Spina Christi by William Kirby

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡PART I.

William Kirby, 1817-1906.
Image courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡There is a thorn — it looks so old
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡I‡‡‡‡‡In truth you’d find it hard to say
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡How it could ever have been young —
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡It looks so old and grey .
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡WORDSWORTH .

The city walls of Avignon are built of stone, and high
The houses stand with balconies above the streets that lie
Around the old cathedral, whose sweet bells were ringing clear
A merry tune, one day in June
Of seventeen hundred year,
And half a hundred years beside, while crowding far and near,
Beneath the flags and tapestries, the people loudly cheer
The regiment of Rousillon is ordered to the war,
A thousand strong, the pick among
The mountaineers of Var.

The great Church portals open wide, the crowd goes surging in,
The soldiers tramp with measured tread the services begin,
A blessing is invoked upon the King’s Canadian war
Beyond the seas there is no ease,
And all things are ajar
The English in America do boldly break and mar
The peace they made ; but we will keep the treaties as they are !
And now the Royal Rousillon take up the route with joy,
And march away while bugles play
Mid shouts of ‘Vive le Roi !’

There lives a lady beautiful as any Provence rose,
The chatelaine of Bois le Grand, who weepeth as she goes
For sleep has left her eyelids on the banks of rapid Rhone
‘But three months wed ! alas ! ‘ she said,
‘To live my life alone !
Pining for my dear husband in his old chateau of stone,
While he goes with his regiment, and I am left to moan ,
That his dear head so often laid at rest upon my knee,
No pillow kind but stones shall find 
No shelter but a tree ! ‘

‘Weep not, dear wife !’ replied the count, and took her in his arms,
And kissed her lovingly and smiled to quiet her alarms
They stood beneath the holy thorn of the old Celestine,
Pope Clement brought with blessings fraught
And planted it between
The wall and wall beside the cross, where he was daily seen
To kneel before it reverently.    It came from Palestine,
A plant from that which cruelly the crown of thorns supplied,
Christ wore for me, when mocked was He
And scourged, and crucified.

‘I’ll take a branch of it,’ he said, ‘across the stormy sea
That roars between New France and Old, and plant it solemnly
In that far country where I go campaigning for the King.
It will remind and teach mankind
Of pains that blessing bring. ‘
Above his head he plucked a spray acute with many a sting,
And placed it on his plumed chapeau , in token of the thing
Alone can turn the sinful man the piercing of the thorn
The healing smart the contrite heart
Of penitence new born.

Despairingly she kissed his lips ; ‘O welcome, sharpest pain,
That cuts the heart to bleeding and bids hope revive again !
O Spina Christi! to my heart I press thee wet with tears
If love outlast as in the past
Each parting that endears !
Our sky has been so bright and filled with music of the spheres,
So gloomy now in sad eclipse it suddenly appears !
For joy dies out in silence like sweet singing that is done,
If men forget their sacred debt
To women they have won.

‘But I will have no fear,’ she said, ‘although in our New France
They say the fairest women live, and eyes that brightest glance.
In all the King’s dominions else, are no such sunny smiles,
From beauty’s lips, such honey drips
In sweetness that beguiles
There’s no escape forever from the witchery of their wiles
They win all hearts and keep them from Quebec through all the isles,
And rivers, lakes and forests, to the setting of the sun
And he is blest above the rest,
Whose heart is soonest won !

‘My husband dear ! last night I stood alone by Laura’s tomb,
Where Petrarch laid the laurel wreath that crowned his head in Rome,
The polished marble sweated cold in token of some ill,
Befalling me, befalling thee,
As I do fear it will ;
For out of it arose a mist that struck me with a chill ;
I could not move I dare not speak but prayed in silence, till
I heard a feeble voice within, that, disembodied, said :
‘His love was tried and magnified
While living mine, when dead !’

‘ O, Laura never knew nor felt the might of love,’ said he
And Petrarch sang away his life in vain so cold was she.
Perfect in all proprieties of virtuous disguise,
The poet’s need the poet’s greed
For woman’s love, to rise
On wings of immortality that bear him to the skies ;
She never knew the joy of it with him to sympathize ;
And all his glorious raptures did but minister to pride,
When he had done — ’twas all he won
A smile and nought beside.

‘O, care not for such omens, love ! for Laura’s words were naught
But echoes to the ear of what was fancy in thy thought
A soldier serves the King with life or death, without rebate,
And gaily goes to fight the foes
That dare assail the state,
And yet will melt when women crowd about the city gate,
With faces pale and wet with tears, embracing each her mate,
And kissing him as if for death nor cares who sees or knows,
While far away the bugles play ;
“Farewell, my Provence rose !”

