Niagara! sweeping, dashing, and sublime,
Whose thunders heralded the birth of time,
Whose voice rolled from out the mighty deep,
And woke all things terrestrial from their sleep :
Thou signal given in detonations grand ;
Thou voice of God which spoke His first command ;
Thou voice of “many waters,” thou didst say
To Time, move on in thine appointed way.
Time, from his tresses shook the dews of night,
And wheeled his car within the morning light ;
The dazzling sun arose to take a view,
Awarding to each object what was due,
And as he rolled along his burning wheel,
The new-born Earth her wonders to reveal,
In beauteous motion glided ‘neath the sun,
And the world’s grand exhibition was begun.
His course he now directed to the west,
While all things basking in his rays were blessed ;
The mighty ocean rolled his silvery wave,
Reflecting back the genial light he gave ;
The verdant isles upon his bosom borne,
Looked fresh and beautiful that natal morn,
While towering mountains pierced the azure dome,
All seeming loth to make this world their home.
The Eastern continent, a picture fair,
Spread out her beauties and her bounties rare ;
Forsooth to catch the sun’s approving ray,
To Avin the prize and bear the wreath away.
Her Oriental charms, her lavish stores,
In rich effusion all around she pours ;
But all in vain, the prize she has not won :
He smiles approvingly, but passes on.
The undulating plain, with myriad flowers,
The forest dense with nature’s gorgeous bowers,
The valley with its silver pearling stream,
Pure as an angel or an angel’s dream.
Disclose a world of wealth so wonderous fair
That seemingly there is naught in earth or air
That can at all their equals bring to view ;
So unto these the prize is surely due.
But no, still higher up the sun ascends,
While greater lustre from his disc he lends,
That all the world may see him yield the prize
To thee, Niagara, prince beneath the skies.
Now with a genial kiss and sunny glow,
He wreathes around thy brow a gorgeous bow ;
And thus bedecked with nature’s brightest gem,
Thou, of a right, dost wear the diadem.
August and awful in thy regal mein,
Hast thou forever held thy potent reign ;
And none can stay thy wild, tumultuous flood,
Except the powers of Almighty God.
Thy battlements all rugged, upward loom,
Thy thunders make me tremble as they boom ;
While at thy summit, to enhance the scene,
Thy liquid mass assumes the purest green.
Thy veil of mist unceasingly ascends,
While heaven’s rainbow proudly o’er it bends ;
Triumphal arch, thy honors to proclaim,
Insignia to thy never dying fame.
Thy upper rapids gleam with flying waves,
A mighty phalanx, like so many braves,
Who, hearing of a battle from afar,
Come rushing to the thunder din of war.
They proudly lift their foaming crests on high,
And to thy front advance, but not to die ;
But with a giant spring and awful leap,
Plunge to thy vortex o’er thy mighty steep.
Here foaming, dashing, seething, they rebound,
In great commotion hurled, with deaffening sound ;
And now in wreathes as white as driven snow,
File off in beauty in thy stream below.
The very earth is trembling from the shock.
And winds arising, beat against thy rock ;
The Cave of Winds, where ever howls the storm,
O’erspanned by thy majestic liquid form.
I’ve wandered through that labyrinthan cave,
And heard its clashing winds and waters rave;
Each striving for dominion never gains,
But anarchy terrific ever reigns.
Here flashing jewels glitter in thy spray,
Prismatic colors on thy bosom play,
In endless forms of rich and varied hue,
More radiant than a palace ever knew.
The sun careering in meridian height,
Or rising from the sombre lap of night,
Or sinking in the west, at twilight hour,
Would celebrate the wonders of thy power.
Fair Luna, then, arising on the scene,
Would robe thee in her light of mellow sheen :
An airy vapor, rich in fleecy fold,
Which glimmers like a molten sea of gold.
And then, to beautify thy coronet,
Already thick with glittering jewels set,
A lunar bow, a rare and priceless boon,
Is yielded by the smiling silver moon.
Another trophy to thy merit gained,
Which none but thee has ever yet attained ;
Thus giving thee dominion of the night,
For none would dare dispute thy granted right.
The myriad gems that deck the azure dome,
The sweeping stellar worlds that through it roam,
All find reflection as they pass o’er thee,
And add to thy unmatched sublimity.
Then on proud stream ! roll on, forever on !
And wield thy scepter from thy peerless throne,
While eager, teeming millions come to see
These things stupendous, told abroad of thee.
