Niagara Falls is a long poem of 700 lines where three stories, growing up Catholic in the industrial North, a honeymoon to Niagara Falls and a pilgrimage to Assissi, Italy, are interwoven in a master work of fractured narration. The language is relaxed and upbeat where metaphysical concerns meet, head on.
Excerpt from Niagara Falls (p. 8-9):
25 years ago, here,
on a rainy camping trip
my father splurged on
Ripley’s Believe It
Or Not Museum where I stared
at the shrunken head.
I bought a postcard: The Hair continues to grow. I still have it: long beaded threads
hang from the nose like a rosary.
Source: Jim Daniels. Niagara Falls. Easthampton, MA: Adastra Press, 1994
A STORY worth telling, our annals afford,
’Tis the wonderful journey of Laura Secord!
Her poor crippled spouse hobbled home ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡With the news
That Bœrstler was nigh ! “Not a minute to lose,
Not an instant,” said Laura, “for stoppage or pause—
I must hurry and warn our brave troops at Decaws.”
“What ! you !” said her husband “to famish and tire !”
“Yes, me !” said brave Laura, her bosom on fire.
“And how will you pass the gruff sentry ?” said he,
“Who is posted so near us ?”
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡“Just wait till you see ;
The foe is approaching, and means to surprise
Our troops, as you tell me. Oh, husband, there flies
No dove with a message so needful as this—
I’ll take it, I’ll bear it, good bye, with a kiss.”
Then a biscuit she ate, tucked her skirts well about,
And a bucket she slung on each arm, and went out
’Twas the bright blush of dawn, when the stars melt from sight,
Dissolved by its breath like a dream of the night ;
When heaven seems opening on man and his pain,
Ere the rude day strengthens, and shuts it again.
But Laura had eyes for her duty alone—
She marked not the glow and the gloom that were thrown
By the nurslings of morn, by the cloud-lands at rest,
By the spells of the East, and the weirds of the West.
Behind was the foe, full of craft and of guile ;
Before her, a long day of travel and toil.
“No time this for gazing,” said Laura, as near
To the sentry she drew.
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡“Halt ! you cannot pass here.”
“I cannot pass here ! Why sirrah you drowse,
Are you blind ? Don’t you see I am off to my cows.”
“Well, well you can go.” So she wended her way
To the pasture’s lone side, where the farthest cow lay,
Got her up, caught a teat, and with pail at her knees,
Made her budge, inch by inch, till she drew by degrees
To the edge of the forest. “I’ve hoaxed, on my word,
Both you and the sentry,” said Laura Secord.
With a lingering look at her home, then away
She sped through the wild wood—a wilderness gray—
Nature’s privacy, haunt of a virgin sublime
And the mother who bore her, as ancient as Time ;
Where the linden had space for its fans and its flowers,
The balsam its tents, and the cedar its bowers ;
Where the lord of the forest, the oak, had its realm,
The ash its domain, and its kingdom the elm ;
Where the pine bowed its antlers in tempests, and gave
To the ocean of leaves the wild dash of the wave,
And the mystical hemlock—The forest’s high-priest—
Hung its weird, raking, top-gallant branch to the east.
And denser and deeper the solitude grew,
The underwood thickened, and drenched her with dew ;
She tripped over moss-covered logs, fell, arose,
Sped, and stumbled again by the hour, till her clothes
Were rent by the branches, and thorns, and her feet
Grew tender and way-worn and blistered with heat.
And on, ever on, through the forest she passed,
Her soul in her task, but each pulse beating fast,
For shadowy forms seemed to flit from the glades
And beckon her into their limitless shades :
And mystical sounds—in the forest alone,
Ah! who has not heard them ?—the voices, the moan,
Or the sigh of mute nature, which sinks on the ear,
And fills us with sadness or thrills us with fear ?
And who, lone and lost, in the wilderness deep,
Has not felt the strange fancies, the tremors which creep,
And assemble within, till the heart ’gins to fail,
The courage to flinch, and the cheeks to grow pale,
’Midst the shadows which mantle the spirit that broods
In the sombre, the deep haunted heart of the woods ?
She stopped—it was noonday. The wilds she espied
Seemed solitudes numberless. “Help me !” she cried ;
Her piteous lips parched with thirst, and her eyes
Strained with gazing. The sun in his infinite skies
Looked down on no creature more hapless than she,
For woman is woman where’er she may be.
For a moment she faltered, then came to her side
The heroine’s spirit—the Angel of Pride.
One moment she faltered. Beware ! What is this ?