Adieu ! my wife and chatelaine ; keep safe my house and land,
Should God so will that I return no more to Bois le Grand.
My heart is thine forever, and so pierce this holy thorn,
And stab it through, if e’er untrue,
I leave my wife forlorn
New France may boast the fairest and the sweetest women born ,
And the chateau of St. Louis laugh the continent to scorn
I would not give these eyes of thine, and tresses falling down
Upon my breast to be possessed
Of sceptre and of crown .’

Then beat the drums a gay rappel the fifes and bugles ring
As rank on rank the mountaineers march out with martial swing
They pass the city gate and walls of old Avignon.
Mid parting cheers and women’s tears
The Royal Rousillon,
Commanded by brave Bois le Grand upon his prancing roan,
Are fairly on the march towards Bordeaux on the Garonne
Where ships are waiting to transport them far from kith and kin,
Beyond the seas, where victories
Are ripening to win.

From fair Bordeaux they sailed , and soon with crowds upon the deck,
Cast anchor in St. Lawrence ‘neath the walls of old Quebec.
To welcome their debarking all the city seemed alive,
And thronged the quays as thick as bees,
When swarming from their hive.
With waving hats and handkerchiefs, both men and women strive
To greet the gallant Rousillon becomingly while drive
The Governor and Intendant along in royal state
With halberdiers and musqueteers,
And those who on them wait.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡SPINA CHRISTI.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡PART II .

Atlantic gales come winged with clouds and voices of the sea,
The misty capes uncap to hear the ocean melody
In broad St. Lawrence rise and fall the everlasting tides,
Which come and go with ebb and flow 
While every ship that rides
At anchor swings, and east or west the passing flood divides,
Or westward ho! mid seamen’s shouts still onward gently glides,
Tasting the waters sweet from lakes, of boundless solitude
Where thousand isles break into smiles
Of nature’s gladdest mood.

Where trees and waters clap their hands as sang the Hebrew King,
God’s voices in them thundering, that to the spirit bring
Deep thoughts – far deeper than the thoughts that seem, and are not so
Of men most wise in their own eyes,
Who vainly toil to know
The meaning of this universe life’s panoply a No !
To pride of godless intellect a Yes ! to those that go
With lamp alit — the Word revealed — and see amid the gloom
And labyrinths the mighty plinths
Of temples, grandly loom.

A hundred leagues and many more towards the glowing west
Amid the forests’ silences, Ontario lay at rest 
Keel rarely ploughed or paddle dipped its wilderness of blue ;
Where day by day life passed away
In peace that irksome grew.
In old Niagara fort, a cross stood loftily in view,
And Regnat. Vincit. Imperat. Christus, the words did shew
Carved on it, when the Rousillon came up in early spring
To close the port and guard the fort,
And keep it for the King.

O ! fair in summer time it is, Niagara plain to see,
Half belted round with oaken woods and green as grass can be !
Its levels broad in sunshine lie, with flowerets gemmed and set,
With daisy stars, and red as Mars
The tiny sanguinet,
The trefoil with its drops of gold white clover heads, and yet,
The sweet grass commonest of all God’s goodnesses we get !
The dent de lion’s downy globes a puff will blow away,
Which children pluck to try good luck,
Or tell the time of day.

Count Bois le Grand sought out a spot of loveliness, was full
Of sandworts silvered leaf and stem with down of fairy wool,
Hard by the sheltering grove of oak he set the holy thorn ,
Where still it grows and ever shows
How sharp the crown of scorn
Christ wore for man , reminding him what pain for sin was borne,
And warning him he must repent before his sheaf is shorn ,
When comes the reaper, Death, and his last hour of life is scored,
Of all bereft, and only left
The mercy of the Lord.

The thorn was planted, leafed and bloomed as if its sap were blood
That stained its berries crimson which fell dropping where it stood,
And seeded others like it, as on Golgotha befell,
An awful sight, if seen aright,
The trees that root in hell !
Contorted, twisted, writhing, as with human pain to tell
Of cruel spines and agonies that God alone can quell.
A cluster like them Dante saw, and never after smiled,
A grove of doom, amid whose gloom
Were wicked souls exiled.

‘Abandon hope all you who enter here !’ in words of dread
Glared luridly above the door that opened to the dead ;
The dead in trespasses and sins the dead who chose the broad
And beaten way, that leads astray,
And not the narrow road
The rugged, solitary path, beset with thorns that goad
The weary spirit as it bears the world’s oppressive load
Up Calvaryto lay it down upon the rock, and wait
In hope and trust for God is just,
And pities our estate.

Niagara fort was bravely built with bulwarks strong and high,
A tower of stone and pallisades with ditches deep and dry,
And best of all behind them lay Guienne and Rousillon,
La Sarre and Bearn,
‘neath Pouchot stern-
A wall of men like stone De Villiers and Bois le Grand of old Avignon,
And over all the flag of France waved proudly in the sun.
Prepared for it — they met the war with gaiety and zest 
And every day barred up the way
That opened to the west.

