Apostrophe to Niagara by R. L. Johnson

Niagara Falls From Prospect Point, c1900
Image courtesy of Library of Congress



Cyclopean torrent, this thy throne,
Which man but yesterday hath known,
Through all thy countless ages flown,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Creation’s masterpiece.

How wonderful and vast thou art!
Grand Pantheon of Omniscient art!
Thy flood-gates demonstrate thou art
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡“Without a parallel!”

Awe-struck I hear the passing crowd
Of heaving storm waves thundering loud,
And see them writing here the proud
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Grand Autograph of God.

A thousand waves on dress parade
Urge on the crowding cavalcade,
Which pauses on the brink, afraid
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡The awful plunge to take.

See yon gigantic wave command
The myriad troopers, as they stand
Erect, with flashing sword in hand,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡To charge the host below!

Adown they charge, that mighty force,
Resistless in its downward course;
The rider and the foaming horse —
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Brigade Victorious!


Thy grand façade, with curtains down,
Presents no monster’s ugly frown,
But, like a maiden’s bridal gown,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡A robe of beauty is.

Its elevation reaches high,
And fain would touch the changing sky,
Its falling waters ever cry,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Rejoicing as they leap:

“Majestic fleets that float their flags,
And brave Old Ocean’s rocky crags,
Dare not approach our rugged snags,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Nor Titan-fashioned front.

“Some noble bards have done their best
To praise Mt. Etna’s blazing crest,
Yet, we could flood the monarch’s nest
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And crop his golden curls,

“And challenge heaven’s bright sentry stars
To find beneath his lavic bars
A spark, to light their gilded cars,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Before the blaze of morn.”

Primeval tribes no more shall roam
Thy banks to pitch their tented home,
Whose fairest daughters made thy foam
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Their willing sepulchre.

For here they gathered once a year,
With festive dance and savage cheer,
And sacrificed, without a tear,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡The fairest of the tribe.


Thy organ notes with thunderous roar,
Sound the Creator’s lofty score
Of Love and Mercy evermore,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡In grand diapason.

Beyond this temple vast and dim,
Methinks thy anthem, psalm, or hymn,
Floods in sweet melody to Him
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Who waits the grand Amen!

Sheets of sunfire blaze and quiver
On thy waves, O boist’rous river,
As they leap to foam and shiver,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Adown this gulf of death!

Deep undercurrents night and day,
An everlasting power display,
Exhaustless, unconfined, they play,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Unfathomed, unrestrained.

Take in the sight around—about,
And know, Vain Man ! beyond a doubt,
God’s power is here past finding out —
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Eternal mystery.

Oft have I sat, in quiet hour,
Beside this emblem of God’s power,
And fancied Eden’s sacred bower
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡No symbol had like this.

Emotionful our souls should know
He placed that graceful radiant bow
To span the hurricane below,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡In token of His love.

Thou Sacrilegious Man—go hence!
How futile is thy vain pretence
To scoff and doubt Omnipotence,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Arrayed in glory here!

Ere Cheops’ Pyramidal pile
Stood reared upon the classic Nile,
Was cut thy rough, rock-ribbed defile
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡By ante-glacial flood!

From yonder tower view Queenston’s height,
Hennepin was denied the sight,
From whence thou struggled in the night
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Of the primeval dawn.

The windings of thy crystal shoe,
Church faithfully portrayed, ’tis true,
The canvas shows a bygone view.
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Pride of the ” Corcoran.”


When Winter steps upon the stage.
White-cowled and solemn as a sage,
Thou dost display an ample page
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Of glistening ice-moss bright;   

Ice Apples
From the book Niagara, Its History, Incidents ad Poetry

Then icy apples moonlit shine
On evergreens at midnight time,
And then thou seemest most sublime,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡In snowy satin robed.

Translucent columns, purest white,
Glisten in the morning light;
Prismatic scene of rare delight,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Of hues Elysian;

Here snow-capped mountains block thy flow,
While crystal diamonds crown the show,
And icy bridges form below,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡To span a Paradise.


The flower is pledged unto the bee,
The tidal wave unto the sea;
Our northern floods are pledged to thee,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Thou thundering watersheet!

And yet, O Thunderer, what art thou
To Him with iridescent brow,
Who guides thy grand retreating prow,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡That whispers of His might;

And notches on these walls of stone
His hieroglyphics, yet thine own,
To make thy soundless ages known,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Through glyptic monographs.

