The Colorist at Niagara by Evelyn M. Watson

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watson colorist
The Artist Sketching Niagara from Goat Island by James Pattison Cockburn, 1827. Colour tint by Erna Jahnke. Courtesy Niagara Falls Public Library

I’ve seen a heavenly despair,
An artist wrestling in prayer,
To find right colors, nicely blent
To show Niagara’s firmament,
Star-stippled, with the evening air
Stilled as if from some divine content.
And when the moon’s clear milky mist
Fell down on shadows, amethyst
And silver-blue, I’ve heard his sighs
Because such paradox defies
The reason — seems to puzzle, twist
The prying sight of Man’s too mortal eyes,
(To show, then spirit-off, the dazzling prize.)

And when the Dawn Maid brightly lifts
Her wide prismatic cup there drifts
A rose-wine tint that’s deftly played
On folded hues of lambent jade —
I’ve heard him ask for finer gifts
To fix forever sweeping gold light sprayed
Among noon’s burning shadows, speak
Of great gray gulls with open beak
And flame-edged wings that flaunt the spray
And that dread Call from far away —
“Death, too, were mine if that I seek
To fully represent the lure of Day —
Let others picture Viewless Light who may.”

The challenge of changing hours he sees,
And seasons passing among the trees,
A Processional of living tone
As lyric colors have outshone
Historic jewels — for filigrees
Of radiance have come from Him alone.
To imitate Night’s mauve, Dawn’s rose
That from the Day’s raised goblet flows
To paint this sweep of surging white,
That flowing green, this pouring light,
Is like the perilous way of those
Bewildered birds betrayed by careless sight,
Tempted too far in ecstasies of flight.

The moth that yearns the coaxing star,
Beats off its gold where gray winds are
Too grim, the teal on spray-drenched wings
Above the river, in spirallings,
Must heed, at last, that Call afar —
And so the foolish artist-heart that flings
Restraint aside and dreams to limn
Sheer color excellence — to him
Enough the tarnished-silver stone
Where tiny stars of mist are sown —
The hand must waver, even mind grow dim —
Nor is this tragedy his own — alone.

Source: Evelyn M. Watson. Poems of the Niagara Frontier. New York: Dean & Company, 1929.

Click to see more poems from Watson’s Poems of the Niagara Frontier

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