Discord was rampant now and hate, and peace lay like a yoke
That galled the necks of both of them, and French and English broke,
With mutual wrath and rivalry, the treaty they had made ;
Too proud to live and each one give
Sunshine as well as shade.
From Louisburg to Illinois, they stood as foes arrayed,
And east and west war’s thunder rolled  the soldier’s polished blade
Flashed ’mid the savage tomahawks that struck and never spared,
While fort and field alternate yield
The bloody laurels shared.

The clouds of war rolled redder from the north, and English pride
Was stung to desperation at the turning of the tide,
When Montcalm the heroic, wise in council struck the blow
Won Chouaguen, and conquered then
At Carillon the foe.
But with his very victories his armies melted slow.
No help from France obtained he and his heart sank very low,
He knew that England’s courage flames the fiercest in defeat,
And in the day she stands at bay
Most dangerous to meet.

Help us, O France ! to save thy fair dominion in the west
Which for thy sake we planted and have carved thy royal crest ,
Of golden lilies on the rocks beside the streams that flow
From mountain rills and past the hills
Of far off Ohio.
Then down leagues by the hundred where bayous meander slow
Through orange groves and sugar canes, and flowers that ever blow,
In fair Louisiana.   We will take and hold the land
For Francia’s crown of old renown,
If she will by us stand. ‘

So spake Montcalm , and message sent  — ‘My armies melt away
With victories — my beaten foes grow stronger every day
In vain Monongahela and Carillon piled with slain ,
If France forget to pay the debt
Of honour without stain,
She owes her sons who willingly are bleeding every vein
For sake of her white flag and crown, on fortress and on plain .
If we can keep Niagara safe that guards the western door,
Then in the east Quebec may feast
In quiet, evermore.’

Vain were Montcalm’s appeals for aid, Voltaire’s cold spirit ruled
The Court while noisy doctrinaires a gallant nation schooled
In selfishness, and unbelief, and cowardice and ease,
Which manhood daunt, while women flaunt
Their idle hours to please.
Degenerately they drank the wine of life mixed with the lees,
The Spartan virtues that make nations free and famous – these
Were mocked derided , set at nought, while fatuous statesmen stand,
Whose feeble will potent for ill
Yields where it should command.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡SPINA CHRISTI.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡PART III.

Remote amid the trackless woods and waters of the West,
No enemy had broken yet Niagara’s quiet rest.
The fifth year of the war came in a change was nigh at hand ;
The order ran to raise the ban
And make a final stand.
Prideaux and Johnson honoured were with new and high command,
From Albany a hundred leagues to march across the land,
While Wolfe besieged Quebec, and its defences battered in ;
So they elate took bond of fate,
Niagara to win.

But not before June’s leafy days, when all the woods are green,
And skies are warm and waters clear, the English scouts were seen.
A lull before the tempest fell with weeks of steady calm,
Of golden hours when blooming flowers
Filled all the air with balm.
The garrison were now prepared to struggle for the palm
To win the wreath of victory or die without a qualm ;
So passed their time in jollity and ease, as if the day
Of bloody strife with life for life
Was continents away.

A fleet of swift canoes came up, all vocal with the song
Of voyageurs, whose cadences kept even time among
The dipping paddles, as they flashed along Ontario’s shore,
Past headlands high and coasts that lie
In mistiness — and bore
A bevy of fair wives who loved their husbands more and more,
Who could not bear their absence, and defiant of the roar
Of forests and of waters, came to comfort and caress,
As women may and only they
Man’s solitariness.

In those Capuan days they basked in pleasure’s sunny beams,
The Provence home of Bois le Grand was rarer in his dreams,
The Chatelaine of his chateau fast by the rapid Rhone,
A memory dim became to him —
Nor loved he her alone.
A dame of charms most radiant –the cynosure that shone
Amid the constellations of Quebec’s magnetic zone,
Drew him with force and held him fast, a captive with her eyes,
Which dark and bright as tropic night,
Loved him without disguise ;

And he remembered not the thorn he planted by the grove
Of Paradise, where he forgot in his forbidden love,
The Chatelaine of Bois le Grand, the purest wife and best.
Of womankind he left behind,
And ventured, like the rest,
To sport with woman’s loveliness as for a passing jest.
His heart was very lonely, too, while all beside were blest,
Like Samson in Delilah’s lap, his lock of strength was shorn.
He loved again despite the pain
And stinging of the thorn.

One day when he a-hunting went in the Norman Marsh and she,
The dame he loved, rode with him , as Diana fair to see,
In green and silver habited — and silken bandoleer,
With dainty gun — by it undone !
And bugle horn so clear.
While riding gaily up and down to turn the timid deer
And meet the joyance of his glance, when she should re-appear,
She vanished in the thicket, where a pretty stag had flown —
Saw something stir – alas ! for her !
She shot her lover down !

