What does it mean to fall?
To be swept away on a course
To be carried by an entity other than yourself?
To be in your heart still, while ever-changing?
To fall in love
To fall down
To fall apart
To fall inline
The dictionary says falling is a freely descent
but are our falls ever done
out of freedom? Freedom in the sense of choice?
Is the fall as Romantic literature sometimes describes
the process of demise
or the final realization that a character was or is not wise?
Does anyone truly choose to fall?
Whether out of love or despair—Oh,
whoever seems to care
when you yourself are falling.
Does water choose to forever fall?
To be labeled as the choiceless descent
Are we falling through the sky or
pulled by another force? Why
are we choosing any of it, but a perspective
in which we self identify?
Is Niagara falls truly falling
or by choice, jumping down?
THUNDER OF WATERS, triumph by thy fall ‡‡As must a fallen Infinite !—A storm
To drown a world and scourge it over all, ‡‡Were not a type of God’s uncreate form :
All quake, are silent, yet shall none adore. ‡‡If God—His terror, that in ruin lays
Art and all man’s memorial—before ‡‡The soul ascends in ecstacies of praise
For power benevolent o’er wrath sublime, ‡‡In shape innocuous as the light or dew—
Must see Niagara, type for all time, ‡‡Of God in nature, vast, benign, and true :
Must see her waters, yet descry a hand, ‡‡Or shadow of a finger pointed there—
Cry—if she speaks, she speaks by God’s command, ‡‡For Nature is Jehovah everywhere.
So like a present God, th’ unmeasured power ‡‡Of thy vast waters, whose eternal flow
Has never craved an intermittent hour, ‡‡Tumbling whole oceans into depths below,
As with such ease of motion thy green tide ‡‡Seeks as with conscious life its skyward steep,
And with a roar of thunder—aught beside, ‡‡In nature mimics—takes its downward leap.
Thou art not tumbling from yon frightful height, ‡‡A world of waters, on a plea so vain
As to display a wantonness of might : ‡‡The eternal equipoise of all the Main
Is thy supremest care :—thy sport alone ‡‡To balance oceans, and an equal wave
Sets to the pole and spreads beneath the zone ‡‡Whose fretful shores its healing waters lave.
Empires have fallen—races have decay’d, ‡‡Their cities buried low beneath the sod,
In elemental strife, that erst hath laid ‡‡Nature submissive at the feet of God ;
But thou—how long thy solemn front hath reared ‡‡Itself sublime, while ruin hath been hurled
Across a continent ?—as thy youth appeared ‡‡Such thou art now—Survivor of a world.
Ye who admire the wonderful in Art— ‡‡Colossi striding seas ; crowning the soil,
Some sky-bound shaft piercing a nation’s heart, ‡‡Or pyramids all time shall not despoil—
Gaze with surpassing wonder, as ye see ‡‡How sovereign the contempt of Nature’s smile :
Standing before her stark immensity, ‡‡See Art to less than nothing shrink the while.
Ancient of Waters, were thy years a few, ‡‡Or countless as the sunbeams that transform
Thy changeful flood to glory ever new, ‡‡When the fierce nomad saw in thee the form
Of the Invisible, and turn’d aside ‡‡From love or war or chase or dance, awhile
To gaze upon thy forehead, and decide ‡‡To fly thy presence or invoke thy smile ?
Ere Christians saw the Ocean burst with rage, ‡‡Mont Blanc, thy kinsman, crown’d before the Flood
Provoked no rival, in some envious age— ‡‡Rome proud in irons, Greece immortal, stood
Before their fancy or their kindling eye— ‡‡A virgin World with Freedom in her arms,
The leap and roar of thy sublimity, ‡‡They neither saw, nor glow’d with either’s charms.
How many eras upon eras then, ‡‡Had ceased to be, when the delightsome song,
To which all seas responded an amen, ‡‡Rose and resounded orb from orb along ?
What was thine age when not a living thing ‡‡Heard thy hoarse anthem as it rose sublime,
Deep-throated, solemn, in the evening, ‡‡Of the first day the sun recorded time ?
Dost deign no answer ? Keep thy secrets, then : ‡‡Vaunt co-antiquity with yonder spheres ;
Go shout the march of nature and of men ‡‡Till thy tremendous voice shall pierce their ears.
Thou hast no sympathy with man—thy walk ‡‡Is like Orion’s, single. Thou dost see
Man stare unmoved—dost hear the babbler talk : ‡‡Oceans and spheres alone consort with thee !
O hoary Witness, that before the Flood ‡‡Noted the infant ages—or went back
To the Creation, and amazed stood ‡‡As the Sun rose and blazed along his track,
Spanning thy waters with the various light ‡‡Of the new morning : arc on arc arose
Through the cleft curtain of eternal night, ‡‡Startling thy thunders out of deep repose.
Light—and light was : and then, as sun on sun ‡‡Leaped out of void and swept into his sphere,
As God commanded, and the deed was done— ‡‡Didst thou rejoice with Him, or blanch with fear ?
Or didst thou cheer on cheer roar out so loud, ‡‡The morning stars confess’d a peer in thee,
And wafted thee stout hail from every cloud, ‡‡Breaking their gladness through infinity ?
Yet hadst thou caught an echo of that voice, ‡‡As Nature took her fortunes from the Word,
Thou hadst not heard the stars of morn rejoice : ‡‡Prone on thy face thou hadst confess’d thy Lord.
Or had it been a whisper—such a breath ‡‡As in a dream falls on the sleeper’s ear,
Thy joy had been so vast it had been death, ‡‡As high o’er all that whisper thunder’d clear.
Still, ere the Sun ascended to his sphere ‡‡In the diurnal heavens—before the Earth
Acknowledged her allegiance and drew near ‡‡To her attractive orb—before the birth
Of the Leviathan—or ere a wing ‡‡Cut the ethereal skies—before a tree
Peopled the soil, or ere a living thing ‡‡The shuddering globe—thou hadst begun to be.
