Niagara by William Sharpe

Nature Worship — the worship of the great Infinite Being, the Author of all Nature, in silent reverie and contemplation.

Niagara, Horseshoe Fall from Table Rock, 1898. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

In contemplation which Is worship still,
The innate homage which the soul accords —
The adoration of a higher plane,
Deep centred in a universe of love!

They worship Nature who in sympathy
Respond as children in a happy mood
To her appeals for admiration, when
Before them she, in beauty robed, appears.
For she with subtle influence would draw
Them ever into closer unity,
That they themselves, as one with her, might grow
To be what they admired and loved, — the shrines
Divinely fair, of beauty realized
In angel-hood transcendently adorned.
And hence the secret of that mystic tie, —
That natal bond that man and Nature binds
On every plane in mutual sympathy ;
For all men in their several degrees
Respond to beauty, prompted from within
By intuition of the soul, that seeks
The “beautiful” as her inheritance,
That from of old unto herself belonged ;
And needful now unto her new ascent.
Her cyclic growth on divers mundane planes.
Hence, too, the sense of admiration, which
Is worship and the tribute of the soul,
Whether accorded in the halls of art
Or Nature’s temples fashioned by her hands.
For Nature’s temples everywhere are found
By hill and dale, and mountain waste and plain, —
All places where in someway specialized.
The modes of nature forcibly appeal
Unto the senses; and although oft-times
They seem to pass as though they were not seen,
Yet will they nestle in the memory
To be again subjectively recalled ;
And ever with increasing pleasure, till
The soul attuned to harmony vibrates
To every passing mood of earth and air,
Like an Æolian harp arranged to chime
In concert with the rustling of the leaves!
But though the sensitive see everywhere
The “beautiful” in Nature, and are thrilled
To ecstasy with every pleasing trait
Whether of form of colouring or sound, —
A single warbled note, a fern, a flower,
A drifting cloud, a ripple on the meads,
The lifting leaves that silver in the wind,
And every mood that wakes responsive thought ;
Yet are there scenes that never fail to move
The wonder of the least discerning, as
If nature with a view to educate
The senses and the dormant faculties
That slumber in the soul, had there prepared
A spectacle upon a scale that would
Compel the admiration of the crowd,
And so become a place of pilgrimage
Where thousands meet to worship and adore ;
If not with outward ritual and form
As in the temples on the streams of Ind,
Yet with the inward homage of the soul
In silent gaze and solemn reverie !

‡‡ In divers places and in different zones
Are nature-fanes so specialized that each
Though holding much in common, have their own
Peculiar features that distinguish them
From others of their class, as mountain chains
And woods, and lakes, and rivers, that are held
Long sacred as the Ganges, or the Nile
That sweeps by Thebes and by the pillared halls
Of Karnak and the city of the sun.
These rivers of the Orient have each
Their features of absorbing interest.
Their mighty volume and majestic flow
For ever drew attention, and enchained
The mind with that magnetic influence
That oft induced an inward ecstasy.
And hence their rank as centres from of old,
Of Nature worship that in lapse of time
Expanded and increased, till round them grew
A solemn ritual with stately fanes,
And sumptuous courts and palaces, adorned
With mystic art in sculptured symbols wrought.

‡‡ But in the West, far distant and beyond
The ocean-waste amid the solitudes
Of sombre woods and virgin forests, rolled
Another flood — Niagara, far famed,
But long unknown save to the Indian tribes,
Who looked upon the mighty tide with awe,
Regarding it as the abode of some
All-potent spirit or divinity,
To be placated, and, if troubles came,
With sacrifice and offerings appeased.
Yet still no temples here with art adorned
And symbols, as in eastern lands, were reared.
Nor were they requisite where Nature made
The whole a temple in itself, complete
With all accessories of groves and tanks
And sparkling caves and crypts beneath the “falls,”
Upon a scale transcendant and unique. —
A Nature temple where the vast display
Of power unlimited o’erwhelms the mind,
Till many in abstraction find relief,
And, heeding not the present, seek to call
Up visions of the past, ere yet the march
Of civilization jarred upon the peace
And stillness of the mighty solitudes,
And in imagination seem to stand
Beside some solitary wanderer,
When in amazement, first among the woods,
And in the silence of the dawn he hears
The deep monotonous thunder of the falls ;
And when his eye has caught the view afar
Of that persistent cloud of floating mist
That, pendant, in the early morning hangs
Upon the forest, clinging like a shroud,
Or rising like a pillar in the air.
They seem to see him listen ! look ! and pause
As full of expectation he pursues
His pathway through the wood, till presently
The mystery is solved — a wild expanse
Of tumbling waters like a deluge now
Has burst upon his sight ! He stands before
Niagara, and silently adores !

