A poem composed for the most part by the Drachenfels, one of the Seven Mountains of the Rhine, in the vicinity of Bonn, September, 1856, and delivered as a part of an address on American Scenery the day following.
Thou Genius of the Western World,
‡‡Whose realm extends from sea to sea,
Permit thy son in foreign lands
‡‡To chant one hymn of praise to thee.
Here where the glorious Rhine flows by,
‡‡Here where the mountains rise in power,
Here where the distant past draws nigh
‡‡In many a broken wall and tower
Let him from Memory’s fountain bring
To thee one fervent offering.
Pure element of strength and grace,
‡‡We celebrate the Water-World,
Which in the swift rotation race
‡‡With earth and air is ceaseless whirled :
The Spirit on its ancient Deep,
‡‡Did, hovering bright, creative move ;
And in its precincts marvels sleep
‡‡Akin to those that flame above.
The symbol of all purity,
‡‡The mirror of the Heavenly hosts ;
Its rills that murmur to the sea,
‡‡And the ocean’s rock-walled coasts,
Are scenes that we in joy behold,
All set in beauties manifold.
The earth towers up in mountains strong,
‡‡And spreads in valley and in plain,
Whilst darkening forests stretch along
‡‡Broad streams that seek the parent main.
What Mountains are unto the land
‡‡Revealing its sublimity
By heights that like proud watchmen stand
‡‡In bold and steep acclivity,
Are Cataracts in Neptune’s realm
‡‡Whose stormy depths are wreathed with snow,
And round the inverted mountains whelm
‡‡The grandeurs of their torrent-flow.
Most transient flames the fire sublime,
‡‡And subtle moves the buoyant air
Whose breath inspires the life of time
‡‡And circles o’er us everywhere.
But in each movement, shape, and place,
The Water-World appears in grace.
Thy voice of might, Niagara !
‡‡Through which a World pours out its thought,
And chants the greatness of a realm
‡‡By nations formed, by nations sought !
Oft have I stood before thy might,
‡‡Oft gazed upon thy rainbowed form
At morning’s dawn, at noon, at night,
‡‡In sunshine fair and yet in storm
Have seen thy wild mad torrents leap
Adown thine awful rockbound steep.
The fruitful Nile its volume breaks ¹
‡‡In Falls the pleasured eye may trace ;
The Orinoco grandly takes
‡‡In rock-laid steeps² its peerless grace.
Tequendama’s splendorous Fall,
‡‡And double bound³ midst changeless green,
In deep descent surpasses all
‡‡That in the New World hath been seen.
And Garrisoppa’s4 four-fold tides
‡‡That pour, ‘neath India’s gorgeous sun
Adown the abyss’s seething sides
‡‡Where noble tributes meet as one,
Are praised by Britain’s conquering hand
As the fair marvel of the land.
The Genesee,5 whose turbid reign
‡‡Breaks forth in snowlike water-falls,
Unable pureness to attain
‡‡Till breaking o’er the firm rock walls :
Minnehaha’s6 joyous greeting,
‡‡Broad St. Anthon’s 7 white array,
Trenton’s amber waters meeting
‡‡Low in earth their holiday :8
Montmorency’s grand ravine,
‡‡His mystic sheet of silver waters,
And fair Trenton’s hills of green
‡‡Where dance the Cuyahoorah’s9 daughters —
These in varied forms forthshow
‡‡Scenic glory of the earth.
And in broken torrent-flow
‡‡Sing the fount of nature’s birth.
But to thy grandeur these confess
Thou art the rightful Emperess.
Who gave thy Voice its thunder tone ?
‡‡Who built thy throne in sunless earth ?
Who wrote upon thy rocky walls
‡‡Time’s Eras in successive birth ?
Who placed the bow above thy head
‡‡Thou Queen of Waters far and nigh,
That as a Conqueror, thou might’st spread
‡‡Thy waving banners to the sky ?
Ah ! now as when thy banks I trod,
I hear thy torrents answer, God !
Thy river numbers many Isles,10
‡‡And calmly spreads its radiant breast
As from great Erie’s treasure pour
‡‡Thine ample waters full of rest.11
Thy floods from many a lake12 have come,
‡‡And ere they find their dread abyss
Whose eddies whirl and waters foam
‡‡In wild unceasing dreariness,
They maddening roar and rush along
To their wild leap and thunder-song.
There is a majesty of trees
‡‡That royal lift their crowns above;
Still harps whereon the passing breeze,
‡‡As in Dodona’s mystic grove,
Speaks Oracles. Such classic shade
‡‡Lay solemn on thy woodland shore
From Erie’s strand to Iris-glade
‡‡Where break thy waters evermore !