Triumph of Power—as when God laughs at kings, ‡‡Laugh thou at everything beneath the sun :
Laugh when it rails, or when it tribute brings. ‡‡Let captains break their swords when they have won
Kings cast their sceptres down chagrin’d and stung ‡‡With envy as they gaze, admire, and bow—
Confess how mean their state, dazzled among ‡‡Oceans of pearls, thou flingest from thy brow.
Creep, Pharaoh, from the pile that grinds thy dust, ‡‡Crawl, Nero, from the Tiber to the sun,
And hail a monarch faithful to his trust, ‡‡Yet girt with power to which your power was none :
And as ye slew the weak and kiss’d the strong, ‡‡And now are fallen—fallen—see a Power
Crown’d with the sun, and to roll on as long, ‡‡While Peace and Mercy o’er Dominion tower.
Thine honors are secure—regal, alone— ‡‡Save, when the ocean monarch thunders by,
Then tremble lest a rival blot thy throne, ‡‡Snatch off thy crown, and roar along the sky
With such a yell of triumph, as shall damn ‡‡Thy thunders to oblivion—and thy fall
For weakness pitiful, become the lamb ‡‡As Silence wraps thy seas within her pall.
All Laureate ever sung in vaporing strain ‡‡For stipend or for fame, is trash to thee.
No monarch lives or ever lived, so vain, ‡‡Or bard so venal, as a crown to see
In thy stupendous waters. Thou alone ‡‡Art measured by thyself, except the Deep ;
And ye, though rivals, smile on either’s throne, ‡‡And poise a Planet lest adrift she sweep.
Thy beauty never fades. Unlike the maid ‡‡Whose hopes decline when charms forsake her face—
Virgin without espousal—though array’d ‡‡In garments woven by the Sun, and grace
Lingers in every fold along thy breast— ‡‡Graceful and modest beyond all the fair,
Keep thy heart shut against each tender guest, ‡‡And Sol, thy constant lover, gently spare.
Nothing remains to Art. Thou hast it all ; ‡‡Insatiate still to aggregate in thee
All types of the sublime—and in thy fall ‡‡To push thy power towards infinity.
Beauty bestrides thy waters with his bow, ‡‡Transfigured by the Morn ; descending Eve
Sits like a heavenly vision on thy brow, ‡‡Till Night comes late her vigils to relieve.
What hast thou not that Nature hath ? What Art ‡‡Shall torture her creations to compare
In majesty of mien, with thine—or start ‡‡From canvass into life a grace so rare,
As when unmeasured seas remain to crown ‡‡Thy head with honors as they pass thee by,
Pausing with reverence, ere their floods go down ‡‡Deeps, whose resurgent deluge drowns the sky ?
Painting and Song retire. Art, with her boast, ‡‡Of multiplying strength, concedes her loss
Of fame and fortune, yielding up the ghost, ‡‡In presence of thy might, whose feeblest toss
Of its unmeasured strength sends to one grave, ‡‡Man and his triumphs. Nor to hold thee back,
Hath age or sex a charm. All vainly crave ‡‡Life—at the hands of Death, who strews thy track
With wrecks of futile Art—adventured near ‡‡Thy precipice—that should have hugg’d the shore,
Stood out by helm, or steam’d thy rapids clear ; ‡‡Down, gurgling down—engulph’d forevermore,
Blossom of childhood, crown of almond flower, ‡‡Love, ere its life had quicken’d, of embrace,
Death-challenged wretch and infant of an hour,— ‡‡Shrieking, to silence—down—down—down apace.
When thou wert crown’d, who crown’d thee? By what right ‡‡Hast thou succession to a throne ? What sire
Sat on thy throne before thee? Elder Night, ‡‡First crown’d of Nature, ruled by flood and fire,
Terrific behind shadows, waved her hand, ‡‡Signal of silence to the listening Main ;
Convulsed the ocean, shook the solid land, ‡‡When the heavens fell with storms and rose again.
Out of her womb a monarch thou didst leap, ‡‡Born without childhood—at thy birth so vast—
Always impatient—living without sleep, ‡‡Thy tumults never hush’d nor overpast.
Yet thou wert not a monster, nor a freak ‡‡Of nature, at thy birth : a world of grace
And strength, confess’d no terror to the weak, ‡‡Tower’d from thy presence, mantled o’er thy face.
As if to hell, thy leap—and thy rebound— ‡‡As if to heaven—but in mid-air the Sun
Surprises thee with smiles, and thou art crown’d ‡‡A faithful witness for the Holy One.
Eternal as His promise, stands the bow ‡‡Clasping thy forehead to confirm His word,
To bring Him nearer to our touch, and show ‡‡A ladder for our faith to reach the Lord.
Sapphires and emeralds thou hast enough, ‡‡Streaming along thy forehead in a flood ;
Jewels that queens esteem, were paltry stuff, ‡‡Bays men have sought through brimming seas of blood,
Were toys, cast down by thee, to sink or swim : ‡‡Thy pomp and state o’ertop the glare of kings—
Anointed monarch, throned and crown’d of Him ‡‡From whom thy diadem dominion brings !
” Good !” God exclaim’d, as His applauding eye ‡‡Swept thee, a monarch. He had crown’d the Deep,
Stretched out his realm abroad, from sky to sky— ‡‡Creatures that walk, or fly, or swim, or creep,
Populous from His will, beheld the light— ‡‡Responsive to His will, thy thunders rose,
And Night, thy mother, blanching with affright, ‡‡Kissed thee, and vanished to her last repose.
God, art Thou angry, and is this the breath ‡‡Of Thy dilating nostrils ? Is Thy wrath
Rekindling for a jubilee of death, ‡‡And this the herald to prepare thy path ?
Or, this a shadow of the wrath to come, ‡‡When mountains shall not hide us from Thy stroke,
As the last judgment shall strike devils dumb, ‡‡Bade to leap in ascending fire and smoke ?