Empires have risen, flourished, passed away,
Their noblest monuments gone to decay,
And only piles of rubbish mark the spot
Which indicate they were, but now are not.
The grandest temples in memorium reared,
Grown dim with age, have long since disappeared
Like Babylon, the rich, the proud ; O, where
Is she ? The satyrs hold their orgies there.
The Bitterns howl a dismal boding wail,
That makes the heart to throb, the cheek to pale —
So solemn and so fearful is the sound,
That wakes the slumbering echoes all around.
Mutation, wreck, and ruin only wait
The time appointed, to annihilate
The works of man. I retrospect the past,
And through the vista, what a mighty waste !
Successive generations fall asleep,
With no enduring chronicle to keep
The lethean wave from washing out the trace
Of all they were. Forgotten, gone apace.
But thou, proud stream, still holdest up thine head.
Thy grandeur hast not lost, nor laurels fled ;
But fresh and dazzling through all lapse of time
As when the new-born Earth flashed in her prime.
Thy music in one mighty volume swells,
And fills thy vast cathedral with its spells,
Which charm, entrance, and awe the listening soul
Of him that wonders, while thy anthems roll.
Yes, thy cathedral, heaven and earth agree,
To thus unite the “morning stars” with thee
In one euphoneous, sweeping, glorious strain
To God, who rules with everlasting reign.
The universe, then, thy cathedral is,
And all its swelling harmony is His ;
Nor would the heavenly choir be complete,
If thy deep bass was rendered obsolete.
The arch of heaven reverberates aloud,
‘Tis borne on every breeze, on every cloud ;
And angel tongues, impassioned with the song,
Repeat the chorus as it sweeps along.
All heaven is glad, and earth stands in amaze,
While both unite in this grand hymn of praise,
In rapt devotion to the Author given,
Who harmonizes sinful earth with heaven.
Thine isles reclining, as in pensive mood,
Upon the angry bosom of thy flood,
If they could speak, might tell a tragic tale ;
Events heart-thrilling, wrapped within the veil
Of dark oblivion ! in the vast beyond !
I call, but who will answer ? None respond :
I then make bold a tale to improvise,
Now listen while I thus soliloquise.
Perchance the Indian Brave did gently glide
In his canoe, a damsel by his side,
On thy smooth bosom many miles above,
Entranced in a romantic dream of love.
Nor heeded as the moments quickly sped,
Nor thought at all of danger just ahead,
Nor seemed to know how swiftly shot his bark,
As nearer they approached thy brink. But hark !
Thy deaffening peals of thunder break that trance,
Now with the speed of lightning they advance,
And with a giant’s strength that Indian Brave
Now plies his oars his precious freight to save.
A scream, heartrending, rings upon the air ;
A woman’s voice, in eloquent dispair,
Is pleading for her life, which nerves his arm !
He’d die a thousand deaths to shield from harm
That lovely one. Inexorable fate,
Must it be so ? O God, too late, too late !
His oars fly in splinters from the force
With which he strikes, that he may change the course
Of that frail bark, but now he strives no more,
For naught is left to guide him to the shore ;
Upon the maiden now he turns his eyes,
And strives to hush her wild imploring cries.
She hears that voice, now fronting face to face,
They cling in deathless love, in fond embrace ;
A moment more, they gain thy fatal brink.
And with a plunge, down fathoms deep they sink.
The tale is told, and thus it oft has been,
With many victims unawares drawn in
Thy flying rapids. Onward to their doom
They rushed, and found in thee a watery tomb.
But then, Niagara, thou hast other scenes
In store. ‘Tis when Jehovah intervenes
To give thy panorama fearful form,
And lends the powers of a thunder storm.
A storm at night, in inky blackness shrouds
Thy summit, with its fierce and angry clouds,
Like spirit forms in vengeful mood and dire,
Now come to hurl their lightning bolts of fire.
Old Vulcan, with a voice deep and hoarse,
In stern command, now marshals all his force
Of elements — a magazine replete,
With wrath, intent thy powers to defeat :
And quick as thought a flaming torch applies,
The fusee sets, which on its mission flies
With fiery train, that magazine to light —
‘Tis done ! Terrific furies in their might
With fulminations earth and heaven shake,
While lurid lightnings in their frenzy break
From hidden caverns, on their mission bent,
They leap athwart the storm-cloud which is rent
In twain from top to bottom ! What a crash !
The winds lamenting, howl, thy billows dash
With unabated fury, might, and force,
And all the storms can never change their course.
