Life at Niagara: An Epistle From the Falls By James Thomas Fields

James Thomas Fields

Dear N.
: While the rainbows are spanning the Falls,
And a lusty Scotch infant next door raises squalls, —
While the frantic young mother shouts madly for milk,
In tones not so soft, quite, as satin or silk, —
Your friend, grown poetic, has snatched up his pen,
To dash off a line to “the best of young men.”

You’ve been at the Falls, and they can’t be described,
Though Coleridge himself from the tomb should be bribed ;
Pile mountains of paper, and flood them with ink,
And Niagara is dry, though the reader should sink.
But there’s life here, my friend, — closely packed to be sure, —
For fashion condenses what man must endure :
Not a bed to be had, not a chair, or a block,
And the only spare table is old Table Rock.
How glorious a visit, were taverns and gongs
But banished a week to where Fashion belongs,
To tramp through the forest, with no charge of fares,
In a pair of brogans, such as Audubon wears;
To meet a lithe Indian, all stately and stark,
And “put up” a few days in his wigwam of bark; —
Gods! a walk through the woods, by the light of the stars,
Would outweigh all the lamps, and the Lewiston cars!

But here’s life at the Falls — from a year to fourscore —
(And I think by the sound there’s a day at next door ; )
Here are members of Congress, away from their seats,
Though sure to be there when the dinner-gong beats ;
Here are waiters, so eager your viands to snatch,
That they leap down the stairs like a multiplied Patch ;
To the sound of sweet music they nimbly appear,
And whisk off your corn while they tickle your ear.
Here are pensive young preachers, dressed quite comme il faut,
In coats black as night, and cravats pure as snow ;
Rich East India governors, heavy as gold,
Hanging round like weak sun-flowers, yellow and old ;
Artistical talent, with sketch-book displayed,
Drawing very bad water in very poor shade ;
Fat cockneys from Charing-Cross ; belles from Madrid,
Whose long jewelled fingers outrival Jamschid ;
Superb English maidens, with swan-swimming gait,
Who float round the Rapids like Junos in state ; —
But the brightest-eyed daughters, the best string of pearls,
Represent in their beauty our own Yankee Girls.

Here cluster the fair, and the plain, and the prim,
Round the gallant and gay, whiskered up to the brim ;
Here’s a biped in boots, a most exquisite ass,
Who looks at the Falls through a golden-rimmed glass ;
And to-day such a waist, N., I saw on the Rock,
That to furnish the brains seemed a slight waste of stock.
Here’s a lively old lady, all feathers and fans,
Who trots about peddling her Susans and Anns ;
And a drab-colored Quaker, I’ve seen more than twice
Take a sly glass of something in water and ice.
But brief let me be, while the dull curfew tolls ;
Niagara still lives! still it rushes, and rolls ; —
There is no spot on earth where I’d sooner meet you,
And the friends we both love, N., the choice and the true,
Though a Downeastern editor published the lie
That this glorious old cataract’s “all in my eye!”

Source:  James Thomas Fields. Poems by James T. Fields.  Boston: William D. Ticknor & Company, 1849

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