But, ah ! the woodman’s axe has laid
‡‡From Erie’s waves to thine abyss
In many a Wold of nymphic shade
‡‡Thy timbers low and shadowless.
Still by thy way may yet be seen
‡‡The stately tree of ancient days.
And on thy shores and islands green
‡‡They clustering stand thy course to praise.
They view thy march, they hear thy Voice,
And in thy symphonies rejoice.
Thou didst, bold flood, in channel13 roll
‡‡Quite other than thy now ravine,
And as the body reft of soul
‡‡Peaceful laid in burial green,
So rests thine olden form in ground :
‡‡Unjealous of thy better mode
It trembles in thy might-born sound,
‡‡Content to be thy past abode :
Memento of thine ancient fame
‡‡It gladdens o’er thy voice profound,
And lowly hears thy lordly name
‡‡That in dread thunders doth resound.
Old forms, shall nature’s life forsake,
New methods can she ably make.
The Mastodon thy shores has trod
‡‡Where, dying, left his trace with thee,
And shells14 thy flooding waves did leave,
‡‡Proclaim thine ancient victory :
In threefold columns thou didst march
‡‡When Hennepin came nigh to thee.15
And then thy fair triumphal arch
‡‡Stood lordly o’er processions three.16
In slow recession thou dost show
‡‡That Time drives back thy lasting throne.
And in thy waters’ endless flow,
‡‡Time claims thy being for its own.
Thou didst thine awful history write
On soils and tablets, erudite.
Whilst Man proceeds from age to age
‡‡To will, to war, to love, to die,
His great transactions on the stage
‡‡Demand the writer’s careful eye.
The scribe must keep his past alive
‡‡By ponderous tomes of toilsome lore
That tell how ancient times did strive,
‡‡How Rome the nations fell before ;
How Thebes was built, how Cæsar fought.
‡‡How kings did perish in their pride,
How men of craft themselves were caught,
‡‡How flowed, how ebbed the nation’s tide,
That the Past with life might glow
Like the living Present’s flow.
But truthful Nature ! thou didst write,
‡‡And in thy hand the pen doth lie
Wherewith thy doings infinite
‡‡Became a silent history :
In thine own realm the Scribe abides
‡‡Who on the parchment of a star
With bones, and shells, and plants, and tides,
‡‡Indites the Ages from afar.
Our Earth its own account has kept
‡‡Omitting nothing, noting all :
In words of Fate the record slept
‡‡Till Man could read the mighty scroll.
This Scribe, Niagara, has strewn
His many pages, round thy throne !
The years thy coral limestone knew,
‡‡Before the human epoch came,
Outnumber morning’s drops of dew
‡‡Or starry hosts that ceaseless flame.
All numbers do but mock its years,
‡‡All mountains formed beneath the sea
And thrown toward the starry spheres
‡‡Are infantile compared to thee
O Rock, wherein the Cycles chime
And teach, SUBLIMITY of TIME !
Ere Man appeared as lord of earth
‡‡And took all Nature as his right,
Thou, in the silence of the Wild
‡‡Poured out thy song in grave delight ;
The bird flew o’er thy roaring flood,
‡‡And cleaved thy soft and snow-white spray ;
The bison paused thy notes to hear,
‡‡Then bounded through the wilds away.
When Man was not thy Voice was strong,
And Nature heard thy thunder-song.
But when thy Voice drew men to hear
‡‡The mighty words thy soul would speak,
Who came to listen at thy feet ?
‡‡Did scholars first thy lessons seek ?
The wild man came and was at home
‡‡Amidst thy grandeurs deep and wild ;
For he through nature’s realm did roam
‡‡And was her free unlettered child.
He saw thy form, he heard thy lay,
Then spake the word, ” Niagara !”
Roar on thou ceaseless giant flood,
‡‡Beneath thy gorgeous arch descend,
And spread thy wings in whitest spray,
‡‡As ancient Time his echoes blend
With thy vast music of to-day !
‡‡Thou art the type of highest power
That e’er through bard or prophet spoke,
‡‡A type of Inspiration’s hour
When God in man high music woke,
‡‡And poured through mortal lips the lay
‡‡Whose fiery glow died not away.
Not all amazed I came to thee,
‡‡A nothing in thy mighty look ;
For in each Soul is darkly laid
‡‡The contents of all Nature’s Book.
Not all amazed I came to thee.
