Written in remembrance of a visit to Niagara, and Queenstown ; April 20, 1827.
“Niagara rolls on. The faithless wave,
That tore the Indian from his gentle cove,
Is smooth and bright as silver. Nothing speaks
Of last night’s rain : and now the rainbow smiles,
And the white gull flaps through its orange light ;
And the eternal roaring of the Falls
Goes on the same. Wild Indian, farewell !
Thou wert a brother, and thy dying bed
Was the white lashing spray ;— thy only knell
The Rapid’s thunder ;—and the deep, deep gulf
Thy sunless sepulchre !”
— J. R. ORTON.
THE sun shone brightly o’er me as I stood
And gazed upon Niagara’s swelling flood ;—
Whose waters, springing from a distant source,
Through ages past have sped their solemn course ;
Then rushing downward, o’er the lofty rock,
Have made the mountains tremble with their shock ;
Till flowing on majestical and free,
They join’d afar the bosom of the sea.
Between rich plains, extending far around,
And gentle hills with verdant foliage crown’d,
Whose sloping sides grow dim in distant blue,
Niagara river steals upon the view.
Then winding slow the current glides along
Its fertile isles and sunny banks among,
Till soon it meets a rough and rocky bed,
And o’er the rapids dashes on with speed ;—
Sinks in the hollows, swells and sinks again,
And rolls its billows like the raging main :—
Now the huge breakers raise it to the skies,
Whirlpools revolve, and foaming mountains rise.
New floods behind, the waves before them urge,
Approaching nearer to the giddy verge ;
Till a fair isle the mighty current braves,
And with its front divides the yielding waves.
On either side the mighty waters roll,
And ceaseless hurry to the frightful goal ;
Then from the lofty rocks with awful sound
Fall headlong downward to the vast profound,—
Speed to the bottom, swell the deeps below,—
Rise to the surface, boiling as they flow ;—
In eddying circles vent their angry force ;—
Then join the current and pursue their course.
Here on the brow the sea-green flood rolls by,
Reflecting all the brightness of the sky,
While piles of foam, the cataract beneath,
Hang o’er the rocks and round the billows wreathe.
There, as the falling torrent meets the air,
White foaming fleeces down the chasm appear ;
And the bright rainbow through the misty spray,
Shines in the sun and gilds the face of day.
And far below, from adamantine beds,
The rocky banks erect their hoary heads ;—
While lofty trees, like dwarfs, above them seen,
Clothe the high cliffs with robes of brightest green ;
Like uptorn Ossa, from its centre riven,
When the fierce giants fought the pow’rs of heav’n.
‡‡I thought when gazing on this glorious view,
How once the Indian, in his bark canoe,
While fishing far away upon the wave,
Was swiftly buried in a wat’ry grave.
As moor’d at anchor on the treacherous flood,
He throws his net and line in sportive mood,
How great his horror when at first he hears
The cataract swelling louder on his ears ;
When first, beneath the evening’s dusky hue,
The mighty rapid breaks upon his view ;
And unsuspected, with the currents’ glide,
His little boat is carried by the tide,—
While the dim figures seen upon the strand
Move with the stream which bears him from the land !
Then is his angle rod in haste thrown by,
While resolution flashes from his eye ;
Then his strong arm, unceasing bends the oar,
His course directing to the nearest shore ;
At every stroke he dashes through the foam,
And anxiously seems drawing toward his home.
Row ! Indian, row ! avoid the fearful steep !
Bend the light bark, and o’er the waters sweep !
Too late, alas ! the vigorous arm is strung ;
The rapid current hurries him along !
In vain he sees his cabin gleam afar,
Beneath the twinkling of the evening star;—
The shore recedes, the hut eludes his sight,
Then fades in distance mid the gloom of night !
And now the breakers swell with lofty waves,
And now his bark their foaming summit cleaves ;
Despair now seizes on his wearied breast,
His oars neglected lie upon their rest ;
His dog, unheeded, fawns upon his side,
Then leaps, unconscious, in the fatal tide.
One pray’r is utter’d by his wilder’d mind ;
Then sits the Indian, silent and resign’d,
And in his light canoe with patience waits
The speedy issue of his awful fates.
Now roar the waters, terrible and loud,
As heaviest thunder from the blackest cloud ;
And now the chasm its awful depth reveals,
And now the bark upon its summit reels ;
Then down the vast abyss is viewless borne,
To depths of darkness, never to return !
The setting sun beheld him far from shore,
Whom rising morn shall ne’er awaken more ;
But on the beach his bones unburied lie,
And whiten under many a summer’s sky ;
And oft, the Indians say, his spirit roves,
Where once he hunted in his native groves ;
And ever as he flies before the wind,
His faithful dog still follows close behind ;
And oft in loneliness the maiden weeps,
Beside the waters where her hero sleeps ;
And oft the stranger listens to his tale,
And hears the warriors raise his funeral wail ;
While fervent prayers to the Great Spirit rise,
To bless their brother-hunter in the skies.
West Point, Oct., 1828.
Source: Rev. Roswell Park. Selections of Juvenile and Miscellaneous Poems. Philadelphia: DeSilver, Thomas & Co, 1836