Bleeding he fell — ‘O, Madelaine !’ his cry turned her to stone,
‘What have you done unwittingly ?’ he uttered with a groan,
As she knelt over him with shrieks sky-rending, such as rise
From women’s lips on sinking ships,
With death before their eyes.
She beat her breast despairingly ; her hair dishevelled flies ;
She kissed him madly, and in vain to stanch the blood she tries,
‘Till falling by him in a swoon they both lay as the dead —
A piteous sight ! love’s saddest plight !
With garments dabbled red.

Their servants ran and hunters pale, and raised them from the ground,
Restored the dame to consciousness, and searched his fatal wound.
They pitched for him a spacious tent the river bank above
With boundless care for ease and air
And tenderness of love.
She waited on him night and day ; plucked off her silken glove
With self-accusing grief and tears — lamenting as a dove
Bewails her wounded mate — so she — and in her bosom wore
A spike of thorn which every morn
She gathered — nothing more.

She cast her jewels off and dressed in robe of blackest hue,
Her face was pale as look the dead, and paler ever grew .
Smiles lit no more her rosy lips where sunbeams used to dance ;
A withering blight that kills outright
Fell on her like a trance ;
For Bois le Grand was dying, and it pierced her like a lance
To hear him vainly calling on his Chatelaine in France ;
And not for her who knelt by him, and lived but in his breath —
Remorse and grief without relief
Were hastening her death .

Far, far away in Avignon, beneath the holy thorn,
The Chatelaine of Bois le Grand knelt down at eve and morn ;
And prayed for him in hope and trust long witless of his fate ;
But never knew he was untrue
And had repented late
As caught between two seas his bark was in a rocky strait,
And with his life went down the lives of those two women. Fate
Bedrugged the love, betrayed them both — and one by Laura’s shrine
Took her last rest — the other best,
Drank death with him like wine.

Niagara’s doom long threatened came — the roll of English drums
Was heard deep in the forest as Prideaux’s stout army comes.
They sap and trench from day to day, the cannon fiercer roar,
The hot attack when beaten back
Again comes to the fore.
The pallisades are red with fire, the ramparts red with gore,
Its brave defenders on the wall die thickly more and more,
‘ Mid rack and ruin overwhelmed — no help above — below,
The few remain — not of the slain —
Surrender to the foe.

But not before all hope had fled, when gathered far and wide
From prairie, forest, fort and field — with every tribe allied
To France, throughout the West they came, the fatal siege to raise,
And marched along, a mingled throng,
Amid the forest maze.
They halted in the meadows where they stood like stags at gaze,
The English and the Iroquois confronting them for days,
Till Brant and Butler, wary chiefs, with stratagem of war
Broke up their host, and captured most,
While fled the rest afar.

The last day came, and Bois le Grand beheld with misty eyes
The flag of France run down the staff, and that of England rise.
It was the sharpest thorn of all that ’neath his pillow lay  —
‘O, Madelaine !’ he cried ‘my men !
My Rousillon so gay !
Fill graves of honour, while I live to see this fatal day !
But not another ! No !’ he cried , and turned as cold as clay.
She kissed his mouth, the last long kiss the dying get alone —
‘ O, Spina !’ cried — fell by his side
And both lay dead as stone.

In the L’Envoi section of The Queen’s Birthday that follows Spina Christi, the narrator, Uncle Clifford, is asked for a sequel to this story by his niece, May. The relevant excerpt reads:

He glanced at her with understanding eyes
That read her thoughts ; but nothing said. He saw
A gentle turbulence of maiden dreams
And fancies in a heart no fowler yet
Had taken, like a bird of woodnotes free
And taught to sing one strain of love for him.
‘I know no sequel to it — lovely May !
But in my youth have heard, there was a grave
Made wide enough for two, beneath the thorn,
The oldest and the inmost of the group
With memories of evil sore accurst,
That stand so weirdly there, outlawed, apart
From other trees in ragged age forlorn.
It long was visible ; and even now,
An eye that searches may find out the spot,
With crimson sanguinets like drops of blood
Much dotted on the grass that greener grows —
Kind nature’s covering for all of us,
When our life’s work is done, and we lie down
And sleep our last on Earth, to wake in Heaven,
At sunrise of our new creation’s morn !’

Source:  William Kirby.  Canadian Idylls.  2nd ed.  Welland, Ont.: [s.l.], 1894

Spina Christi is part of a longer poem, The Queen’s Birthday.

About William Kirby

Untitled by Claud H. Hultzén, Sr.

One of the Old Lombardy Poplar Trees and the “Castle” at Old Fort Niagara

All of this historical fact from which we form our individual opinions and prejudices, is only the reflection of the lives and characters of those whose acts brought about the series of circumstances with which we have had to deal. Men of France, men of England, and men of America, each in turn, have served well under their respective flags at Old Fort Niagara. Each in his turn has contributed in one way or another to the happy state of affairs which we know today.