‡‡Ye mingled floods of might and grace,
For in each true sublimity
‡‡Feeling triumphs over place.
Thirst and water gladly meet,
‡‡Hunger seeks its needful bread ;
Ear and music other greet,
‡‡Soul and Nature firmly wed :
Sublimely thirsting spirits go
Where the vaster fountains flow,
Each for each eternal made,
Affinities in being, laid ;
Pure lovers from eternity,
Of one remote maternity,
Yet estranged on Time’s dark sea,
Estranged by cant and falsity,
By thee to meet in grand embrace,
Soul and Symbol face to face.
Thy Torrents hasten on their way
‡‡Wildly tossed in heaps of foam,
In earnest, anxious, passion-play
‡‡As heroes into battle come !
And ere the Crisis they have found,
‡‡As if made wise by sudden fear,
Thy waters narrow 17 at the sound
‡‡That loud proclaims the danger near,
Then rush they to their dread abyss,
All courage, action, eagerness !
As Shak[e]speare’s, Milton’s, Goethe’s voice,
‡‡Had unseen depths and springs behind
Of knowledge, wisdom, genius, force.
‡‡Distant welling in the mind :
So is thy Voice the trumpet blast
‡‡Of fountains great remote from thee,
Of Lakes whose surging billows vast
‡‡Roll on in grandeur like the sea.
The insect’s song, the lion’s roar,
‡‡Are signal of the power of each,
And Being’s Voices evermore
‡‡Their substance-fountains vocal teach.
America doth speak by thee :
Thou art its roar of Destiny !
A Microcosmus thou dost show
Creation in thy mirror-flow ;
The cloudland wars, the lightning’s leap,
The surgings of the soundless Deep,
The green of earth, the dyes of flowers,
The clash and tramp of martial powers,
The gentlest grace of Beauty’s form.
The darkening majesty of storm !
The soul of Passion wildly stirred,
Its voices through the nations heard ;
The soft white clouds that grace the day,
And that grand arch, the Milky-Way, 18
And David’s chant and Homer’s song,
With freedom’s shout these rocks among,
Rise to my thoughts, whilst here I muse
As in thy softly falling dews.
All Graces and all Terrors meet,
And pay their tribute at thy feet.
The World is metaphor of Man,
‡‡The statue of eternal soul,
The magic mirror that returns
‡‡The manly Image manifold ;
The sea, whose truthful breast was meant
‡‡To paint the starry hosts of night ;
The transfixed shade of Spirit, sent
‡‡Abroad by Reason’s causal light.
In royal nature men may see
‡‡The type of man divinely made
Wherein their own divinity
‡‡In symbol-shadow forth is laid.
Within the Meaning latent lies —
‡‡Without the typal World dawns new,
And meaning unto symbol flies
‡‡With lively rapture in the view
When Nature takes majestic form,
‡‡Or charms in beauty’s gentler ray,
Or pours in floods the vocal storm,
‡‡Or shines from out the floral way.
The brute no grandeur ever feels
‡‡From starry canopy serene :
To it no Universe appeals
‡‡Nor beauty from thy water-sheen.
To Thee we come in glad unrest
Because by thee Man is expressed.
Niagara ! I love thee more
‡‡Than man may love the Ocean waste,
For on thy marvel-bearing shore
‡‡Variety is queen of grace.
I think me of the ancient days
‡‡When Indian men and maidens came
To render the High Spirit praise,
‡‡And sacrifice unto his name.
I seem to see the maiden fair 19
‡‡By beauty doomed her life to yield ;
How wildly streamed her glossy hair !
‡‡The oars she proudly deigned to wield
A sister of the breakers wild
‡‡By Nature’s teaching firm and great,
No tremor seized the forest child
‡‡Who proudly met the direful fate.
Arrayed in white, her father’s pride,
‡‡She rowed into the central stream
Where onward mutely side by side
‡‡They passed amidst the Rapids’ gleam
Adown the Chasm’s deafening roar
Unheard, unseen for evermore !
In thee the Universal speaks —
‡‡As on Pentecostian time
The living Words each nation hears
‡‡Spoken “in its own tongue” sublime :
In local mouldings men are cast
‡‡As English, German, Frank and Jew :
The biases through life must last
‡‡Unless the mind is born anew :
But in thy presence they shall feel
‡‡The Universe for them is born,
And Catholic is Nature’s seal
‡‡When opes the spirit’s tidal morn.
Unpatriotic glows the soul
‡‡Uplifted by thy potent sphere,
And brothers all, when thou dost roll
‡‡The music of Creation’s cheer.