Peace is a river by the throne of God, ‡‡And “peace to men,” is on thy forehead writ,
O flood, that were a rush and not a rod, ‡‡If God were angry. Here a worm may sit
Unmoved amid thy waters, and His hand, ‡‡Fast in thy mane, shall hold thy terrors back ;
And not a thunder, but by His command, ‡‡And not a wreck or life in all thy track.
O ! be a fool, O man, and shrink to naught, ‡‡Then wisdom enters, for she findeth room—
If of the earth—out of her volume taught, ‡‡Return divine into thy mother’s womb ;
Or fix thine eyes upon the farthest star, ‡‡Or past its radiance—push thy vision on,
And what thou seest, is not God, afar— ‡‡God filleth all, and bids all worlds begone.
He taught thee, O Niagara, to keep ‡‡Thy seas within their bounds. He taught thee where
To make thy name eternal in a leap— ‡‡When to leap down, and where to disappear.
He wrote, O man, in universal signs, ‡‡A truth thy logic never proves, but feels—
Benevolence with evil so combines ‡‡That their innocuous strife one God reveals.
Thou hast no sleep, and therefore hast no dreams, ‡‡Thy course of thought, what mortal shall divine ?
Perhaps subjective—all without thee seems ‡‡Too mean for such analysis as thine ;
Perhaps the mighty chambers of thy soul, ‡‡O’ercrowded by her thoughts, make room for more,
Catching the voice of ages as they roll, ‡‡Thou hast the keys of Time and all his lore.
Art thou a Patriarch, and not inspired ? ‡‡Speak, theologian, versed in nature’s school,
What is the life of man to be desired ‡‡If vice and virtue reach a common goal ?
If all shall die accursed and none be blessed— ‡‡If all shall rot together in the dust
And know no resurrection ? Which is best— ‡‡Not to be born, or die as mortals must?
Thunderer, speak. Rebuke or bless the creed— ‡‡Is heaven a blessed lie—is hell a cheat ?
Shall man abjure his faith, or for it bleed ? ‡‡Wherefore our life, and whither its retreat ?
To life or silence ? Answer, if thou wilt. ‡‡At once his floods congeal, his thunders fall,
Does the north freeze his soul, or conscious guilt ? ‡‡His silence, though it speak not, answers all.
Hadst thou beheld the Star the wise men saw ‡‡In the far Orient, thou hadst bowed thy head—
Dumb as was Moses, when he took the law ‡‡From God at Sinai–living, but as dead,
As the Star paused and dwelt upon the face ‡‡Of Him, who holds thee in His mighty hand :
Thou hadst confessed a soul, and sought the grace, ‡‡A world rejects, and dies, to understand.
Yes ! God is worshipped singly by all seas, ‡‡All floods, all mountains, cataracts, and suns ;
Though man may curse his God, damn His decrees, ‡‡And feel his curse o’ertake him as he runs,
These all are silent when His voice is heard, ‡‡These all rejoice before Him with their might—
Dust, God hath crowned with life, alone absurd, ‡‡Reads Him amiss, to set our errors right.
Nothing is half so dreadful as our guilt. ‡‡Hell shrieks with its rewards, and the bald earth
Writhes with a curse, for which the Godhead spilt ‡‡Blood quite divine, though human in its birth.
All nature frowns and smiles by turns, and weeps, ‡‡As from the Curse and Cross she ever takes
The hues of her delirium when she sleeps— ‡‡Her calm, her storm, her sunshine, when she wakes.
Have rocks conspired to prove the earth so old, ‡‡Ere lazy Saurians crept through seas of slime—
Before a fern or lichen wrapped the cold, ‡‡Rayless, dissocial orb of ante-time ?
When darkness made the silence more profound ‡‡That filled the absence of all life ? Hast thou
Knowledge our halting science shall confound, ‡‡Rocks teach, inscribed on thy expanding brow ?
Fountain of youth, and sovereign emblem, too, ‡‡Let him who thirsts drink deeply of thy wave—
Feel, as his cheek renews its summer hue, ‡‡Baptismal blessings on his brow, to save
His soul from that perdition of the cup, ‡‡Whence to escape, she dares twice die, and thrust
Herself to proper Hell— lastly, filled up ‡‡By sots devoured of wine, of blood, of lust.
Historian of a Continent, begin— ‡‡Since thou hast borne, or wert thyself the bier,
Huddling the dust of empires headlong in ‡‡The grave of thy remembrance—If a tear
Postponed oblivion ages, it is come— ‡‡God buried them Himself, and hid the grave,
Commanding thee to look, and then be dumb— ‡‡His vindication buried in thy wave.
An exodus of nations—a surprise ‡‡Of Providence confessed too deep, too high
To scale or fathom till we reach the skies— ‡‡The curtain fell and shall forever lie
On those enacted scenes. Yet, who shall say ‡‡What legends or traditions half declare—
The measure of their fame, whose tombs betray ‡‡Arts mourned as lost—alive, though silent there ?
No crimes deform, no virtues make thee blest, ‡‡Impassive, soulless, heartless, thou hast fled
Onward from lake to sea, thy footsteps pressed ‡‡By flood-compelling stars. While seas have slept
Profound as a child slumbers, Deep with Deep, ‡‡Glassing in silence beatific skies,
The law of worlds delivers thee from sleep, ‡‡Law—were it less than God, thou mightst despise.
Is it a pain or pleasure to obey ‡‡Where there is no election ? On, still on ;
No sluggard ; but forever, night and day, ‡‡To yield, and bid disloyalty begone ?
Alive to fates prefigured at thy birth ‡‡By stars convulsed, or shot from sign to sign,
Figure to man how much his will is worth ‡‡When it would thwart a jot of the divine.
Life is a cloud, a shadow, or a hue, ‡‡Shed from the hour that passes o’er its head—
Born of the past, child of the future, too, ‡‡Life is not real till our life is fled :
Porch of the soul, man enters, looks around, ‡‡Just on the threshold is surprised, and dies
He flings his dusty mantle to the ground, ‡‡And walks, or flies, or rides to Paradise.