Perhaps the writer can best express his thoughts in this connection by the relation of a few lines of verse which came to him as he stopped beneath the old Lombardy poplar trees which have stood in the Old Fort for two hundred years:

To stand beneath these silent Lombardies,
The sentries of the passing centuries;
To gaze far out, across the azure deep
In quiet communion with them as they keep
Their endless vigil o’er this sacred soil;
To live with them again the tragedies,
The hopes, the fears, the gallant victories
That marked the tireless pace of those who sleep,
Who lived and fought and died — that we might reap
The harvest of their vision and their toil.

Source: Claud H. Hultzén, Sr.  Old Fort Niagara: The Story of an Ancient Gateway to the West.  Youngstown, NY: Old Fort Niagara Association, 1939.

N.B. An earlier version of this poem with an added first line: “I love” was presented in a paper to the 1936 annual meeting of the Old Fort Niagara Association. The paper, including the poem, was reproduced under the title Restoration of Old Fort Niagara in the journal New York History, vol. 18, no. 4 (October 1937)

Claud H. Hultzén was the executive vice-president of the Old Fort Niagara Association.

Canada Seventy Years Ago, or, Prince Edward’s Visit to Niagara by J. P. Merritt

Jedediah Prendergast Merritt wrote a long poem on Prince Edward’s visit to Canada in 1860, bound with a number of other poems that he wrote. This page contains the introduction to the poem, and the parts relevant to the Niagara area. The complete book can be viewed here on the Hathi Trust website


Through glare and dust at evening’s hour
Say, you have reached the gorge of power.
The headlong haste they did pursue
Arrested, you a picture view.

Edward, Prince of Wales, at Niagara Falls, 1860. (Edward is in white pants with one leg resting on rock) Photo by Platt D. Babbitt. Image courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library.

A picture to which the opposing rays,
Of Sol on moving water lays
Noiseless and clear, without a glare —
Unawed, as when too close you are.

Be not in haste to approach the wonder,
But like the lightning without thunder,
Arrest your course, view it awhile,
And with my lay your time beguile.

Ye denizens of cities, list, I pray
To this rough measure of a sylvan lay
Though one from foreign lands in this I bring,
‘Tis not of courts, a people rude I sing.

Forget not ye who now in palace car,
Ride swiftly, smoothly to the scene from far.
How hard it was the way for them to tread,
Who o’er this forest darkened road first sped,

Think not this epic for the scene too high,
Niagara can with all the Grecian valleys vie ;
In this the thought directed to as far between
As is this spot from the farthest you have been.

When up the gorge a mile or two you ride,
And reach this wonder on the Canada side,
And while from coach to elevator step,
Prepared to see the myriads of water leap.

Look back and see yon gossamer span,
Work, great as earth displays of man ;
A train disturbs the cataract’s roar,
Soon it rolls on — that sight is o’er.

It’s past; and grandeur as of yore
Reigns, ruler of the scene once more.
Improvements cease to intervene.
When cataract alone is seen.

Regard again a Fall whose power,
Existed ages as this hour,
And will to future ages last,
As strong as now, and as the past.

What spot imposing more to stand,
And drink the water from your hand,
While Iris tips the rough rocks now,
And leaves are waving round your brow.

No vigorous shoot obstructs the way,
No wood’s inhabitant strikes with dismay,
Cleared all those terrors from the road
O’er which in their reverse our fathers trod.

Part II

Visit to Niagara

With gracious thanks the Prince replied,
And tokens worthy, more supplied.
The eastern wind had changed to north,
Tossed were the billows in their wrath.

He who had steered upon the ocean
His ship, now felt the wild commotion
While buffetting opposing wind,
The light of day had ne’er declined.

When winding round a point once more,
They see an opening in the shore,
Briefly conflicting waves oppose,
And then the barque find calm repose.

A greeting on the land they find,
To which they were not disinclined ;
The hospitality of their host they test,
Nor are due honors spared their guest.

A friendly table broad is laid,
And dainties from afar displayed,
The forest did its game afford,
Rich venison crowned the ample board.

The friendly greeting hand first shook.
The feast the royal toast partook,
The night with dance and cards dispose,
And daylight dawned before repose.

The morn had brought them from the fort,
Where stored within its ample halls,
Spoils of the traders who there resort
For safety to its staunch stone wallst.

Where naval men before resort,
In council grave the Governor sat,
Nor had the council raised yet,
Debating on the new Land Grant.

Nor they alone, the Indian band,
To meet their eastern friends resort,
Together with one heart and hand,
The title to their land support.

The Governor sat to say a word,
Respectful stood they all,
Completely still was every sound
In that debating hall.

You left your home and country,
The land where you were born,
The happy land of childhood,
Of manhood’s early dawn.

The rock-clothed, grassy hills,
The waving corn-grown plain,
Where naught reached you of the ills
Which now to you remain.

And well you summed the cost,
You would not bear the ready taunt
Nor brook, when all was lost,
To have the scornful finger cast.