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡THE RAPIDS 20
The broad green Waters are aglow !
They break ! — yet in unity flow :
‡‡And they move in terrible play
‡‡The Waters’ joyous Holiday !
‡‡Stand by the Cataract near,
‡‡‡‡Thence survey them coming,
‡‡A mighty crested band
‡‡‡‡In high Passion foaming.
‡‡The warring waters rush and swell
‡‡‡‡Fierce bounding o’er the rock-strewn way,
‡‡And breakers raise their stormy heads
‡‡‡‡And hands, in ceaseless battle-play.
‡‡‡‡‡‡How hurriedly along
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡They speed in earnest motion,
‡‡‡‡‡‡As led by martial song
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡To battle’s fierce commotion !
‡‡‡‡‡‡The multitudes rush
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡In crests of white.
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡O’erburdened with might !
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡The livelong day,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And at nightly hour
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Behold their power
‡‡‡‡‡‡Break to the moon and stars ;
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Chaste as they
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡The billows play
‡‡‡‡And passionate as Mars.
‡‡‡‡‡‡By the Rapids strong,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Their glory broken
‡‡‡‡‡‡Is grandeur’s token.
‡‡‡‡‡‡By these prepare
‡‡‡‡‡‡The Abyss to share,
‡‡‡‡‡‡For its soul inspires
‡‡‡‡‡‡Their wild desires,
‡‡‡‡‡‡As the end to be won
‡‡‡‡‡‡Does the action done.
‡‡‡‡Like armies aroused
‡‡‡‡‡‡Advancing to fight,
‡‡‡‡The white plumes toss.
‡‡‡‡And flashes the light
Of the Rapids that chant the bold Deed as they go
To the Maelstrom that for them is waiting below.
‡‡‡‡‡‡THE DESCENT OF THE WATERS.
To high brinks of Terror undaunted they glide
Bending in curves, falling in pride :
At home on the edge of the Rocks’ dizzy height
Dividing in beauty, breaking in might,
They hear the dread Welcome that thunders below
And into its Terrors eternally flow !
Behind the brisk torrents revel in power
‡‡Winds that like Titans forever contend,
Unceasing their rage, eternal the shower
‡‡That into the realm of Eolus descend.
The Crisis of Conflict in valor profound
They meet ! and the war of earth’s forces resound.
Voices of gladness ring merry and clear,
‡‡Voices of terror sound further beneath ;
Low is the rumbling that wakens our fear
‡‡Of the Storm-King that wears his cloud-woven wreath :
Beneath rage the Terrors and Forces men dread,
‡‡Beneath are the Passions that storm the high soul,
And the scenes where the feet of the Terrible tread,
‡‡And his Voices of Danger unceasingly roll,
Are laid near the Depths of the Chasm that takes
The green rushing Torrent that over it breaks.
‡‡‡‡Low down in the earth
‡‡‡‡‡‡The vast Cauldron is laid,
‡‡‡‡Abysmal and broad
‡‡‡‡‡‡The dimensions were made.
‡‡‡‡The floods in wild tumult
‡‡‡‡‡‡Plunge into the form
‡‡‡‡Rolling and roaring
‡‡‡‡‡‡In chaos and storm ;
‡‡‡‡Boiling and swelling
‡‡‡‡‡‡Spraying and welling
‡‡‡‡Foaming and breaking
‡‡‡‡‡‡The strong earth shaking
‡‡‡‡With thunders more dire
‡‡‡‡‡‡Than the seven that broke
‡‡‡‡From the Infinite ire
‡‡‡‡‡‡And terror- words spoke :
‡‡‡‡Or those that once rocked
‡‡‡‡‡‡The God-gleaming Height,
‡‡‡‡When fierce lightnings shocked
‡‡‡‡‡‡The proud Israelite.
‡‡‡‡Terrors and Forces
‡‡‡‡In thundering courses
‡‡‡‡‡‡Of motion unending,
‡‡‡‡‡‡The aggregate blending!
‡‡‡‡No Charybdis or Maelstrom
‡‡‡‡‡‡Yet known in the seas.
‡‡‡‡No Hurricane lifting
‡‡‡‡‡‡In circles the trees,
‡‡‡‡Ever wielded such sceptre
‡‡‡‡‡‡Of awe and of might.
‡‡‡‡As reigns in the chasm
‡‡‡‡‡‡Of Chaos and Night.
