To Frederic Edwin Church Regarding Niagara Falls by Portly Bard


Niagara, 1857 by Frederic Edwin Church
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

So much like ours, your river’s course
becomes the path of nature’s force
embracing ever lower plane
and carving ever deeper main
except where soil is bared to rock
or rise becomes a stubborn block
that, barring flood, will be its bound
or island it will flow around
as ending tributaries merge
and hasten more the mounting surge
to roar of sudden, fated falls,
the splendor eye so well recalls
by glimmer of prismatic twist
in fountain of its risen mist.

©2023 by Portly Bard. Reproduced on the Niagara Falls Poetry Project website with the permission of Portly Bard.

This poem, inspired by Frederic Edwin Church’s 1857 painting Niagara, was first published in The Ekphrastic ReviewOctober 20, 2023 in their Ekphrastic Challenges series. Read about ekphrastic poetry in Niagara.


Portly Bard.
Old man.  Ekphrastic fan.
Prefers to craft with sole intent…
of verse becoming complement…
…and by such homage being lent…
ideally also compliment.
Ekphrastic joy comes not from praise
for words but from returning gaze
far more aware of fortune art
becomes to eyes that fathom heart.

The Ice Crack’d, 1912 by Debbie Walker-Lass

Niagara, 1857 by Frederic Edwin Church
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

Let’s go back to a time forgotten—
Time when all stood still at this reckoning
When the stars spewed light like a string of shiny pearls
Gleaming, coyly placed, half-hidden in a breast
To enkindle the earth with heavenly illumination
And begin Niagara’s immaculate creation
Falling, tumbling river dodging over rock formations
Over and over: an international maritime border
Canada’s pride
America’s daughter

Danger lies in beauty wild and unforgiving
Many years Niagara made a sparkling temptation 
When Honeymooners and brazen lads took the chance
To walk upon the icy bridge made of water
It seemed a game, not risking life in great parlance
The tall, strapping boys built a warm beverage station
Canadian citizens welcomed
Americans as close relations

The menacing sun appeared as a propitious omen,
Settling over that imagined, glassy isthmus
Until a fatal crack shuddered out a warning:
Jagged flaws in the ice were quickly forming
Honeymooners from New York were taking in the sights
The young Quebecians downing cups of hot chocolate 
All looked to one another, faces full of fright
Far too late to make preparations
Crossing an international border without immigration 
Was a delightful idea with just the right amount of mystery
Until the couple, sharing one last kiss
Before rushing waters pulled them apart, taking their breath
Were noted in the annals of Niagara’s history
By boys turned into men by cheating death.

Debbie Walker-Lass

This poem, inspired by Frederic Edwin Church’s 1857 painting Niagara, was first published in The Ekphrastic ReviewOctober 20, 2023 in their Ekphrastic Challenges series. Read about ekphrastic poetry in Niagara.

Debbie Walker-Lass is a collage artist, poet, and writer living in Decatur, Georgia. Her work has appeared in journals and magazines including Punk Monk, Haiku Poetry, The Light Ekphrastic, The Ekphrastic Journal, Three-Line Poetry, and Natural Awakenings, Atlanta, among others. She was recently nominated to appear in “The Best Short Fiction, 2024” anthology by the editor of  The Ekphrastic Journal, Lorette Luzajic. 

Read about the ice bridge tragedy of 1912

Niagara November 1978 by Daniel Brown

Niagara, 1857 by Frederic Edwin Church.Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art
Niagara, 1857 by Frederic Edwin Church
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

After Thanksgiving dinner in North Tonawanda
We drove to Niagara through chilly evening fog,
parked and walked carefully toward the falls.
The sidewalks and grounds were frosted lace,
along the path branches of flash frozen trees 
had spent blossoms suspended like icicle earrings.
Although we remembered 4th grade science
and the hydraulic water cycle
we forgot to realize that when they melt
the radiant ice diamonds 
will mingle with human breath
mist their way to heaven
before returning to earth 
in never ending rotation
to churn and crash over the falls
as they had for Frederic Edwin Church in 1857
when his breath and artistic vision 
captured and contributed to the movement 
of the eternal roar.

daniel brown
Daniel Brown

This poem, inspired by Frederic Edwin Church’s 1857 painting Niagara, was first published in The Ekphrastic ReviewOctober 20, 2023 in their Ekphrastic Challenges series. Read about ekphrastic poetry in Niagara.

Daniel Brown has recently published at age 72 his first collection Family Portraits in Verse and Other Illustrated Poems through Epigraph Books, Rhinebeck, NY. He has most recently been published in Jerry Jazz Musician and Chronogram Magazine and was included in Arts Mid-Hudson 2023 gallery presentation Poets Respond To Art in Poughkeepsie, NY.