Like and unlike our life, fleet, changeful flood, ‡‡Ever the same, yet never what thou wert ;
Youth does not fire nor palsy chill thy blood— ‡‡Giant, surnamed the Thunderer, begirt
With torrents, and sustained on left and right ‡‡By batteries of adamantine rock :
Defiant, till thy Maker puts to flight ‡‡Thy prowess, in the final, fatal shock.
Emblem of freedom, bold, unshackled tide, ‡‡Thou hast a lion’s mane—an eagle’s eye ;
Fortune, that sports with men, thou dost deride, ‡‡Braced by the earth, and covered by the sky.
To-day a freeman looks into thy face— ‡‡A savage or a slave to-morrow creeps,
Idolatrous before thee. So the race ‡‡Hails her brief presence—her long absence weeps.
Who are the free ? What patent made them such ? ‡‡Who are the slaves ? Who chained them? Who can see
That airy finger move, whose slightest touch, ‡‡Discovers God, by chains or liberty ?
Divine, the right to be a king or slave— ‡‡Either or neither, an elective state—
Human, the word or blow that does not save,— ‡‡Because it falls too early or too late.
Once wert thou silent ? Cradled o’er thy head ‡‡Swam a prospective world in one tossed pair ?
When, as the drowning earth embraced her dead, ‡‡Bade the sun farewell, and forsook the air,
Tumultuous tides swept over thee profound ‡‡Beneath a shoreless sea—mute in thy grave
With oceans, mountains, seas, thy compeers, drowned, ‡‡Awaiting resurrection from the wave.
O solitude of nature, shriek aloud, ‡‡That mystery of evil passing cure,
Seen like a corpse blaspheming in its shroud, ‡‡Good it esteems divine, yet can’t endure.
Virtue confessed impossible to man— ‡‡Saved by her utter loss, God raises whole,
As man retires, God fills the scene, who can ‡‡Raise by a second fall the fallen soul.
A rotund Ocean drifts, before the sun, ‡‡Whose fires consume its waters, and restore
The mountains from oblivion, one by one— ‡‡Thick clouds ascending sky-ward, fall no more ;
Celestial with the promise wrung from God, ‡‡The weltering globe revisits the clear skies—
Oceans collect their seas dispersed abroad, ‡‡Once more thy floods leap down—thy thunders rise.
Who christened thee Niagara—or stood ‡‡Sponsor for thee ? or bore thee in her arms
When nature sprinkling, washed thee in her blood, ‡‡Child, for whose weal no mother’s bosom warms ?
No voice with solemn pomp announced the rite, ‡‡No blazonry of heralds on thy crest
Inflated thee with pride of birth or might : ‡‡Only thy Maker mars or makes thee blest.
The gentle bride is half, not wholly wed ; ‡‡Unfelt her pride of maiden innocence—
Vows to obey, and by a wife’s pure bed ‡‡Sanctify love, and be its own defence—
Till at thy crystal altar, virgin priest, ‡‡Her nuptial pledges solemnized anew,
She feels by thine her purity increased, ‡‡And journeys home a wife, and Cæsar’s too.
When Fashion sought thee out, the whole world came, ‡‡Felt all thou art, but could not speak it well ;
All saw thy vast proportions, felt the same ‡‡Emotions in thy presence, none could tell—
Fashion, though dumb with awe, still plied her arts, ‡‡Expecting thee to lay thy sceptre down,
To fill her fickle throne in human hearts— ‡‡And for the crown God gave thee, wear her crown.
Companion of the seas, thou couldst not bear, ‡‡To stoop from such companionship, to leer,
Ogle and strut, and by a gait and air, ‡‡That would seem more than nature less appear :
Incapable of folly, thy reply ‡‡Unuttered, she divined, and begged of thee,
To let her train admire, pass on, and sigh ‡‡For grace she never had, and purity.
Year after year thy levees thou hast held— ‡‡Thronged by the wise and valiant, learned and gay ;
Yet few of all the thousands who beheld ‡‡Thy presence, saw thee ere they turned away :
For thou art more than nature, and to see ‡‡Thy cataract, were less than to descry
A thousand symbols, God has couched in thee, ‡‡Of things above, and things below the sky.
How thou hast shuddered, leaped, rejoiced, or bled, ‡‡As drama after drama swept along,
When such as trod the skies, have fallen or fled ‡‡To God-forsaken holds, before the strong ?
When Sheba came for gold and ne’er returned ? ‡‡When Greece developed freedom by thy side ?
Polite—barbaric—savage, as each burned ‡‡With an ascendant, wept an humbled pride ?
Ennobled by a patent from the skies— ‡‡Thou dost not play the courtier for high place ;
And when a king regards thee with his eyes, ‡‡Thou dost not feel a blush steal o’er thy face—
As if he were thy patron. Thou hast seen ‡‡A Brunswick, and applauded—not his state,
His manhood—for all power were vile and mean, ‡‡Throned by thy side, but Power Immaculate.‡
What torrent thundering down the mountain side, ‡‡With molten glaciers onward to the sea,
Bears half the volume of that frightful tide, ‡‡Leaping thy crest, Niagara ?–Of thee,
There is no symbol in the realms of art, ‡‡And nature holds no mirror to thy face,
Nor yet from canvass shall a shadow start, ‡‡Girt with thy strength, and radiant with thy grace.
Leap down forever—and as lilies grow, ‡‡And ravens feed before their Maker’s eye,
So thou shalt fling into the gulph below, ‡‡But half thine inexhaustible supply.
God hath commanded, and it shall stand fast, ‡‡He paints the lily—hears the raven cry ;
Fills thee with anthems never overpast, ‡‡And feeds thee from the ocean and the sky.
Thou hast no looks of sadness—yet a curse ‡‡Fell on thy head for other guilt than thine,
And by each fall, thy leaping tides rehearse, ‡‡How human nature strove with the divine—
Foiled in the onset, shrank into a worm, ‡‡And for immortal life—dies—and thou too
Dost in thy living waters hide the germ ‡‡Of dissolution, and our steps pursue.