Tory is he from old and young,
Expressed with laugh and jeer ;
The thought that through your strong frames run
Was not the thought of fear.

Then to the wilds and to the stream
Your precious charge you trust,
And look unto the western realms
For the reward that’s due the just.

Towards them and their dark isles then
You cast your troubled, anxious ken,
And feeling that to keep you up
You need all — be vigorous men.

Butler Johnson, with you I leave
Claus, Tenbroeck ancl Paulding too,
I trust in friendship you’ll remain,
And each to all prove true.

Wait yet I fear my trusty friends
When all finished in our cause,
The differences of settlers
Oft will cause to break the laws.

Give ye my friends the Sheriff aid,
Regard ye his command,
The laws when made must be obeyed,
Then lend a helping hand.

Nor fear in want to suffer here,
For barges still will ply
Up every creek, up every pond,
Your wants they shall supply.

I now toward our new bourne tend.
Beverly, Fay, Jones with me,
Brant now, once Johnson’s friend,
Our firm and staunch ally.

A shout arose from the brave band,
A shout that rent the skies,
And towards the chief who rose,
Alike were turned all eyes.

Simcoe’s Rangers.

A gregarious crowd around the door
With various surmises the scene rehearse,
They filled the ample court before,
And of the coming grants discourse.

Fiercer now the contest wore,
For Simcoe’s about to take his way
Westward, to lay out acres more,
And make the acres broad his followers pay.

A noise is heard, a settler calls,
A hurrying here and there they come,
Adown the stairs and through the hall,
Still’d was the sound and hushed the hum.

Nor pageant’s wont to grace the scene,
Nor men with lace, scarlet and blue,
Staffmen and voyageurs I ween,
All wait, the great man’s will to do.

But first in visage doth appear,
A veteran band in martial mien,
Their steeds are poor, tarnished their gear ;
But rare a goodlier band is seen.

He passed on until the serried band
Before the house had met his eye,
Saluting with uplifted hand,
With eye elate, which all did spy.

He turned and spoke one other word,
Respectful stood they all,
And as he spoke there could be heard
The noiseless pin drop fall.

Companions of my arms, he said,
I know the hardships that ye bear,
I know the heart that keeps you up,
I know the men ye are.

But now towards the west I go,
For you my friends new land to bear,
And for my faithful followers, so
New and happy homes prepare.

First to the Mohawk station
With blankets a good store,
Nor ever yet has Britain’s band
Forgot the Sagamore.

The pressing crowd the chief surrounds,
Sympathetic glances cast.
And make the neighboring banks resound
With shouts, that echoing last.

He mounts and westward takes his way
The loud huzza from the veteran band
Arose, and all him heard do pray
Success attend bold Simcoe’s hand.

For a brave man was “Simcoe,”
And a brave band were they,
Strive they till the strife is o’er,
And then the work repay.

They felt the toils of war require
From one that doth command
Returns, and well did Simcoe pay
The true devotion of his band.

For soldiers fight and soldiers die.
Till they decide the day,
And then the sword into a plough,
The spear a hook make they.


Voyage Up the River

Niagara, may I, as I onward go,
My verse like thee in smoother numbers flow,
Catch the refrection of thy azure wave,
Some truth recall, and from oblivion save.

Observation from the realm of mind,
Suggested and in this task designed,
Increase the interest, and attention gain,
As voyaging onward we reach the boundless main.

Into a strong raiment brought,
And like a garment of fine tissue wrought,
Or built on nature’s ground, consistence gain,
And of a nation’s birth a monument remain.

A people’s chronicles, compared how small,
Like the first streamlet of thy mighty fall,
Convince the mind and stir the sympathies,
Catch thy reflection from the azure skies.

The impression stamped as vivid, but as true
As thy far font, beyond the Huron blue,
Nor at the present we alone remain,
liut like thee travel till we reach the main.


At length a barge the party reached,
To mount the stream each nerve was stretched,
And when the centre flood was gained,
Slow progress upward they attained ;

Why was’t? The same spot on the shore
Added regret to them the more ;
And when impatience forced to wait,
Reproached the current with their fate.

The barge propelled by laboring oar
Glides by itself along the shore,
The change at once awakes surprise,
The question and reply arise.

The guide at hand to his desires,
The knowledge gives that he requires ;
The current passing downward ever
By opposing points is turned up river.

Where doth this chasm vast disclose?
Where issuing out, the water flows,
A whirlpool sweeps with noiseless might,
That stoutest hearts it might affright.

For tree or barque within its eddy
Sails round and round in circles steady,
And once in this, the shore again.
Your bark nor you shall e’er attain.

Fort Niagara 100 Years Ago

The sun was rising, and the hour
When thought exerts its magic power,
His rays cast on Niagara’s banks
Revealed its trees in neighboring ranks.