Niagara Falls by Mary J. Wines

Niagara Falls, NY, c1875.
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

 God ! within Thy glorious temple, mute with awe
We stand and listen to the pealing hymn 
Of thine Omnipotence. In all this wide, wide world 
Where can earth’s children go to learn a grander lesson 
Of Thy Majesty ? What human tongues with burning 
Words of power can tell Thy glories and Thine awful might, 
Or stir the doubting heart of man, as this sublime 
Creation of Thy mind Divine ?   Here, fashioned by 
Thy mighty hand, Nature’s gigantic organ stands, 
And ceaselessly rolls forth terrific notes of praise. 
Here Thine established choir forever thunder forth. 
In grandly thrilling tones, a mystic song of 
Thine unfathomable, infinite power. Here Thou hast 
Placed Thy solid altar on the shores of Time, and from 
Thy very lips the overpowering strains of holy eloquence 
Burst forth.

Who can withstand the heavenly music of Thy voice ; 
Who can, with heart unstirred, behold the amazing 
Splendor of Thine earthly court ; who can gaze on this 
Matchless structure by Thy fingers wrought, and calmly say, 
There is no living God ?

…………………………….Here let the boasting and the 
Lofty come and feel their nothingness ; here let the 
Sophist bring his treacherous creed, and obtain from 
Jehovah’s book logic invincible.  Here let the stolid 
And unthinking come and start their sleeping 
Senses from the sluggish trance. Here let the yearning 
Spirit and aspiring come, and, climbing Nature’s ladder, 
Grasp the reaching hand of God.

………………………………………Here the weary-hearted 
May sweet comfort find when resting on the shining 
Banks ; life-giving draughts from beauty’s fountain 
They may quaff, and from the appalling depths and 
Awful rush of waters wild look up, where, ever arching 
O’er the temple’s misty veil, the radiant bow of promise 
Sheds its cheering rays. So shall the glorious emblem 
Of Thy mercy teach the sorrowing heart, that o’er each

Dread abyss of human woe, each fearful path, where 
Life’s fierce tempests beat, the golden promise of 
Thy love and pity hangs. Here let the heart be 
Humbled to the dust, and no vain thought of 
Mortal consequence intrude.

…………………………………Oh, if these forest sentinels 
That ages long have watched the glories of this sacred 
Shrine, still with emotion shake, and join their trembling 
Voices in the tremendous hymn, shall not weak 
Mortals lowly bend, and in the footsteps of their 
Father, God, a loving tribute cast  not with a craven 
Thought of human fear  at the overwhelming power of 
His arm, but holiest love and adoration give, 
Ever rejoicing with ecstatic joy that they are off-springs 
Of so glorious a sire.

Source: Mary J. Wines. Infant Harper and Other Poems. Cambridge, Mass.: Hurd & Houghton, 1874, p. 193-195

Cataract of Niagara and Suspension Bridge by Roswell Rice

roswell rice
Roswell Rice
from the frontispiece of his Orations and Poems

….ALL day, as days are counted here below, 
I’ve ranged the banks of this myster’ous Chasm ; 
Whose raging voice has boomed, like thunder in 
Distant tones, ever since the morning stars 
Their song began. And as I gazed on the 
Huge transparent mass, plunging the foaming 
Gulf below, my heart was struck with fear, like 
Viewing specters in the magic glass, or 
Raging winds that swell the deep. And as I 
Sat me down for nature to revive, sad 
And fearful thoughts rushed on my soul, as I 
Gazed on this phenomenon of nature’s 
Birth .

……………The king of day was now descending 
The western horizon ; and ever since
The morning light had dispersed night’s dreary 
Mantle, my vision gazed on this direful
Cataract ; producing scenes terrific
And sublime. The crystal fountains of the 
Northern lakes, condensed in old Niag’ra,
With incessant sweep, near, and forever
Near the verge of this drear, and dreadful gulf ! 
And as they descend the vast abyss, the
Shock is heard in the distance as the voice
And proof of nature’s God. Were it not for 
Habit, proving no alarm, man would be 
More fearful of this terrific sound, than 
Of the lightning’s burst in a stormy sky. 
Such are the wonders of nature in this 
Mighty Cascade, that the spell yet remains 
Upon me; and their mementos enchant 
My spirit, and blend with my existence.

….God’s hand made these mighty waters, to plunge 
The deep ! to shake the earth afar ; and roll
On amid the gulf, plowed by nature’s stream 
In solid rock, through the flight of ages.
Six thousand years this trump of God perchance 
Has sounded in the savage ear ; and thus 
Made known the Spirit Land. Above the Falls 
The current is so strong, and suction so 
Severe, the fowl can hardly rise. The red 
Man, in his barque, applies the oar too late !
His hope is lost ! he to the Spirit cries !
And with a mortal groan descends the grave 
Of graves. The swiftwinged birds of heaven, in 
Sundry plumage decked, parched by sunbeams of 
The Summer’s rays, bathe in vapors rising 
From this foaming deep, and chant their songs to 
Greet its cooling spray. Pilgrims, far and near, 
Rush on to view this king of Cataracts ; 
And by nature’s incessant anthem, some 
Have learned the Author of the song.