The “Storm-God’s” bosom, now aflame with rage,
Heaves with vindictive wrath, and yet would wage
This war, to rob thee of thy glittering crown,
And with his flaming sword, flies swiftly down,
And strikes thy rocky sides, which still defy
His force of elements, in earth or sky ;
The vivid flash, and then the mirky gloom,
Alternate act their part, and then give room
To rushing torrents, and the wind’s loud blast.
And boiling clouds in volumes dense and vast,
Like doom itself, now settling o’er thy fall,
But through the din I hear thy voice call
New energies, the storm unwitting lends ;
The victory thou dost gain, the conflict ends.
Thy bulwarks grounded on foundations deep
Shall last, long after storms are lulled to sleep.
Thou emblem of eternal budding youth,
Thou dost reveal an ample page of truth,
In characters indellible and bold,
Which on the human heart take lasting hold.
Dost tell of power supreme that holds its sway,
Of power that made the world, that marked thy way,
That over all the universe presides,
The weal of this, the woe which that betides.
Thou liquid world of wealth, exhaustless mine ;
World of romance and poesy divine,
I kneel me down upon thy spray beat sod,
And through thy mist look up to nature’s God.
O, thou Eternal, set my heart atune,
And let me praise thee — with thee now commune ;
My soul instill with love, devotion, free,
And while I humbly bow, will worship thee.
Would give thee thanks for all thou hast bestowed,
To give me zeal, to prompt me on the road
That leads to thee, and thy eternal rest,
In habitations for the sainted blest.
Thy golden chain to which this world is moored,
Let down from heaven, the upper end secured
To battlements, o’er which the angels bend,
Some coming down, while others yet ascend,
Would give me hope that thou art mindful still,
Of all, who bow submissive to thy will ;
Would create deathless love within the shrine
Of every heart. For this, the praise be thine.
The spirit essence of this watery realm
Is felt by all, yea seems to overwhelm !
A mystic union with a nobler sphere,
Which has a title page, an index here,
Now pointing to a volume yet unread,
Fit food for angels and the ransomed dead.
The preface even makes me stand aghast !
Here on the threshold problems deep and vast
Rise for solution, to the wondering mind,
Fields unexplored, with hidden truths to find ;
O, that I had thy universal key
To turn the lock, and solve the mystery.
These things are thine, thy power did impart
The genial breath, that sprung the throbbing heart
Of universal being, which propels
The current on from nature’s living wells.
This stream is fed by deep, wide-spreading lakes
Like inland seas, such breadth their surface takes ;
While on their bosoms, driven by the breeze,
A thousand white-winged freighted argosies
Are borne from shore, to shore, with blessings rife,
Fit ministrations to the wants of life :
All given by thy lavish hand ; so then,
For these, I thank thee, praise thee ; now, amen.
Niagara, what a destiny in store
For thee awaits, when time shall be no more !
When heaven and earth are weary-worn with age,
And time grows sick of acting on the stage ;
His car no longer moves, but stopping all
Bows his adieu, and lets the curtain fall ;
The sun in sackcloth then, will hide his face,
And stars come falling through the realms of space ;
The moon put out her light, and turn to blood,
And Gabriel hasten from the courts of God,
With trumpet sounding through the universe,
A prelude to the words he will rehearse,
“That time which was and is shall be no more,”
While billions bursting from the tombs of yore,
With earth’s yet living millions, will arise
To meet Jehovah, in the flaming skies ;
Who, with a shout triumphant and aloud,
Descending in the glory of a cloud ;
A countless host of angels in his train,
The subjects of his everlasting reign,
Will come to judge the world in righteousness,
The bad to curse, the good to own and bless,
When “wreck of matter and the crash of worlds”
Are seen and heard, and fire around them curls
In tongues of flame, all matter to consume,
And thus fulfills their long predicted doom ;
Then sound the dirge Niagara, unto them !
The knell of time its solemn requiem !
This be thy destiny, then act it well,
And let thy final notes still louder swell,
Expressive of expiring nature’s throes
In that dread day, and then thy reign will close.
I now must break the spell that binds me here,
And bid adieu to all thy scenes so dear ;
I can not longer stay, it makes me sigh
To took on thee my last to say good-bye.
Source: R.A. Wade. A Poem on Niagara Falls. Louisville, Ky.: Sherrill, Turner & Co., 1874
View the book by Wade on the Hathi Trust site. It includes an essay by Wade entitled My Visit to the Falls starting on p. 19
Wade was from Paris, Tennessee