The cloud of distant cataract gave
Back to the sight a scene less grave.
Edward, who yet had much to learn
Of wild woods, stands upon the stern,

Ardent and bold the ocean’s child
He’d trust the deep, and shun the wild ;
His friend and guide those thoughts opined,
Then to remove his skill designed.

See you where trees less dense in ranks,
Betoken clearings on the banks.
To one like this we turn our prow,
Patiently wait, we go not now.

Wait till I tell you how we fought,
And gave the French their final rout,
Niagara round — leagured we stand,
Decided at the Chief’s command.

Now as July passed quickly by,
And “Sol” darts arrows from the sky ;
And when men look in vain for aid
The dubious trial of the sword assayed.

How lined in ranks promptly they try
The issue ; then the Frenchmen fly
Back to their fort, and there
Await the verdict of protracted war.

And then the sun the scene illumed,
And then our force the siege resumed ;
At length the aid long looked for comes ;
No greeting shout, no beating drums ;

But stealthily their guile pursue,
The fort to gain, and shun our view.
The sentinel of outpost stands,
With gun reclining in his hands ;

A crack is heard from neighboring wood,
His ear it catches, that bodes no good,
It is the deer — listless he droops.
Nor heeds the approach of hostile troops.

A pause ensues, and there is heard no more,
Naught but the sound of cataract’s roar,
His thoughts are wandering forth afar,
To Mohawk’s banks, where naught’s of war ;
The solemn music to his ear
Seems like the tread was used to hear.

Ere war was earnest, and idle boys
To train were wont, with boisterous noise ;
And all the neighborhood resort,
To enjoy a day of country sport.

The clouds break off, the wind once more
Drives inward to the neighboring shore,
They seem to drive those trees along,
Like them a dense and serried throng
A cannon from the fort awakes his trance.
Before him sees the marshal’d hosts of France.
He from the bark to shore doth land.
And following goes the portage band,
The Falls not yet had met his eyes,
The voyage pursuing, Edward hies.

Fire-Water and Falling Water

Forward the word, portage half passed,
And men and oxen painfully tasked ;
When nearing now the cataract meet
A denizen of the woods complete.
Accosted fair, the wild man stood,
And half laid off his savage mood.
When we, the red men, held command,
Silence prevailed o’er all the land,
Nor scared the wild bird from the wave,
Nor ceased the deer his sides to lave,
The white man trod along the way,
And then was drove our game away ;
Their constant passing by the flood ;
Deprived us of our ample food;
The buffalo binds he to his load,
And trails trees on where once men trod.

You see those bleached bones through the wood !
The remnants of the buzzard’s food ;
We met them once on their careless way,
And then our wrongs did amply pay,
The sight was that the blood to freeze,
And yet the savage seemed to please,
As spake his form, delate with pride,
The voyageur’s load he casual spied ;
Kegs with their stores, along the track
Were borne in wagons, and on back.

Was changed the native of the soil,
As gazing on the voyager’s toil.
“Fire-water” up the billows came,
Have scarcely left us now a name ?
If with you came this pest not here
We would not now so disappear ;
Our greatest foe made us forlorn,
A nation by its breath is gone.
Finished his speech, his gun he takes
And through the woods quick steps he makes ;
And like his race whose end so near,
Through the dark woods to disappear.


As forward of his convoy goes,
The presence of a fall he knows.
Needless to say surprise, not wonder,
A mountain seemed as torn asunder,
Like a vision before him passed,
The scene upon his eye so vast.

Resounding flood, surrounding wood,
Astonished as at distance stood —
When first to traveller’s anxious eyes
Appeared this fall — vast thoughts arise.

Forgive if to his ‘stonished ken
More grand appeared the cataract then ;
Forgive if as too careless pass’d
The first explorer’s views were vast.


The convoy came, the camp they make,
And of a generous supper take ;
Then each one’s course he does pursue,
And separate round the Falls they view.

A ladder of a pine tree made,
To reach the foot affords its aid,
They ne’er before the like did see,
Till then, such grandeur, all agree.

Back to Niagara and Wild Flowers

Late in the day the company find
The clearing past in woods that it confin’d.
As now the escort to the wood
Parting, upon the clearing stood,
Struck at all sights when all are rare,
And idly sauntering here and there.

And backwards turned along the road,
No more in clearing friends are heard,
It contained a cottage hid with green ;
Tho’ humble, admired was the scene,
The cottage all that summer day
Detained the company. And away
Scarce could the pleasant party break,
And onward still their journey take.

Long at the landing lay the barge,
Long there his crew true to their charge ;
And still it seemed as if a spell
Had bound him  — and to say farewell,
Why still so hard, he could not tell.


You ask a bouquet to bestow
Of flowers that in our wilds do grow,
When summer cheers the glorious scene
With blossoms interspersed with green.

