On the Death of Major-General Brock by J.H.R.

Push On, brave York Volunteers
by John David Kelly, 1896. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Low-bending o’er the rugged bier,
The soldier drops the mournful tear
For life departed, valor driven
Fresh from the fields of death to Heaven.

But time shall fondly trace the name
Of Brock, upon the scrolls of Fame,
And those bright laurels, which should wave
Upon the brow of one so brave
Shall flourish vernal o’er his grave.

Source: McCabe, Kevin.  (ed.) The Poetry of Old Niagara. St. Catharines: Blarney Stone Books, 1999. Previously published in F.B. Tupper (ed.) The Life and Correspondence of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock. 2nd ed. London, 1847. Poem is undated.

Composer and conductor Harris Loewen set this poem to music, with the score published by Renforth Music Publishing (New Brunswick) under the title Tears and Laurels. At the publisher’s request, the lyrics were slightly altered to create a version of the musical score that is non-specific, allowing it to function as an elegy for any war veteran. However, this recording was used on the publisher’s website. Many thanks to Prof. Loewen for permission to post this here.

Listen to Tears and Laurels 

Prof. Loewen writes: 

This track, as well as At Niagara Falls and Peaceful Niagara,* appear on the CD Voices of Niagara 5: Beauty is Before Me, the last in a choral CD series featuring music writing by Niagara composers. I believe that all the recordings in the series may still be available through the Dept. of Music at Brock University. Incidentally, John Butler’s choral arrangement of Macdonnell on the Heights (Stan Rogers) also appears on this CD.

You will notice that, coincidentally, all three pieces are originally written for male voices (although scores for other voicings are now also published). These tracks were all recorded, here in Niagara, by the combined male singers of Avanti Chamber Singers and the Brock University choirs. So, this is “home-grown” material in every sense.

At Niagara Falls and Peaceful Niagara were commissioned by the Niagara Men’s Chorus and premiered separately in two concerts in 2008. On the Death of General Brock (my original title) was written to celebrate the bicentennial of the War of 1812 and premiered by a small male ensemble at the October 2012 Brock University Soiree, a fundraising event. The publication dates of the musical scores, by the way, do not reflect the date of composition.

*Peaceful Niagara is the name of the composition of Prof. Harris, using the poem Niagara in 1882 by John Macdonald.


In Passing by Stanley Plumly

Seeing Niagara: Returning From the Falls Postcard
Image courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

On the Canadian side—we’re standing far enough away—
the Falls look like photography, the roar a radio.

In the real rain, so vertical it fuses with the air,
the boat below us is starting for the caves.

Everyone on deck is dressed in black, braced for weather
and crossing against the current of the river.

They seem lost in the gorge dimensions of the place,
then, in fog, in a moment, gone.

…………………………………..In the Chekhov story,
the lovers live in a cloud, above the sheer witness of a valley.

They call it circumstance. They look up at the open wing
of the sky, or they look down into the future.

Death is a power like any other pull of the earth.
The people in the raingear with the cameras want to see it

from the inside, from behind, from the dark looking into the light.
They want to take its picture, give it size,

how much easier to get lost in the gradations of a large
and yellow leaf drifting its good-bye down one side of the gorge.

There is almost nothing that does not signal loneliness,
then loveliness, then something connecting all we will become.

All around us the luminous passage of the air,
the flat, wet gold of the leaves. I will never love you

more than at this moment, here in October,
the new rain rising slowly from the river.

Source: The New Yorker, June 12, 1983.

 Listen to the podcast David Baker Reads Stanley Plumly w, in which Baker and Young discuss, and Baker reads, In Passing 

Read about Stanley Plumly

The Wonderful Leaps of Sam Patch by Anonymous

[n.b. This is the Niagara section only]

Sam Patch Jumping at Niagara Falls
From The Wonderful Leaps of Sam Patch, c1870

Next, to Niagara thousands flock,
To see him jump from Table Rock,
Into these waters, thunder-hurled,
The seventh wonder of the world.
Folks swarmed on bank and giddy ledge,
On dangerous precipice’s edge,
Nay, really, it has been said,
They stood one on the other’s head,
To get a view when gallant Sam,
Came cool (and modest as a clam),
Pausing upon the trembling verge
To list to what might prove his dirge!

The sun was red, the cliffs aglow,
And foaming white the gulf below,
As Sammy turned his fearless eye
From crowded earth to brilliant sky,
And boldly took the fearful leap
Down, down, into the seething deep!

Each breath was held, each eye was strained—
Huzzah! at last the bank he’s gained!
A shake, a gasp, his breath to catch—
“Now! who will laugh at Samuel Patch?”

‘T was there Sam made his greatest dive—
Feet—full one hundred and sixty-five!

Source: The Wonderful Leaps of Sam Patch. Rochester, NY: Len Rosenberg, Rochester Collection. Reproduction of a book originally published by Len Rosenberg in the 1870s.

Platform built at the base of Goat Island for Sam Patch’s Jump in 1829.
From Official Guide Niagara Falls, River. Electric, Historic, Geologic, Hydraulic by Peter A. Porter with illustrations by Charles D Arnold published 1901. Image courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

Sam Patch did not jump from Table Rock as mentioned in the poem and as shown in the illustration. in 1829 he constructed a 120 foot high platform at the base of Goat Island and jumped from there, as depicted in the illustration.

Read more about Sam Patch

Two songs composed by Harris Loewen

Harris Loewen

I just discovered that two
Niagara poems that are on the NFPP site have been set to music by Harris Loewen, a retired Brock University professor. For a delightful treat I’ve embedded the recordings to At Niagara Falls by Anson G. Chester and Niagara in 1882 by John Macdonald. The Macdonald poem was named Peaceful Niagara for Loewen’s choral version.


The Undertow by Sasha Steensen

A mountain of snow and Ice almost reaching the crest of the American Falls at Niagara Falls
Undated photo by Gisela Scholz.
Image courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

I am shown
a generosity

so muddied
at the muddy bottom

of a question I forget to ask
until it’s fished out

but bloated but
in the manner of a net

a web of causal connections
attached to its corners

gently moving over
the surface of the water

how come the road
couldn’t have stayed followed

by way of hollowed out
logs & paddles

made of pawpaw wood
rather than by the crows

alone to the moment
when the Monongahela

the Allegheny
the Ohio meet

I hate the underside
of an idea

but I like the underside
of grass that grows

and I’ve seen it from there

as if the water had suddenly

and then surged forth

from there
I can see a shoal

of tadpoles
drowning themselves

I hate the idea
of the Ohio

as a magic carpet
into the heart

of the continent
a great gift

of geography
a gleaming highway

carrying a tide
of settlement

and expansion but
I despise

the idea of the three rivers
as my family tree

their canals
tributaries & branches

& later the Mississippi

by its side
for miles

until along comes my
baby floating

in a basket down
the Colorado

I despise all such

and the fact that I’ve never
heard steamwhistles

or boatmen’s bugles
I’ve never traveled

aboard The Messenger
The Telegraph

The Gladiator
The Ohio Belle

or The Great Republic
nor have I put my foot

in the Ohio
anymore than you

and the Niagara
I abhor the Niagara

in winter the
difficult beauty

of its frozen falls
and all they’ve

come to represent.

Source: Steensen, Sasha, 2010, “The Undertow,” Academy of American Poet’s Daily Poetry Series,               http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/21952

Also published in: Steensen, Sasha, 2014, House of Deer, Fence Books, 93.

View Sasha Steensen’s website