Thou hast no doubts to crucify. Thy faith ‡‡Cavils at nothing, sure that all is well ;
Asking alone for what thy Maker saith, ‡‡Without a heaven to lure thee, or a hell
To shake its penal terrors o’er thy head— ‡‡Believer, without promise of reward,
The bliss of being kindles thee instead, ‡‡And fills thee with the presence of thy Lord.
Man hath a resurrection, and shall rise ‡‡Above the perilous height from which he fell,
Revisit, like a God, his native skies, ‡‡Or, failing heaven, accept the pains of hell ;
But thou shalt never from thy winding sheet ‡‡Leap with a burst of thunder, and begin,
God full in view, that anthem to repeat, ‡‡Born to the soul triumphant over sin.
Accursed for man—no Saviour died for thee ; ‡‡And yet there is a promise darkly read
In the good word of life, that seems to be ‡‡A pledge of future blessings on thy head :
When the earth melts with heat, and the heavens wrap ‡‡Their skies together, as a scribe his scroll,
The world to come shall nourish in her lap ‡‡Recovered nature, and a ransomed soul.
Clothed with eternal verdure every hill, ‡‡Waving celestial harvests every plain,
The glory of our God is come, and will ‡‡Abide, and never be withdrawn again :
No ante-state to purify our dust, ‡‡No hope of heaven to lure us home to God,
The vision of our God rewards our trust, ‡‡And all are sons confessed who kissed the rod.
Conception of a God—that kingdom still, ‡‡Shall widen, strengthen, cover every land—
Sit upon thrones, or topple them, until ‡‡Conscience, no longer bleeding, shall demand,
Receive, and hold in every human breast, ‡‡Unrivalled empire. Age of ages, come,
Divide with men the fortunes of the blest— ‡‡Give us a glimpse of heaven to lure us home !
Who clothed thee with such grace ? Who made thy power ‡‡A symbol for infinitude of might—
Saw nature struggle in thy natal hour— ‡‡Thy future annals as thy past shall write ?
Sees universal nature at a glance— ‡‡Scoffs at thy power as thou dost scoff at men—
In whom all things retire, from whom advance ? ‡‡Look up and see Him, for thou canst, and then,
Roll on, perpetual cadence, to the skies, ‡‡Confess the God who made thee, with a voice
Louder than thousand thunders—higher rise ‡‡With thy hoarse chaunt, as when all seas rejoice,
To Him, whose eye thy waters first surveyed, ‡‡Who still regards thee with unchanging smile,
Before whose whisper, all thy thunders fade, ‡‡And who forbears to fire thy funeral pile.
Source: Howell, John Edward. Poems, vol. 1. New York: John Edward Howell, 1867
Annie Edson Taylor
first to survive Niagara Falls in a barrel
she is our heroine.
The Zone glitters like a mirage
an abandoned city à la Tarkovsky’s Stalker fizzing with radiation.
on the lawn of the soporific
hospital. She blinks,
eyes yellow, shadowed
by the central chimney.
Is it a lighthouse in the desert?
The Zone wears her dream
like a gown. The hospital
wears the rubble like a gown.
Taylor wears a long black dress
& a fruit hat. Front stairs
of the hyperacute hospital,
Taylor coughs, on her knees.
How, you wonder,
did she get here? Don’t ask me.
I wanted to write a poem
to exalt a nice thing.
Yet here she is, spasming,
spitting a dark thread.
“Stop!” you say, “Don’t go in!”
Yet in she goes.
Her black dress slips off
& her fruit hat. She is naked
walking the hallway
past rooms of box-spring beds.
Here is a room heaped
with clothes: firefighter boots,
gas masks. Sooty tables,
murky slime. An arthritic tree
curls in a shattered window.
A box-spring so tiny
It could be a doll’s bed.
Taylor stops, bows low,
palms together, mumbling words
I can’t even hear.
I’m tempted to remind her
she died sixty-five years
But now she’s alert,
back straight, listening
with her whole body
for what? I beg her
to put on the fruit hat,
just for the end of the poem.
It’s not too late!
But she keeps tossing it
onto a pile
of melted toys.
Source: John Wall Barger. The Mean Game. Windsor, Ont.: Palimpsest Press, 2019.
‡‡Grandest of Nature’s works, her wildest wreck, ‡‡‡‡Or stateliest shrine ! What ear, Niagara, ‡‡‡‡Thrills not ? what eye unstartled shall survey ‡‡Thy loud and raging waters, as they break ‡‡Full o’er the fearful precipice, and whelm ‡‡‡‡Thy sea-green Naiads a in the gulf below ? ‡‡Through many a stormy lake, b and boundless realm, ‡‡‡‡And well-fought field c thy winding currents flow, ‡‡Watering the woods, and herds, and creatures rude, ‡‡‡‡That haunt thy brink their hasty draught to steal ; ‡‡‡‡And now for toil or pastime, float or keel, ‡‡Smooth as a glass expands th’ united flood ; d
That youth deluded by the flattering gleam,
Might trust with arm secure the tameness of thy stream.
‡‡But, lo ! the rocks — and, like a maniac moved, ‡‡‡‡At once thy rage begins, and all around ‡‡‡‡Vex’d by th’ obstreperous waves thy shores resound ; ‡‡Check’d by the steadfast reef, as one reproved, ‡‡More fierce the torrent raves, and flings his froth ‡‡‡‡Aloft, and tosses on his flinty bed. ‡‡‡‡Ill fares the wretch, e who there by night misled, ‡‡Strives with strain’d oar against its matchless wrath : ‡‡For close before him sinks the dreadful steep ; ‡‡‡‡O’er which th’ Herculean stream fshall quickly hurl ‡‡‡‡Him and his struggling bark, with headlong whirl, ‡‡Dash’d on the turrets of the craggy deep,
Many a dark fathom down. The stunning roar
Ontario’s g ramparts shakes, and Erie’s distant shore.
