The Falls of Niagara by J. Newton Brown

Niagara Falls. To Thomas Dixon esq. this view of the American Fall taken from Goat Island. 1829. painted & engraved by W.J. Bennett ; printed by J. Neale. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

addressed to a friend

Years may roll on, but never shall their race
‡‡ Bring to my eye another sight like this ;
Nor shall the rushing flood of Time efface
‡‡ The sentiments profound of awe and bliss ; —
‡‡ No ! never can my mind hereafter miss
The images so strongly there engraved ;
‡‡ That overwhelming Fall — that dread abyss
From which the living torrents rose and raved : —
Whatever it may lose, this scene, at least, is saved.

And I have seen thee, wonder of the world !
‡‡ Unequalled cataract ! my country’s pride !
With all thy weight of waters downward hurled,
‡‡ As if in earth’s deep bowels thou wouldst hide
‡‡ Superior, Huron, Erie’s blended tide !
And I that foaming tide emerge have seen,
‡‡ As winding down the precipice’s side,
Dipt by thy spray in everlasting green.
At thy dread foot I stood, and viewed the wondrous scene.

And shall I now attempt to body forth
‡‡ Its mighty features in descriptive song ?
Bold effort ! and perhaps of little worth ; —
‡‡ Yet, it would seem, some tribute doth belong
‡‡ To Nature’s master-work, from mortal tongue ;
And thou, my friend, the effort dost demand :
‡‡ Rouse then thy spirit to conception strong,
And come with me, in fancy take thy stand
Amidst the TERRIBLE, the BEAUTIFUL, the GRAND !

The sweep majestic of the river’s brow,
‡‡ Which, far above, extends from shore to shore ;
The island, like a foam-encircled prow ;
‡‡ Heaven’s bright blue arch rising behind and o’er ;
‡‡ The lake-born torrents, as with ceaseless roar,
Over the everlasting rocks they roll,
‡‡ Impatient, to the dizzy leap before ;
All rush at once upon the startled soul,
At the first rapid glance your eye throws o’er the whole.

But sight is mingled at the heart with sound —
‡‡ The loud, the deafening thunder of the Fall ;
Which seems at first sensation to confound,
‡‡ The brain to madden, and the breast appal,
‡‡ And spread annihilation over all ! —
The dazzling whiteness of the sheeted foam.
‡‡ Which to the eye appears a snow-built wall.
On which is reared a bright cerulean dome,
That poets well might take for Fancy’s airy home !

The clouds of rising and dissolving spray.
‡‡ Which wave and wanton in the gusty wind ;
On which the sunbeams hold their magic play,
‡‡ Painting gay rainbows of each glorious kind.
‡‡ That change their shape and color, like the mind
Of soft and ductile youth with every scene ;
‡‡ Now swelling upward free and unconfined,
In matchless beauty and resplendent sheen ;
Now bursting — leaving but the black abyss between !

The dark and dripping cliffs, which overhead
‡‡ Rise like the war-built towers of ancient time,
Breathing defiance, and inspiring dread ;
‡‡ Which echo back, with emphasis sublime,
‡‡ The cataract’s awful sounds, in measured chime,
Rolling along the deep and distant pass,
‡‡ Until at length the blood-stained heights they climb,
Where swelled the roar of battle — where, alas !
Our country’s sons and foes fell in one mingled mass.

Then, the still darker torrent at your feet,
‡‡ Whose green-wreathed floods boil up from the abyss ;
To whose unfathomed depths, in one broad sheet,
‡‡ They thundering fell — whose tides with horrid hiss,
‡‡ Like venomous serpents vast, do seem, I wis,
Writhing in pain, and madly rushing by
‡‡ Toward far Ontario’s bed,— all, all of this,
Must have struck on the heart, the ear, the eye,
To give the awful sense of its sublimity.

O, there I thought — and thought did well beseem
‡‡ A scene so full of fearful majesty —
If with such wonders his creation teem,
‡‡ What must the glory of their Author be !
‡‡ With what deep reverence and humility.
Ought we to bow before his mighty hand ! —
‡‡ Lord of creation and eternity !
Shall human pride not quail at thy command ? —
The thunder of thy power, O, who can understand !

Buffalo, July 6, 1823.

Source: J. Newton Brown. Emily, and Other Poems. Concord, N.H., I. S. Boyd, 1840.

See John Newton Brown’s entry in Wikipedia

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