To Niagara by Emmeline Stuart-Wortley

Niagara Falls, c.1885.
Attributed to George Barker.
Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ontario

Chaos of Beauty! — yet with horror blent,
Tremendous Chaos of One Element!
How in the triumph of thy mystery,
The power of all seems largely given to thee;
While still the astounding struggle, as we gaze,
Wakes more and more the wildered soul’s amaze;
Chaos of Beauty! — yet with horror blent,
Transcendant Chaos of One Element!

‘Tis Morning: all seems dazzling, — all divine;
How lustrously thy living waters shine:
The sun on thee hath blazed to second birth,
And Heaven, descending, sure hath touched the earth, —
Touched it, and bade its pride a Shadow be, —
Its motion, strength, and life, resigned to thee!
Chaos of Beauty! — yet with horror blent,
Majestic Chaos of One Element!

‘Tis Evening: have Her skies blushed more to find,
That on thine Earth-born forehead thou canst bind
A glory that shall win the astonished eye
From all their crowning Heavenly Pageantry?
Thou hast power to charm, too, from those Worlds of Light,
The great Celestial Mysteries of the old Night;
Chaos of Beauty! — yet with terrors blent,
Sublimer Chaos of One Element!

We greet thee with a burst of thoughts that roll
In wild responsive tumult through the Soul,
There eddying, the endless dreams in answer free,
Thrill, maddening with tempestuous sympathy.
What deep Niagaras have rushed and reigned
Through hosts of minds, — o’ermastering and unchained;
Chaos of Beauty! — yet with horror blent,
Tremendous Chaos of One Element!

Each differing Mind, — that broods o’er this dread scene, —
Or stern or mild, or fiery or serene,
Lends to thine awful mien and wonderous tone,
Its shadowy Semblance, faintly o’er thee thrown;
Winged souls, as with a crash of Thought, sweep down,
With thee, in passion, stormier than thine own! —
Chaos of Beauty! — yet with horror blent, —
Ungoverned Chaos of One Element!

There let us stand where thou wouldst seem to beat
Earth to a quivering foam beneath thy feet;
Thence upward look, where thou, midst vapoury shrouds,
Com’st like a flashing Ocean from the clouds!
A falling Firmament, — just wrenched away,
A falling Heaven, with stars dashed all to spray:
Chaos of Beauty! — yet with horror blent,
O’erpowering Chaos of One Element!

Yea! how thou seem’st through those white eddying shrouds,
To burst like some lashed Ocean from the Clouds!
Some loosened Firmament, midst storms of light,
Some down-driven Heaven of Stars, half-bared to sight;
Awe-struck we see these gathering terrors hurled! —
We gaze — Niagara seems made the World;
Chaos of Beauty! — yet with horror blent,
Stupendous Chaos of One Element!

Hast thou, indeed, with wild derision beat
Earth and her Empires under thy proud feet?
Art thou Unmaker of her strength and pride? —
Hast thou the unchecked Dominion far and wide? —
“Aha!” thou seem’st to shout, for evermore!
And what shall hurl reply to thy dread roar?
Chaos of Beauty! — yet with terrors blent,
Exulting Chaos of One Element!

Lo! be not thou a watery Sampson fierce;
Seize not the pillars old of the Universe!
Nor this fair Temple of grey Time destroy,
Smit with a sudden rage, and phrenzied joy.
Hast thou, blind Giant-Terror! thou this power?
No, surely not, till strikes the appointed hour!
Chaos of Beauty! — yet with horror blent,
Appalling Chaos of One Element!

Then, — then, — perchance, ‘midst all the gathering gloom,
The chasmy rending of each yawning Tomb,
Thou, with thy maddened waters yet mayst play
Disastrous part in all the vast dismay;
With seven-fold roar and shuddering hideous leap,
Thou to the centre mayst plunge down thy steep!
Chaos of Beauty! — though with terrors blent,
Terrific Chaos of One Element!

Or with sublime recoil, up-shooting high,
Mayst thou expire in spray along the sky;
Scattered through space, — yet thy moist clouds may float,
Showered o’er the face of some bright world remote,
Snatched to another atmosphere serene, —
So long thou sang’st of Heaven in Earth’s dim scene.
Chaos of Beauty! — yet with terrors blent,
Bewildering Chaos of One Element!

So long thy rolling Hallelujahs rang
To Heaven, from Earth where thou, glad-shouting sang,
And called vain Man to join thine echoing strain, —
That thus, perchance, thou’lt sing and shine again
In some fair Planet, thrilled with many a tone
Of thundering Hallelujahs, like thine own.
Chaos of Beauty! — yet with terror blent,
Transcendant Chaos of One Element!

One moment let me Heavenwards raise mine eyes,
Where flash through the empires of Night’s shuddering skies,
Niagaras of Fire!—urged on sublime,
Great Worlds driven hurrying down the Steep of Time;
Grandest Niagara of Nature! Stream, —
Where blazing Cataracts of Creations flame! —
Creations crowded to a Chaos, blent, —
Till theirs, — like thine, — seems One bright Element!

One moment Heavenwards, thus, I raise mine eyes,
Where flash through Night’s outstretched, imperial skies,
Niagaras of Flame, that roll and sweep,
Mysterious Time! — down thy great shadowy Steep,
Mightiest Niagara of Nature, gleam, —
Stream, blazing Cataracts of Creations, stream!
A Sea of Fire ye seem, thus heaved and blent, —
Resplendent Chaos of One Element!

Source:  Emmeline Stuart-Wortley.  On the Approaching Close of the Great Exhibition.  London: W.N. Wright, 1851

Click here to read a biography of Emmeline Stuart-Wortley

Stuart-Wortley also wrote a sonnet entitled To Niagara. Click here to see it.

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