…………………………………………………………The dread
Mastodon of the elder world, whose tread 
Made the forests shake, perchance in days of 
Yore has by these waters slaked his thirst. Fierce 
Armies in their pride have near this Chasm met, 
With martial din, where the dying groans and 
The sad echoes of the cannon’s roar were 
Heard in fearful blast. The storms and tempests 
Have swept around it ; and the lightning’s flash, 
And bolts of thunder, have shook the heavens 
Above ; yet these waters rush on with their 
Eternal song, from nature’s golden harp. 
This music still salutes the ravished ear, 
With strains that blend amid the raging storm.

….Near two miles below this Chasm is seen the 
Iron Bridge, the wonder of art, sustained 
By bolts and bars, posts and rails, gigantic 
Cables, and sundry fixtures ; fastened to 
The ironbound shores of two nations  pride, 
O’er which the lion and the eagle soar. 
On this suspended structure is seen the
Iron horse of rav’nous maw inspired with 
Wood and fire, passing and repassing with 
His gorgeous trains, journeying East and West 
On their rushing pinions ; bearing mankind 
And nature’s golden products, far and near. 
Four iron cables, made of wiry braid, 
ast in their size, and strong with curly strands, 
Extend from shore to shore, and terminate 
With fast’nings, secured in solid rock more 
Than twelve score feet above the river’s base. 
Eight hundred tons comprise the weight of this 
Gigantic Bridge ; twentyfour feet its width ;
Eight hundred feet its length ; and the strength of 
Its vast cables twelve thousand tons will bear. 
Hard by this structure , on each tow’ring bank 
Man’s frightful vision views the turbid stream 
Of raging waters, rolling and tumbling 
O’er their rocky base, to plunge the distant
Lake below. Immortal be the artist’s
Name that framed, and bound this gorgeous Bridge o’er
The dread Niag’ra, with light and knowledge 
Drawn from the funds of the great Supreme.

….Amazing magnificence is seen in
The dire waters of this mighty Cascade. 
But this is a mere point in the wonders 
Of nature. The forest green, waving in
The gale ; the birds with plumage decked, beaming 
In the sun ; earth’s millions of flow’rs kissed by 
The dews of heaven ; the swift winged clouds on which 
The beauties of earth and sky commingle ;
The Summer’s Sun glowing like the gate of 
Paradise ; the tow’ring mountain, on whose 
Summit remains eternal snow ; the vast 
Prairies lit up by sunbeams waving in 
The gale ; the flowing rivers, mountain born, 
That wend their way to kiss the briny deep ;
The islands of fire that rise in the main,
And straightway are seen no more ; the rushing 
Tornado, with giant pinions, sweeping
Before it the groves and hamlet ; and the
Oceans deep, which like clean hearts return heaven’s
Image ; or in their wild commotion swell
Like the heaving breasts of lions chained in 
Agony ; all combine in nature’s book,
To tell the matchless glory of a God.

….If in this nether world our Father speaks 
Terrible and sublime, how do the stars 
Above, floating the heavens like islands of 
Fire, proclaim his greatness ? How tells the vast 
Blazonry of the great Original,
Which adorns the supernal fields of space
With beauty, far surpassing the diamond 
Points of the mosaic texture ? If when
We look upon this Cataract, we are 
Called to admiration, how much more, when 
We gaze on the blue arch of heaven’s 
Magnificence, besieged by God’s flaming 
Seraphim, who keep their watch eternal.

….Ye sons of nature’s God, I pray draw near ; 
Behold the wonders of this direful scene ! 
Hark ! the earth trembles ! the thunder tones of 
This Chasm are heard afar ! showing to us 
That nature proves a God. Still, we have more 
Light ! it rises from the Gospel truth ; and 
Reveals our endless weal or woe. Then, let 
Adam’s fallen race from slumber rise !—make
Sure the living boon ! so when the works of 
Time shall die, God’s holy Son will bear them 
To his throne ! where they shall chant redeeming 
Love, and share ambrosial strains of Heaven. 
There scourging woes shall ever pass away ! 
And praise eternal shall to God be given. 
These scenes of time should warn us of that hour, 
When rocks shall rend, and oceans be no more.

….Ye bloodbought and Hellbound Infidels ! by
This Cataract God is speaking to you. 
These thunder tones, and all the sad dirges
Of nature, call for your belief in God !
But something more warns your souls to action !
It is the stable  the manger, and the
Crucifixion !    More, it is the Son of
God in Joseph’s tomb ! his ascension to 
Heaven, after giving up the Ghost on 
The cross, and his cries for your Salvation 
At the right hand of God. Why then reject 
The Savior, and make sure the wails of the 
Lost ? where no mercy shall ever greet the 
Ear ! and no Jesus set free the pris’ner. 
Awake from your slumber ! run for life ! and 
The bonus of the Crucifixion share.

Source: Roswell Rice. Rice’s Orations and Poems: Containing Orations of Temperance, War, Christ’s Second Advent, etc.; Descant on Time and Immortality, Time’s Destroying Flight, etc., in Blank Verse; Many Lyrics and Acrostics; and numberous Poetic Gems. Springfield, Mass: Press of Springfield Printing Company, 1883