Who wrote his name, “The Unseen God,”
In burning letters, fiery shod,
On Terrapin Tower, once trod
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡By bold adventurers;

When lo! ’twas hurled from heaven to hell,
The tottering, grand old sentinel,
Where oft I went to view the well,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Above thy plunging floods.


God gave thee queenly sisters three,
Faith, Hope and glorious Charity,
And placed the Iris Isle to be
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡A brooch to pin thy veil.

He sent the morn with rustling wings,
And filled the vales with babbling springs,
And gave the birds their color’d wings
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And sweetly charming notes.

To praise thy cascades most sublime,
Thro’ every land, thro’ every clime,
Whose opalescent rainbows shine
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡To prove His promise true.

He heaved the snow-clad mountains up.
To fill old Erie’s vine-clad cup,
With waters sweet for thee to sup.
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Majestic Orator!

He listeth in thy cave sublime,
And speaketh in that voice of thine,
And rideth on the storms of Time,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Which lash the Island’s home.

A spectacle personified,
May here be seen at midnight tide;
And lovers with the greatest pride
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡May view a modest beau.

He courts the Queen of Night by day,
At Ev’n song he tints the spray;
At peep of dawn he fades away—
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡The opal lunar bow.

For the lost Eden, search no more,
In myth or prehistoric lore;
That question’s settled, evermore,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡On this, the Sacred Isle,

Whose ferns and mosses scent the breeze,
Where east and west each soul agrees,
The Tigris and the Euphrates
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Flow swiftly, gladly on.


How bright and grand to thee did seem
This world arrayed in living green,
While Luna, robed in silvery sheen,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Her nightly vigils kept,

With gleaming light and lunar bow,
Thy phantom flood of joy and woe,
A milky stream of ceaseless flow,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡A phosphorescent dream;

‘Till paler man, with selfish soul,
Held in his hand a parchment scroll,
And taxed his neighbors, ev’ry soul—
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Infinite Oracle!

Who came to list thy voice so true,
And view thy waters, green and blue,
And marvel at thy emerald shoe
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Whose hoof an empire is!

Seated on the “Rock of Ages,”
While musing o’er the sacred pages,
Indited by inspir’d sages,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡I heard a spirit say:

“Let lions roar and people sing,
And eagles flutter on the wing,
While all the bells in steeples ring
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡For thee, Niagara,

“A jubilation loud and grand,
From frigid zones to torrid strand,
For Dufferin ope’d, with lordly hand,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Thy flood-gates tribute free.

“Now may thy incense heavenward soar,
And thy tempestuous billows roar
Their solemn protests, o’er and o’er
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Thy crest, Niagara.

“‘Till Justice, with concordant wand.
And Liberty with outstretched hand,
Shall welcome pilgrims as they land
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡On Freedom’s happy shore.

“And guard with zealous care for aye,
Thy mighty organ, night and day,
That all the world may hear it play,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡With unvexed harmony.

“Until discordant war’s alarms,
And conflicts of contending arms.
Are silenced by thy mad’ning charms,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Plunge on, Niagara!

“Nor let thy eyelids ever close,
In Neptune’s arms in sweet repose,
‘Till all the nations shall disclose,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Like thee, Niagara,

“A charity as broad and deep
As is thine own encircling steep,
Or as thy vortex where we peep
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Thro’ azure mists to heaven.”


In thee alone, Niagara,
Whose vast foundations seamed and knit
And bound by adamantine bars;
Methinks the Grecian bard would find
Meet inspiration for his noblest song,
And not in Trojan wars;
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡For here dwells Liberty.

While myriad sunlit, liquid pearls
Obscure thy bubbling pools and whirls,
Our goddess stoops, with golden curls,
To sip thy hydromel.

Proud Bedloe’s Isle may sound her horn—
Bartholdi’s gift her coast adorn;
But till her birthday’s final morn,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Here dwelleth Liberty.

In search of gain and worldly pelf,
The robber here hath shown himself,
And like the ox amid the delf,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡He would this figure break.

Let press and voice at once condemn
The spoiler who would steal a gem
From off the glittering diadem
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Of this majestic stream.

Though “Hope’s bright star” is sometimes pale,
Let Hope, not Fear, in man prevail;
The misty Ghost within the veil
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Proves life’s resurrection.

Alas! Niagara, what are we
Frail creatures when compared to thee?
Yet, what art thou to Deity?—
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡But Insignificance.

Source:  Johnson, Richard L. (ed).  Niagara: Its History, Incidents and Poetry. Washington: Walter Neale General Book Publisher, 1898

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