‡‡‡‡The abyss of thy floods
‡‡‡‡‡‡Yields terror supreme,
‡‡‡‡And the wliite foam of conflict
‡‡‡‡‡‡Doth over it gleam !
THE RIVER ONE MILE BELOW THE ABYSS.
The light green waters slowly move.
‡‡Long bands of foam upon them sleeping,
And low adown the rock-walled gorge
‡‡The dreaming tides are silence keeping.
Power in effort gets expended,
‡‡Rest and sleep soothe all the woes ;
The waters weary are extended
‡‡In the dream of soft repose.
Dark battlements like mountains rise
‡‡Above the river’s placid flow
Where Glo’sters with their sightless eyes
‡‡Might fitter end their mortal woe.
Trees, rooted in their seams, appear,
‡‡Rising o’er the grassy height
Like Charities from systems drear
‡‡That bleakly show the Infinite.
Economies the rock-growths teach,
‡‡And fearless stands the cedar high
Upon those walls where ages preach
‡‡Eternities gone by.
In constellations far below
‡‡Like playful thoughts in souls at rest
The waltzing eddies graceful flow
‡‡Within the silent water’s breast.
All states of strife inherent tend
‡‡At last in harmony to end.
Anon the drowsing waters roar :
‡‡Brave action takes its rightful place :
Their moment of repose is o’er,
‡‡And to Ontario’s welcome haste.
Right on the noble river fleet
‡‡Proceeds against the mountain’s base,
In circles, turning at the feet
‡‡Of lofty hills that guard the place.
In Circles large the planets flow
‡‡Emitting glory in their spheres ;
In circles fires electric glow,
‡‡And from them fall our grief-born tears.
In circles sweeps the hurricane,
‡‡And spheres sustain the infant one,
Whilst throughout Being’s endless chain
‡‡The race in circles e’er is run.
There, round and round, the waters move,
‡‡Slow inward roll and central haste
As currents into currents groove
‡‡In their royal love-embrace.
I see the self-engendered foam
‡‡On whirling waters northward glide.
And there the Cataract’s ancient home
‡‡Stood firm beneath its thundering tide.
Ere Man had birth, o’er loftier throne
‡‡Thy grand floods roared, unheard, alone !
Thy wonderous gorge, Niagara !
‡‡Than castled hills of ancient knights
More mighty walled — abruptly ends
‡‡In rock-piled cliffs at Queenston Heights.21
O could thy waters tell the tale
‡‡Of their adventures in the land,
To match the strain must even fail
‡‡The Epic of great Homer’s hand :
But now thy conquests at an end
‡‡Their mood grows silent as the night,
When, all composed, the waters blend
‡‡With Ontario’s restless might.
The Cataract in kingly reign
‡‡Has cut the chasm’s lordly way ;
Ten thousand Hannibals in vain
‡‡May strive in Alpine rocks to lay
Such passage for the conquering fates
‡‡To reach the Eternal City’s gates.
The symbol of all tragedy !
‡‡High truths in figure spoken !
O’er steeps of error and of woe
‡‡Life’s floodings must be broken.
To end the current’s even flow
‡‡Abysses in our lives are found,
And obstacles we cannot know
‡‡Lie in the channels firmly bound.
Lo ! God’s Eloquence breaks
‡‡‡‡‡‡On strata of Truth
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡In splendorous tides
‡‡‡‡‡‡Of life-giving youth.
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡High Character owns
‡‡‡‡‡‡Its Principles deep
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And firm as the thrones
‡‡‡‡‡‡Where Cataracts leap.
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Each River of Life
‡‡‡‡‡‡Breaks often for thee,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Lone soldier of strife
‡‡‡‡‡‡From battle ne’er free.
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Peace reigns in the heaven
‡‡‡‡‡‡With all that is well :
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡The Tragic is given
‡‡‡‡‡‡In Evil— and Hell.
‡‡‡‡‡‡Must break as they roll,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And Beauty abides
‡‡‡‡‡‡The ever-sought goal.
He that has doubt, he that is weak,
To him let the voice of the Cataract speak.
I heard thy Voice in golden days
‡‡In Autumn’s calm and yellow hue,
In Winter’s cold and ice-bound reign
‡‡And yet in Summer’s morning dew,
And ne’er hast thou appeared the same.
‡‡When last I bowed me by thy side
These words from out thy thunders came
‡‡As rolled thy deep majestic tide :
‡‡‡” I am the Voice
‡‡‡‡‡‡Of mighty Truth :
‡‡‡I speak unto the Soul :
‡‡‡‡‡‡The Infinite, the All in thee
‡‡‡Shall yet in grandeur roll.