The coil of the serpent ! the rattlesnake’s hiss !
One moment, then onward, What sounds far and near ?
The howl of the wolf, yet she turned not in fear
Nor bent from her course, till her eye caught a gleam
From the woods of a meadow through which flowed a stream,
Pure and sweet with the savour of leaf and of flower.
By the night dew distilled, and the soft forest shower ;
Pure and cold as its spring in the rock crystalline,
Whence it gurgled and gushed ’twixt the roots of the pine.
And blessed above bliss is the pleasure of thirst,
Where there’s water to quench it ; for pleasure is nursed
In the cradle of pain, and twin marvels are they
Whose inter-dependence is born with our clay.
Yes, blessed is water, and blessed is thirst,
Where there’s water to quench it ; but this is the worst
Of this life, that we reck not the blessings God sends,
Till denied them. But Laura, who felt she had friends
In heaven as well as on earth, knew to thank
The giver of all things, and gratefully drank.
Once more on the pathway, through swamp and through mire,
Through covert and thicket, through bramble and brier,
She toiled to the highway, then over the hill,
And down the deep valley, and past the new mill,
And through the next woods, till, at sunset, she came
To the first British picket and murmured her name ;
Thence, guarded by Indians, footsore and pale
She was led to Fitzgibbon, and told him her tale.
For a moment her reason forsook her ; she raved,
She laughed, and she cried—“They are saved, they are saved !”
Then her senses returned, and with thanks loud and deep
Sounding sweetly around her she sank into sleep.
And Bœrstler came up, but his movements were known,
His force was surrounded, his scheme was o’erthrown
By a woman’s devotion—on stone be’t engraved—
The foeman was beaten and Burlington saved.
Ah ! faithful to death were our women of yore !
Have they fled with the past to be heard of no more ?
No, no ! Though this laurelled one sleeps in the grave,
We have maidens as true, we have matrons as brave ;
And should Canada ever be forced to the test—
To spend for our country the blood of her best !
When her sons lift the linstock and brandish the sword,
Her daughters will think of brave Laura Secord !
Source: Raise the Flag and Other Patriotic Canadian Songs and Poems. Toronto: Rose Publishing, 1891
Mair originally published this poem possibly in 1888 – the following was written in Grip, July 7, 1888:
The heroic conduct of Mrs. Laura Secord in apprising the British of the contemplated attack of Bœrstler’s forces in 1812, is once again made the subject of a poem, and this time the same hand that gave in Tecumseh, Vide the Week of June 21st. A first rate piece of work by a Canadian author is something uncommon enough to evoke enthusiasm, and the bard of Price Albert rarely fails to “do us proud.” After reading his latest we unanimously shout “Give us Mair, Charles, give us Mair!”
Her grave with spreading briar is grown,
And most the name o’er wends,
Upon the shattered fallen stone,
That tells of home and friends;
Are British hearts, so hard and cold,
And dead to Love’s bequest,
That Valor’s child forgotten sleeps,
In Stangers’ Rest?
O roll, Niagara’s mighty wave,
Sing to her in her dreams,
With tears of spray bedew her grave,
And sunlight flood with beams,
O birds at morn sing sweetly there,
Beside your happy rest,
And stars of night look kindly down,
In Strangers’ Rest.
Source: Kratts, Michelle Ann. The Missed: Tales of Spirit & Tragic End at Niagara Falls. 2013. Originally published in the Niagara Falls Gazette, August 1891.
The inscription states that Lodge “died many years ago at the Cataract House” hotel. Records indicate that she died in October 1864. For information about Lodge see chapter 2 of the Death Sketches section of The Missed by Michelle Ann Kratts
Crazy creeks break up grid patterns
Man has tried to impose.
Rattlesnake bogs, winding rivers,
Thundering world famous cataracts:
Natural courses and huge man-made ditches.
Roller coaster effects courtesy of the escarpment
Excite otherwise boring, like everywhere else, roads.
Weather splits there between Lincoln North and South
Cradling one, blasting the other in turn.
Home is the place you leave
But won’t leave you,
Having deftly intertwined your soul and mind.
From everywhere I’ve ever been
I can close my eyes and be in Niagara.
Source: Deborah Ranchuk published “Home to Niagara:” in Captured Essence: Niagara Poetry Anthology, vol. 11. St. Catharines: Canadian Authors Association, Niagara Branch, 1995
With thanks to Arden Phair who pointed out this poem by Deborah Ranchuk to the Niagara Falls Poetry Project curator.