‡‡For as th’ incessant and ear-rending clang, ‡‡‡‡When war’s red bolt conflicting navies urge, ‡‡Rolls round the brows and caverns, that o’erhang ‡‡‡‡The main, and mingles with the plunging surge : ‡‡Or as ‘mongst Alpine or Ceraunian peaks ‡‡‡‡His angry trump the midnight thunder blows ; ‡‡‡‡And rocks, and vales, and woods, and towering snows, ‡‡Fling round the restless peal, while o’er them breaks ‡‡From all heav’ns windows sluiced the rushing shower : ‡‡‡‡Such noises loud and deep for ever rave ‡‡Among those foaming waters, as they pour ‡‡‡‡Down on that wrathful and tormented cave,h
Their smouldering crater, in whose ample bound
As in some caldron huge they burst and boil around.
‡‡Up flies the steaming spray, and on the flood ‡‡‡‡Sheds the dire umbrage of its winding shroud ; ‡‡‡‡Yet ere to heaven it wreathes its hoary cloud, i ‡‡Far off conspicuous, In her wildest mood ‡‡Sweet Iris k wantons there, and sketches gay ‡‡‡‡Many a bright segment of her tinted bow, ‡‡‡‡That float their moment till the breezes blow ‡‡The draft and shadowy tablet both away. ‡‡Now stand we on the thin and dizzy ledge l ‡‡‡‡Self-poised and pendent o’er the black abyss, ‡‡And lean, and listen by the torrent’s edge, ‡‡‡‡And watch its fall, and hear it roar and hiss,
Like serpent foul m whereof old sages sing,
Or Hells divan transformed to hail their venturous king.
‡‡Descend we next to where the beetling clifts ‡‡‡‡Hang their high cornice o’er the margent steep, ‡‡‡‡Whose uncouth slope their crumbling fragments heap, ‡‡Sole track to yon dark portal,n that uplifts ‡‡In gothic guise its pointed crown, and leads ‡‡‡‡To the dread cloister, in whose vaulted groin ‡‡‡‡The shelving beds and gushing billows join, ‡‡And rock and river blend their arched heads. ‡‡There crawl the slimy reptiles of the deep, ‡‡‡‡Glazing th’ obnoxious path, and dimly seen ‡‡‡‡By the dull lantern of that drizzling skreen ; ‡‡Through which day’s beams with faint refraction peep,
A baleful radiance pale, that gives the night
Perplexing gleams obscure, the shades of tortured light.
‡‡Press not too far thy hardy search, nor trust ‡‡‡‡The doubtful chambers of that untried maze : ‡‡‡‡Know’st thou what base its leaning wall upstays ? ‡‡What floods lie hid behind ? what treacherous crust ‡‡Roofs the blind chasm, that cracks beneath thy tread ? ‡‡‡‡What blights may blast thee, what sub-aqueous sound ‡‡‡‡May mock thy echoing steps, thy sense astound ? ‡‡Or tempt thee where some rash adventurer dead ‡‡Lies wasting unentomb’d ? mark, what a blast ‘ ‡‡‡‡Bursts from the chilling entrance ! storm and shower ‡‡‡‡Breathe stern forbiddance from the jealous bower : ‡‡As if the demon of that cataract vast.
Sole anarch there, abhorr’d that tongue should tell
That mortal sight should pierce the secrets of his cell.
‡‡But now the Charon of the nether stream o ‡‡‡‡Waves his light oar, and wafts us o’er the tide. ‡‡‡‡With staggering step we scale the rugged side, ‡‡Fast by yon lofty ridge ; o’er whose broad beam ‡‡With stealthy lapse at first the glassy plane p ‡‡‡‡In one bright sheet descends, then streaming all ‡‡‡‡With tresses green, that whiten as they fall, ‡‡Dash’d to ten thousand dews and dusts of rain, ‡‡Breaks on the crags beneath, its rugged floor, ‡‡‡‡The ruins of its rage ; through whose hoarse caves ‡‡‡‡And countless crannies forced the foaming waves, ‡‡‘Scaped their Tarpeian pitch, q with fresh uproar
Rush headlong down, and deeper as they swell
The mixt majestic choir, that shakes that wondrous dell.
‡‡Between the branches of the horned flood ‡‡‡‡With shade of loftiest growth and sunny smile, ‡‡‡‡Commingling graced a cool sequester’d isle r ‡‡Crowns the high steep, and from its echoing wood ‡‡Proclaims the tumults of the restless vale ‡‡‡‡Far round, and calm as Dian’s argent brow ‡‡‡‡Brush’d by the clouds, o’erlooks the storm below. ‡‡There many a stranger woos the breathing gale, ‡‡Worn with his toilsome ramble : there, they say, ‡‡‡‡Stern Winter oft his shining armoury s rears, ‡‡‡‡Framed in his icy forge ; with crystal spears ‡‡And diamond lances hangs each bending spray,
Each trunk with mail, or helm, or buckler bright,
By man’s slow toils unmatched, the fabric of a night.
‡‡Back o’er the bridge, t which daring art has thrown ‡‡‡‡Wide o’er the brawling pass (whose yesty streams ‡‡‡‡Flash through each crevice of the dancing beams) ‡‡We haste : the sleepless torrent hurrying on ‡‡Tow’rds its high leap, and whirling on its way ‡‡‡‡Th’ uprooted pine and oak. The scaly herds ‡‡‡‡Against it tire their powerless helms : the birds ‡‡Of strongest flight, down stooping for their prey ‡‡On that disastrous current, rise no more. ‡‡‡‡Caught by the liquid hurricane they strain ‡‡‡‡Their ineffectual wings, and flap in vain ; ‡‡With screams unnatural tow’rds th’ increasing roar.
Forced on at length in silence down they go,
And glut th’ insatiate gorge, that yawns and yells below.