‡‡ And many are the points of vantage round
This far-famed centre of attraction, where
The congregated thousands meet to scan
The different aspects of the mighty scene. —
By Table Rock on the Canadian shore
They gaze in wonder on the troubled sea
Of tossing billows sweeping to the falls,
Endeavoring, in vain, to realize
In some dim way the magnitude of that
Amazing torrent, hastening there to sink
‘Mid clouds of spray into the wild abyss.
And by the lesser falls beneath the rocks
They mark, amid the driving rain, the rush
Of waters from above, as though they fell
From out the clouds, descending with a boom,
Compared to which the roll of surging seas,
Of tempest, thunder or the hollow bass
Of many organs pealed in unison,
Is weak and insufficient to convey
An idea of the volume of that sound,
That fills the air continuous and vast.
Or in the winter from the ice that jams
The river with interminable blocks
In piles irregular — a frozen waste ;
Or from the summit of the great snow-mound
They note the wintry aspect of the scene, —
The quaint formation of the glacial flows,
Disposed in sheets white-gleaming by the “falls” —
Like falls solidified — or ranged in part
As pillars, statues, colonnades and crypts.
And pendant spears, a myriad crystal shapes
With glittering points and iridescent hues.
Or on the isles that lie above the “falls”
They mark more wonderful the laden trees
In feathery plumes of snow-white drapery, —
Note how they stand, conspicuous afar,
But in the dim light of the gloaming change
To shrouded forms in divers attitudes,
Upright or leaned, till every bush and bough
Seems like a giant or a sheeted ghost,
And all the place a haunted rendezvous
Where teeming fancy, as in days of old,
Or yet no fancy, but clairvoyant power
Might in the moonlight when the lunar bow
Is on the falls, behold the banded nymphs
And Naiades, from their caves emerging, join
To hold their dance in mazy circles there !

‡‡ There is oft, too, another wintry phase :
When mist, a blizzard, or the falling snow
Infolds the rapids, hiding their extent
From nigh the centre to the further shore,
That portion left, emerging from the gloom
And rolling by the Terrapins to sink
In gloom again into the yawning gulf,
Conveys a sense of vastness undefined, —
A feeling vague of awfulness and power
That whelms the mind until it longs for rest
And peace ‘mong scenes less turbulent and vast
For souls from action wearied seek repose ;
And there is oft a sense of rest in change, —
A sense of rest in peaceful life, that flows
In unity with universal Being.

‡‡ Yet rest may always on these isles be found, —
That peaceful rest that from contentment flows :
But chiefly in the later months of spring
When all the birds returning from the south
Responsive sing among the groves and add
Their flute notes to the bassing of the falls ;
And when the air is laden with the breath
Of balmy shrubs and fragrant firs and pines.
And divers trees burst newly into leaf ;
When all the sward is like an emerald,
And every nook is gay with living flowers,
And every flower a hospitable inn
Where toiling bees and buzzing gnats and flies,
Leaving awhile their aerial dance and song,
Find rest a moment and regale themselves,
Imbibing nectar from their ample stores.
At such a time the thoughtful wanderer,
On musing bent, an inward peace will find, —
A peace arising from the harmony
Of Nature, manifested in the throb
And onrush of that pulsing life that fills
The vision with a myriad pleasing forms,
And all the air with choral melody ;
That boundless life that with the summer comes
To fill the rounds of its activity,
Exulting in the sense of Being, until
Its period lapse and needful rest ensues
In peaceful states of subjectivity.

‡‡ Preparatory phases notify
The advent of this yearly rest or sleep ;
For hardly has the summer passed before
A gradual change or slow infolding for
The indrawn or quiescent state appears.
The joyous hum and gladsome notes that filled
The air of morn or sultry noon are hushed,
The mazy dance of aerial life has ceased ;
And all the birds that with the spring arrive
Are flocking now or on their journey south,
While o’er the woods the breath of autumn sends
A hectic bloom, the sign of ebbing life,
Yet rivalling the colours of the spring ;
For all the woods, the river-gorge and isles
Are now aglow resplendent in new robes
That far out-shine the bridal robes of May :
No longer woods they seem, but gleaming tracts
Of Titan flowers that vie in brilliancy
Of colour with the rainbow on the falls,
And radiant seem as if, like passing saint,
A ray of glory reached them from beyond !
Such bloom lies on the face of Nature now, —
A bloom and smile, as though she seemed to say,
“I go to rest — I sleep, but do not die !”

Source: William, Sharpe.  Niagara and Nature Worship and Other Poems and Essays.  Toronto: William Briggs, 1911

At the time of publication William Sharpe was a retired surgeon with the British Army. Sharpe was born in Ireland, trained at Queen’s University, Belfast, and served in India.

In his  Anthology and Bibliography of Niagara Falls, Dow lists this poem as published in Sharpe’s Niagara and Khandalla, and Other Poems published by H.A. Copley in 1902

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