Accept this simple nosegay here,
From one not distant would appear,
No perfumed flowers give I to you,
Our flowers are scentless but yet true ;
They smell but slight, but yet they show
As deep a dye as those you grow.
Despise not the productions of the wild.
The cultivated man was once a child.
If this, my floral gift, should please,
A liberty allow to add with these ;
As they may meet due favor in your eyes,
A sentiment conveyed may also prize.
So self-denying acts may move,
And approbation follow fruits of love.
Grant me the wish, as summer crowns the year
Changes flower to fruit the sight to cheer,
As the revolving season onward flows,
A winter garnished with richest fruit that grows.

The day was breaking, and the time
When nature shows in all her prime,
And Edward now the journey o’er,
Wished through wilds he’d wander more.
Musing thus he inward spake,
Shall commercial toils this silence break ?
Thought oft how men would down the spell,
And business on the affections tell.

Then from the camp ere “Sol” arose
To break the scene of deep repose ;
There appeared a tenant of the wild
Along the bank, free nature’s child,
From the high steep she quickly sped
And reached the fort with agile tread.

Surprised and pleased he views once more
The siren of the day before
As quick she pass’d, who art thou, maid ?
Sir William’s daughter, sir, she said.
Retarded, brief her onward speed,
And to his short discourse gave heed.
Where go ye now ? where do ye hie ?
To Brant’s quarters was the reply ;
Where they prepare the warlike feat,
And give our father’s son a treat.
From thence go to the “Miami,”
From thence to the Auglaize ;
Where lit up is the council fires
Our Indian bands to raise.

A sigh escaped — he said no more,
This very day I leave your shore,
Never to see this land again,
I take my passage o’er the main.
My Progeny may view this land,
I ne’er again shall press your strand.
One look she gave, the “traveller” learned
The interest he had early earned.
He lingers — saddened at the thought,
And loth to break the feelings wrought.

Not long he mused until the sound
Arose from sleeping tents around
Of a hasty meal despatch is made,
And to return the troops arrayed.

Departure by Lake and River

The farewell taken, the parting o’er,
Adieus returned from boat to shore :
As they upon the billows bound,
Strains like this from shore resound.

Frail bark, my heart beats in pity for thee,
Unknowing the fate thou mayest see.
With bustle and shouting, with running and noise,
Your attention engages and your time employs ;
But when all is finished, the white sail ye raise,
And you cast on the land the last parting gaze,
You think of the dangers to your far distant home,
Talk of its comforts when no more you will roam,
The gulf lies between you with its dreary alarms,
The perils of ice and its dark winter storms,
But trust ye in Providence, He will procure
A landing of safety, a haven secure,
The pathway of honor still may you pursue,
More enduring than power will it prove to you ;
An obelisk firmer than brass will be found,
A name than emblazoned more ample resound.

Source: J. P. Merritt.  Canada Seventy Years Ago, or, Prince Edward’s Visit to Niagara. 3rd. ed. St. Catharines, 1860.

While at Niagara Prince Edward visited Laura Secord and rewarded her for her service in the War of 1812.  Read Visit of the Prince of Wales to Laura Secord  by Sarah Anne Curzon.

Read about Prince Edward’s tour in this article by Hugh Brewster.  The Prince of Hearts: Remembering Canada’s First Royal Tour 160 Years Later

Read about J. P. Merritt

Rest! by William H. C. Hosmer

Cemetery at Fort Niagara, in the midst of a gravestone cleaning project. Image courtesy of New York State Parks

A  few rods from the barrier-gate of Fort Niagara was the burying-ground. It was filled with memorials
of the mutability and brevity of human life, and over the portals of entrance was painted, in large and emphatic characters, the word ‘Rest’ — Judge De Veaux.

Earth, upon her ample face,
Boasts no sweeter burial-place
Than a small enclosure green,
Near an ancient fortress seen ;
Mossy head-stones here and there
Names of fallen warriors bear,
But no eulogistic phrase,
Cut on rock, that meets the gaze,
Can our reverence command,
Like that brief inscription grand,
On the portal arch impressed —

River wide, and mighty lake
For the dead an anthem wake,
And with old, forgotten graves
Well comports the wash of waves,
Motto of the hallowed ground
Murmuring with solemn sound ;
Birds that by like spirits pass,
Winds that murmur in the grass,
Seem repeating evermore
That one word the gateway o’er,
Word that haunts a troubled breast—

Pilgrim, for a moment wait
Near the narrow entrance gate,
And one word peruse — no more —
Boldly traced the portals o’er ;
Mortal heart was never stirred
By a more emphatic word ;
One with deeper meaning fraught,
Or the power to quicken thought ;
Sermon, hymn, and funeral lay,
Eloquence the soul to sway,
In four letters are compressed —

Source:  Hosmer, William H.C.  The Poetical Works of William H.C. Hosmer. New York: Redfield, 1854

See casual references to Niagara in other poems by Hosmer

Read about William Howe Cuyler Hosmer

Old Fort Niagara website