‡‡‡‡‡‡Lo ! they are weak
‡‡‡Who should be strong,
‡‡‡‡‡‡And trifles lead
‡‡‡The mass along.
‡‡‡‡‡‡God lies within
‡‡‡‡‡‡Dark veiled by sin ;
‡‡‡‡‡‡I must the Spirit waken
‡‡‡‡‡‡The god in slumbers taken.”
‡‡‡‡‡‡THE CHORUS OF WATERS.
‡‡‡” Come Spirits of air
‡‡‡‡‡‡Bright Naiads and fair
‡‡‡To you it is given
‡‡‡‡‡‡Our secret to share.
‡‡‡Shed sunbeams from your wings,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Bathe in gentlest spray,
‡‡‡Hover o’er our fountain springs,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Come as comes the day,
‡‡‡That when your spheres are over all
‡‡‡Spirit-like our scenes shall call.”
” I am the Voice
‡‡Of boundless Love
The dazzling Word of Heaven ;
‡‡To stir, to sound the Deep within
Such power to me is given.
‡‡I chant the glories of the Mind,
I ope the Spirit’s strong barred gate,
‡‡If there the slumbering god I find,
To show him realm and sceptre great.”
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡” I am the Voice
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Of endless Life,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Life that overflows :
‡‡‡‡Symbol of the potent strife
‡‡‡‡‡‡Truth, triumphing, knows.
‡‡‡‡The rivers flow
‡‡‡‡‡‡And dashing break ;
‡‡‡‡The white drops fall
‡‡‡‡‡‡And colors take
‡‡‡‡In lovely bow ;
‡‡‡‡‡‡So Spirit hies
‡‡‡‡Adown Life’s steep
‡‡‡‡‡‡And beauties rise
‡‡‡‡Fresh o’er the deep :
When the Spirit breaks in sorrow
Rainbows arch the dawning morrow.”
‡‡‡‡‡‡” I am the Voice
‡‡‡‡‡‡Of Worship true
‡‡‡‡Its Altar midst
‡‡‡‡‡‡Eternal dew :
‡‡‡‡The Hymn of God
‡‡‡‡‡‡His works among,
‡‡‡‡The Soul of praise
‡‡‡‡‡‡Incessant sung ;
‡‡‡‡The Heart’s deep voice
‡‡‡‡‡‡Of solemn Prayer
‡‡‡‡Through Nature’s lips
‡‡‡‡‡‡Poured on the air.
‡‡‡‡‡‡Historic tides :
When my thunders shake the ground
‡‡And my rocks, Old Time, record,
The Voices wake thine awe profound
‡‡Mystery of the mighty Lord !
Worship’s Temple is All Things,
Through aisle and dome the high Voice rings.”
‡‡‡‡‡‡” I am the Voice
‡‡‡‡‡‡Of Freedom fair.
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Come all the world
‡‡‡‡‡‡My world to share :
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡In Freedom born
‡‡‡‡‡‡Each soul shall be
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡In the morn
‡‡‡‡‡‡Of liberty :
‡‡‡‡‡‡Our only chain
‡‡‡‡‡‡In one domain ;
Nor slave, nor tyrant should there be
In lands provided for the free :
Be just, be pure, be brave, be strong
This chant I in my thunder song.”
‡‡‡‡” Arise, awake !
‡‡‡‡Thy Sceptre take ;
‡‡In Nature place thy throne,
‡‡‡‡Lord of the land
‡‡Lord of the sea
‡‡All things make thine own.
‡‡‡‡Creation is Youth
‡‡‡‡Is life and is Truth ;
‡‡‡‡The Soul that buildeth all
‡‡‡‡Makes it his Palace hall.
‡‡‡‡To thee O man do I rehearse
‡‡‡‡Thou art the infant Universe.”
Thus sang to me Niagara
‡‡As o’er its scenes I musing strayed
When in my own my native land
‡‡Life’s golden visions joyous played.
Now far away mid Castles old,
‡‡And clouded like the mount-borne tower,
I think me of the torrents bold
‡‡That spake these words of life and power,
And over the Ocean’s storm and spray
I greet thee loved Niagara !
Even now thy chorus rising high
‡‡I hear against the dome of Heaven,
Where with the stars its soft tones die
‡‡In noiseless hours of restful Even.
I hear thy words heroic, still,
‡‡And worshipful they pierce mine ear
When tides of courage in me fill
‡‡The void wherein was darkening fear.
Thy Might without wakes Might within
‡‡As Deep to Deep responds again.
