‡Who here his humble worship paid,
In that most glorious temple-shrine,
Where to the Majesty divine
‡‡Nature her noblest altar made.

No, — blame him not, but praise the Power
Who in the dear, domestic bower,
Hath given you firmer strength to rear
The plants of love, with toil and fear,
The beam to meet, the blast to dare,
And like a faithful soldier bear;
Still with sad heart his requiem pour,
Amid the cataracts ceaseless roar,
And bid one tear of pitying gloom
Bedew that meek enthusiasts tomb.

Source: Sigourney, Lydia H. Scenes In My Native Land. London: W. Tweedie, 1844. p. 137-142

Sketch of Abbott’s Hut from Porter, Peter A. Goat Island.  1900.

Click to read more about Francis Abbott, the Hermit of Niagara, and to see other poems about him.

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