‡‡There lifeless oft the wanderers of the wave ‡‡‡‡In glittering shoals are seen ; there sylvan stores, ‡‡‡‡Swoln beasts, and fractured beams, which to their shores ‡‡Wreck’d from those fatal heights the waters lave, ‡‡Or waft promiscuous down, where now between ‡‡‡‡Their towering banks, u far from the wrath behind, ‡‡‡‡Hurrying as if dismay’d and dark they wind ‡‡Their deep contracted deluge. — Pregnant scene ! ‡‡Wherein fall’n power its own sad act may trace ; ‡‡‡‡Power, that by bounteous heaven from obscure source ‡‡‡‡Advanced, with boundless rule and headlong course ‡‡Long flows ; by ills at times, the rocks of grace,
Check’d, not chastised, still pours its fortunes on,
Wherewith the world resounds, and topples from its throne.
‡‡A turbid solitude succeeds, uncheer’d ‡‡‡‡By Fame’s retiring trump, that loud no more, ‡‡‡‡But makes despair more joyless ; as the roar ‡‡Of yon high-falling flood remotely heard, ‡‡Saddens the troubled stream, that groans below. ‡‡‡‡There, save that lonely skiff, no swelling sail ‡‡‡‡Leans her coy bosom from the wanton gale ; ‡‡Lest with its eddying ebb her helpless prow ‡‡The refluent tide should seize, and drift above ‡‡‡‡To th’ howling base of that pernicious steep, ‡‡‡‡Plunged in its whelming shower, who knows how deep ?
Or whirl’d how long upon its watery wheel ! ‡‡In the dark dungeon of that hideous cove ;
Whence scarce the buoyant Muse retrieves her vent’rous keel.
‡‡Niagara, such art thou : to equal thee, ‡‡‡‡What are the brooks of Wales, or statelier Clyde, v ‡‡‡‡Or Anio, or Velino, w or the tide ‡‡That shoots the slopes of Nile? x thy breadth a sea, ‡‡Thy shock an earthquake, and thy awful voice ‡‡‡‡The sound of many waters. Grand and bold ‡‡Columbia thus, the child of Nature’s choice, ‡‡‡‡Scales all her wonders to the Rhodian mould, y ‡‡Her lakes are oceans, every stream a bay, ‡‡‡‡Wide through her frame its branching artery throws : ‡‡Her mountains kiss the moon : her sapient sway ‡‡‡‡A beauteous belt z hath wrought, whose ties enclose
Tribes without end, realm after realm embraced
In Freedom’s opening arms, the savage and the waste.
Source: A.M. Niagara: A Poem. New York: J. Seymour, Printer, 1822. Attributed to Abraham Moore.
The colour of the falling water at Niagara, though of course perfectly fresh, is a beautiful sea-green.
b. Through many a stormy lake, etc.
The river Niagara, which supplies the falls, may be traced through many lakes, and particularly lakes Superior, Huron, and Erie, the former about 1600, and each of the two latter about 800, miles in circumference. About fourteen miles below the falls it empties itself into Lake Ontario, but little inferior in dimensions to Lake Erie.
c. And well-fought field.
This river, and the lakes through which it flows, being originally a natural, as they are now a conventional boundary, between the American and Canadian territories, have been the scene of many well-known actions between the Indians, French, and English, and between the latter and the United States.
d. Th’ united flood.
About five miles below lake Erie, the river Niagara is divided into two streams forming an island, called Grand Island, about 12 miles long, and nearly as wide ; below which they are re-united into one broad and smooth expanse, which continues about two miles, till it reaches the rapids ; down which it runs through reefs of rocks falling about fifty feet in the course of the last mile ; it is then again divided by a small island, called Goat Island, and falls on each side of it over the precipices which form the Great Cataracts.
e. Ill fares the wretch, etc.
In November, 1821, two men (supposed to be intoxicated) fastened their boat to a wooden bridge across the Chippeway Creek, (which empties itself into the Niagara on the Canadian side, about two miles above the falls,) and fell asleep. By some means, the boat being probably ill-secured, got loose with the men in it, and drifted into the rapids ; where they awoke in the greatest agitation, and were hurried over the falls, and lost. A table, which they had on board, was seen a few days after-wards floating down the stream ; but neither the boat, nor either of the men has ever been heard of since.
f. The Herculean stream.
Alluding not only to the size and strength of the cataract, but to the well-known story of Hercules, who in his last frenzy flung Lichas, his attendant, from the top of Mount Æta, in Greece, into the sea between Locris and Eubaea. — Ovid’s Met. lib. 9. 1. 211 . Milt. Par. Lost, b. 2. 1. 544.
g. Ontario’s ramparts , etc.
Fort George, situated on the Canadian, and Fort Niagara on the American side of the river Niagara, at its entrance into Lake Ontario, distant about fourteen, as its outlet from Lake Erie is about twenty miles from the falls. At both these points their sound is often heard like distant thunder, particularly in calm weather, and in the stillness of the night.
h. Tormented cave.
The cataract next to the Canadian shore is nearly in the shape of a horse-shoe, or of the pit of a modern theatre ; and if the reader will suppose the water to pour over from the gallery and upper side boxes, one hundred and fifty feet perpendicular, he will have some idea of the shape, but none whatever either of the magnitude or of the noise of this stupendous fall, or of the unapproachable, vast cavern which ingulfs it. Its circuit is about 800 or 900, and its chord about 300 yards, from one point of the horse-shoe to the other.
i. Its hoary cloud.
The clouds of spray, which are perpetually hovering over these cataracts, are often seen at Buffaloe on Lake Erie as far as their sound is heard. See Note g.
k. Sweet Iris, etc.
Portions of rainbows are often seen at these falls, varying according to the position of the sun. The author saw many, and particularly observed a small segment of one about ten feet high, rising to the upper skirt of the spray-cloud, that sustained it, and resting its lower end upon the surface of the torrent, as if it grew out of the water. In an instant the wind shifted, the vapour was dispersed, and the brilliant image vanished like a spirit.
l. The thin and dizzy ledge.
This is a thin plate or slab of rock, projecting from the high bank on the Canadian side, upon a level with, and close by the end of, the horse-shoe fall. It overhangs the base of the cliff, on which it rests, 48 feet ; and is the perilous place to which every visiter is conducted, as the most favourable point for viewing the whole, or at least the grandest part, of this indescribable scene.
m. Like serpent foul, etc.