Here will I mate with mountains strong
‡‡Where gleamed the charmed Lorrellei, 22
Where rolls the wave and dies the song
‡‡That wrecked the ancient passer by —
But lingering long by Castles old
‡‡And clouded like the mount-borne tower,
I think me of the torrents bold
‡‡That spake such words of life and power,
And over the Ocean’s storm and spray
I hail thee in the far away !
Source: E.G. Holland. Niagara and Other Poems. New York: Rudd and Carleton, 1861
Elihu Goodwin Holland 1817-1878
Notes to Niagara written by E.G. Holland.
The cataracts of the Nile, though no larger probably than the Cohoes, have awakened admiration, and afforded pleasure to some eminent European poets.
The Orinoco in two places is crossed by transverse dykes of granitic rocks where the phenomena become full of beauty and grandeur, as at Maypures and Atures.
The fall of Tequendama occurs in the Rio de Bogota, in New Granada, and making a double bound in its course, descends five hundred and seventy-four feet, whilst the vegetation common to the temperate and tropical latitudes lend their graces to the scene.
The four Falls of Garisoppa in India are described as wonderfully fair, and as being formed by four divisions of the same river all of which from different sides descend nine hundred feet into one abyss.
The Genesee, which varies much in its volume at different seasons, and in its flood is always turbid, affords the best example on a large scale of the power of a cataract to change in appearance the character of a river, so that to the fancy what had been the strong emblem of impurity becomes at once the fairest type of its opposite.
The Minnehaha, from the agreeableness of the impressions made by its scenery and itself, is perhaps even more frequented than the Falls of St. Anthony.
The Falls of St. Anthony, amidst romantic scenery, have only a depth of about eighteen feet.
Trenton Falls are guarded on both sides by high green hills, and the admirer, aided by a winding stairway, surveys them from the low ravine.
The Cuyahoora is said to be the Indian name of the Trenton river and signifies leaping waters.
There are great and small, thirty-seven islands in the Niagara River between the lake and the cataract.
For fifteen miles from Lake Erie, the waters spread out into a calm surface and scarcely descend so many feet.
The immense amount of fresh water contained in the Five Lakes, namely, the St. Clair, Huron, Superior, Michigan, and Lake Erie, which are the permanent sources of the Niagara river, corresponds entirely with the idea of the immense mass of waters that are continually broken by the cataract, and serves to remove all surprise from the fact that neither time within the memory of man, nor abundance of rain, or continuance of drought produce any observable difference in the volume of the river.
There is pretty good evidence of the fact that Niagara once flowed in an old river bed, which, like the river above the Falls, was a shallow valley about three hundred feet higher than the present winding chasm through which the river flows from the cataract to the escapement at Queenston, seven miles below.
The traces of the old river bed are clearly marked, wherein one may find places of sand and gravel commingled, with a thickness of forty feet. In these spots the fluviatile shells of the genera Cyclas, Unio, Melania, and others of the exact same species as now inhabit the waters above the cataract are found in abundance. This view of an old river bed in the form of a shallow valley, as a distinct, direct, and unbroken prolongation of the river from Lake Erie, traces of which are manifest for four miles below the Falls, is in perfect unison with the idea that the cataract has, by its well known process of recession, cut out the deep gorge of its present course from Queenston to its present position, a distance of seven miles. At Queenston, the elevated region in which Lake Erie itself reposes, and through which the Niagara flows, ends abruptly in solid ramparts of rocks, called the Escapement, or perhaps more commonly, Queenston Heights.
“In threefold columns thou didst march
When Hennepin came nigh to thee.”
The first white man that ever saw the Falls of Niagara was Father Louis Hennepin, a French Jesuit missionary, when on an expedition of discovery in 1678, just one hundred and eighty-three years ago. For about three quarters of a century it was the sole possession of the red man, when, in 1758, Kalm, a Swedish Naturalist, visited the place and spake of the falling away of a great rock on the western side, mentioned by Hennepin as producing a third fall of considerable interest flowing from West to East.
Father Hennepin said: “From the end then of this island it is that these two great falls of water, and also the third but now mentioned, throw themselves after a most surprising manner down into a dreadful gulf six hundred feet and more in depth. I have already said that the waters which discharge themselves at the cascade to the east fall with lesser force, whereas those to the west tumble all at once making two cascades, one moderate, the other violent and strong, which at last make a kind of crotchet or square figure falling from South to North and West to East.
The tendency of great cataracts to narrow at and near the place of descent is observable in many instances. The Tequendama, for instance, which is one hundred and forty-four feet wide above, narrows to the space of thirty-six feet at the precipice. It is the best evidence I have seen in favor of there being some reality in the unverified story of the rude warriors under Gonzalo, that they report the narrowing of the river Napo to about twenty feet before descending into an abyss twelve hundred feet below. The Niagara, which as far above as Grand Island has a width of from two to three miles, narrows itself to three-fourths of a mile at the cataract. Though presenting to the imagination the appearance of a conscious collecting and concentrating of forces as under the apprehension of an appalling crisis, science will not fail to see the relation of the phenomenon to the necessarily slow and difficult process of wearing away the sides of its rocky channel, rock always abounding in the region of the cataract. The rapidity of the current makes the wider spaces unnecessary for the passage of the waters.
The long bands of foam that glide so leisurely on the surface of the river a short distance below the abyss even to the Wire Bridge, so combine as to impress the imagination of the observer from the shores with the idea of analogy to the Milky Way, which seems to lay along the heavens in perfect repose and yet to move in the phenomenal march of the heavens,
“I seem to see the maiden fair,”
Tlie tradition is in all probability founded in fact, proving at once the native heroism of the aboriginal race, and the sublime power wielded by religious conviction.
In the deep solitudes of the wilderness, long before the axe of civilization had resounded among them, it was customary for the Indian warriors to meet at the great cataract and offer a human sacrifice to the Spirit of the Falls. A white canoe was prepared, and filled with ripe fruit and blooming flowers. The most beautiful girl of the tribe, just arrived at the age of womanhood, was selected to row the canoe over the terrible precipice. The tribe and the maiden both looked upon the costly sacrifice with feelings of pride. On one occasion the doom was fixed on the daughter of a Seneca chief. Her mother was dead, and her father, accustomed to the stoical rigors of war, showed no emotion as the sacrifice was being prepared. The day came, and as the festivities brought it to a close, and the moon poured silver radiance over the dark green shores, the breaking rapids, and the misty clouds that rose perpetually from the chasm, the white canoe was seen to glide out from the shore into the dread Rapids under the firm steady strokes of the maiden’s oars. Winning the centre of the stream, shouts from the forest greeted her cheeringly. But suddenly another white canoe appeared upon the waters impelled by the powerful hands of the Indian warrior. It was her father. They exchanged glances and glided together into death and eternity. The author remembers, as he met in his morning walk some persons of the Iroquois tribe in the neighborhood of Niagara, to have questioned them respecting the truth of this legend. They replied that they had been taught to believe it from their childhood, and that the eldest persons in their tribe said that they had been so instructed by their parents.
Tlie Rapids begin about three-fourths of a mile above the cliff, and have a width of the same extent. This portion of the river overcomes fifty-two feet of the three hundred and thirty-four which form the difference in the elevation of the two lakes, Erie and Ontario. The hard uneven bed of limestone, over which the river here passes, is strewn with fragments of rock which break their regular flow and make the Rapids well nigh the most inspiring portion of the whole scene.
“Abruptly ends in rock-piled cliffs at Queenston Heights.”
These ramparts are the terminus of the high table land in which Lake Erie is located, and through which the Niagara River flows to Queenston. From Queenston to the Falls, seven miles, the cataract has cut its own way by very many ages of slow recession, a process now supposed to amount to about one foot per year, but which must have varied in its rate of progress according to the hardness of the rock which from time to time was exposed to the motion of the reacting waters. At the whirlpool, the cataract afforded the river a much deeper descent than it now receives, and resting on a solid basis of quartzose sandstone must have receded very slowly indeed.
Deeper waterfalls than Niagara exist in different parts of the world, bat none whose power and combination of phenomena can ever be named with it. Undoubtedly it has the highest of moral missions in America, and is destined to do much in educating the latent feeling of grandeur and beauty that are resident in all mankind, but often lack the essential aid of corresponding circumstances and symbols.
The word Niagara, of Indian derivation, seems, both from its meaning, to wit, the thunder of the waters, and from the inexpressible analogies of sound that often happily unite the names and attributes of objects, to be the most appropriate appellation possible for the wonder it designates.
“Where gleamed the charmed Lorellei.”
Originally among the Germans a preternatural maiden who was seen on a rock of the Rhine (near the small city of Kaub in the Dukedom of Nassau) combing her hair with a golden comb and singing so sweetly, that she lured to herself the sailors, who, coming towards her, broke their ships and lost their lives. At the present time the name is given to the rock on which she sang.