See Ovid’s Met. lib. 3. 1. 48. Pind. Ol.. Od. 8. Ep. 2, and
Milt. Par. Lost, b. 10. 1. 505, and Sequel.
n. To yon dark portal.
This is a dark opening formed by the hanging rock, and shooting cataract, in the shape of a lofty gothic arch ; under which the author, after several anxious but unsuccessful efforts, was prevented from proceeding more than a few yards, by the violent tempest of wind and rain, which continually issues from it. To account for this singular phenomenon is not easy ; it seemed, however, to the author, that the innumerable columns and fragments of air, which are intermingled with, and forced down by the falling water, must necessarily release themselves at the bottom ; and that half of them at least must force their way into the passage between the cataract and the rock. Out of this prison they have no other vent but through the vaulted opening, where the author encountered the irresistible storm, which all visitors experience, and the cause of which he is unable to explain upon any other principle.
o. The Charon of the nether stream.
After walking down the stream from the horse-shoe cataract on the Canadian side, about half a mile, you are opposite to the cataract on the American side, which is separated from the former by Goat Island. The reader will observe, that the river runs westward towards the falls, and then turns suddenly to the north ; so that the line of the falls is almost diagonal across the elbow of the river ; and consequently the visitor, after looking at the horse-shoe fall on the Canadian or western side, must go downwards on that side some way before he can be opposite to the cataract on the American side. He then descends from the cliffs near 200 feet to the water’s edge, where a single ferryman rows him in a little wherry across the eddying torrent, and lands him just below the latter cataract.
p. The glassy plane, etc.
This branch of the cataract breaks off nearly in an even line from the American side towards Goat Island, falls upon a shapeless pile of rocks, that have been precipitated from above, and rushes through their various openings into the lower river.
q. Scaped their Tarpeian pitch.
It is almost unnecessary to inform the reader, that the Tarpeian rock was the precipice of the Capitol at Rome, over which great criminals were sometimes thrown.
r. A cool sequestered isle.
This is Goat Island, consisting of about twenty acres of lofty wood, and belonging to Judge Porter; who has, with great skill and spirit thrown a wooden bridge, resting on 7 or 8 piers, from the American shore to a small island, distant about 600 yards, and from thence another, about one third as long, to Goat Island. To this interesting spot the visiter may now fearlessly resort, and standing on the precipice at its western end, find himself placed between the two cataracts, looking down 160 feet perpendicular upon the nether torrent.
s. His shining armoury rears.
Since this little poem was written, the author has observed this expression, of which he was quite unconscious, in Cowper’s Task, b. 5. It is, however, used there to introduce a train of thoughts so very different, that he does not feel himself open to the charge of plagiarism in suffering it to remain. The clouds of spray which are always rising from these stupendous falls, are speedily congealed during the winter, and settle on the neighbouring trees, casing the trunks with coats of ice, and hanging the branches with a thousand icicles.
t. Back o’er the bridge.
This bold fabric was constructed by protruding long beams of timber horizontally from the bank, and sending out men on the ends, which hung over the water, (and which were counterpoised with heavy weights placed on the ends that rested on the land,) for the purpose of driving piles, or fixing upon a pier of rock for their support. This being accomplished, a second set of beams were protruded in the same manner from the extremity of the first, till a second pier was gained ; a third followed, and, by a repetition of the same process, the whole structure was completed.
u. Their towering banks, etc.
For the space of about seven miles from the falls to Queenstown, the river, or rather torrent, rushes along between two rows of cliffs, rising to the height of 200 feet ; through which during a series of ages it seems to have worn or torn its way. From hence some, with much appearance of reason, have supposed, that the falls were originally at Queenstown, where the level of the country sinks almost suddenly to a flat but a little higher than the surface of the river ; and that as the rocky bed of the latter has given way and deepened, the falls have gradually receded to their present site.
v. The brooks of Wales, or statelier Clyde.
There are many picturesque and interesting waterfalls in Wales, one at a most romantic place called the Devil’s Bridge, falling above 300 feet ; but very few of them fall 100 feet, and the streams which supply them are but rivulets or very narrow rivers, the largest not exceeding 50 yards in breadth, and very few of them above twenty. The Clyde in Scotland is a large river for that country, but the fall is not great.
w. Anio or Velino.
The celebrated falls of Tivoli, near Rome, upon which so many pencils and pens have been employed, are formed by the descent of the headlong Anio, (Strabo, lib. 6, 364,) as the Cascata del Marmore of Terni is by that of the Velino. See Lord Byron’s Childe Harolde, canto 4, stan. 69.
x. The slopes of Nile
Modern travellers inform us, that the cataracts of the Nile are not precipitous, but that they merely pour down a rocky declivity, not much exceeding in steepness some of the rapids of America.
y. The Rhodian mould.
Alluding to the celebrated Colossus at Rhodes, a brazen statue of Apollo, 105 feet high.
z. A beauteous belt
Meaning the federative principle, by which so many states and territories have been, and so many more may be added to the American union.
In the yellow and blue dawn of winter
I will come for her
My misty apparition
who fogs my eyes and senses
and comforts me with her chilled
She knows my secret sins
She’s lived my life
“Come in,” says Niagara
“The water’s fine”
I know it’s not true, it’s freezing in December
Look up from the Horseshoe Falls
see the Rainbow Bridge, Goat Island, the gaudy signage
Look down upon the frigid rapids
My misty apparition
who fogs my eyes and senses
and I wonder how it will be
to know the caress
of my sometime true lover
as I lapse gently inside her
and ponder my new address
Slipping into her grasp
suicide and marriage are one
no cold, no fear
Source: The author, 2022. Of Sometime True Lovers was first published on All Poetry, 6/9/21, Written 10/31/98
Author’s note: While this appears to be about suicide in Niagara Falls, it’s really about what I owe to the city itself, the city that I grew up in and made me.