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 Le Sievr de la Franchise. Tr. by Jonathan Kaplansky

Portrait of Jonathan Kaplansky, translator of this poem

Muses, if praises you sing, I recommend that you
Extol Champlain for his courage:
Not fearing danger, he has seen so many places
His reports are pleasing to our ears.
He has seen Peru, Mexico and the wonder
Of the infernal Vulcan that spews so much fire;
And the falls of Mocosa, that offend the eye
Of those who dare to see their unequalled cascade.
He promises us to venture further still,
Convert the heathens and find the Levant.
Heading North or South to go to China.
Charitably ‘tis all for the love of God.
Bah! Cowards who never move from one place to another!
Their lives, honestly, strike me as narrow.

Translated January 2021 by Jonathan Kaplansky

Click here to see the poem in its original French language form.

Source of original poem: Dow, Charles Mason. Anthology and Bibliography of Niagara Falls ,  Albany: State of New York, 1921

Originally published: Champlain, Samuel de.  Des sauvages ou Voyage de Samuel Champlain De Brouage, fait en la France Nouvelle l’an mil six cens trois, 1604

From Dow: “It is an interesting fact that the first book printed in Europe which contains a reference to Niagara Falls, should also contain this sonnet in which allusion is made to the Falls. The sonnet follows the dedication. The old spelling of the original is followed in the quotation. Research has not revealed any information regarding the author.”  vol, 2, p693

From the 1899 book Old Trails on the Niagara Frontier by Frank Hayward Severance (p. 276-277): “The poetry of Niagara Falls is contemporary with the first knowledge of the cataract among civilized men. One may make this statement with positiveness, inasmuch as the first book printed in Europe which mentions Niagara Falls contains a poem in which allusion is made to that wonder … It seems proper, in quoting this first of all Niagara poems, to follow as closely as may be in modern type the archaic spelling of the original … I regret that some further research has failed to discover any further information regarding the poet De La Franchise. Obviously, he took rather more than the permissible measure of poet’s licence in saying that Champlain had seen Peru, a country far beyond the known range of Champlain’s travels. But in the phrase “les saults Mocosans,” the falls of Mocosa, we have the ancient name of the undefined territory afterwards labeled “Virginia.” The intent of the allusion is made plainer by Marc Lescarbot, who in 1610 wrote a poem in which he speaks of “great falls which the Indians say they encounter in ascending the St. Lawrence as far as the neighbourhood of Virginia.” The allusion can only be to Niagara.”

Jonathan Kaplansky works as a literary translator of French in Montreal. He won a
French Voices Award to translate Annie Ernaux’s Things Seen (La vie extérieure), and
recently translated a book by Jean-Pierre Le Glaunec: The Cry of Vertières: Liberation,
Memory, and the Beginning of Haiti.

The Fugitive Slave’s Apostrophe to Niagara by E.D.H.

Freedom Crossing Monument in Lewiston, NY. , looking toward Canada. Sculpture by Susan Geissler

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Hail to thy roaring flood,
Eternal torrent ! dark Niagara , hail !
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡How bounds my boiling blood,
As thy loud voice comes thundering on the gale,
And the tumultuous waves thy dark-brown rocks assail.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Fierce is thy thunder-shock,
As the wild waters in their madness leap
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡From the eternal rock,
Plunging and raging, with impetuous sweep,
Till on the lake’s calm breast thy boiling billows sleep.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡So terrible and strong,
Whirl maddening passions in the bondman’s breast,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Trampled and scarred by Wrong,
Ere the tired spirit finds its hallowed rest,
In Freedom’s stormless home, and glorious sunlight blessed.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Roll and roar on, wild river !
Man’s fetters cannot bind thy billows free—,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Chainless and strong forever ;
As thou hast been, thy leaping flood shall be,
Guarding, with watery wall, the land of liberty.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Glory to God on high !
Free as thy tide are my unshackled limbs ;
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And here, unawed, will I
Join the wild chorus thy mad torrent hymns,
Stirring the pictured mist that o’er thy bosom swims.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Far from the southern plains,
I’ve traced my pathway, through the sunless wild,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Spurning the hated chains
That on my heel clanked heavy, from a child,
Binding to earth the soul, degraded and defiled.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡On, by the beacon led,
That burns, unerring, in the northern sky,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡O’er the lone fields I fled,
To where thy thunder lifts its voice on high,
And to the bondman tells the land of freedom nigh.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Here, by thy foaming surge,
Back on the hated land where I was born, —
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Land of the chain and scourge, —
I pour the fires of unrelenting scorn,
And hatred that shall burn, till life’s last ray is gone.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡“Home of the true and brave,”
Where BASTARD FREEDOM broods her mongrel horde,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And on the imbruted slave
Plants the red heel, and with the life-blood poured,
Stains the fell altars, where her horrid name’s adored.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡It gave me but the chain,
The scourge, and task, and bondman’s life of woe,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And ruthless torn in twain
The holiest ties that bind us here below, —
Hearts that inwoven beat with one united flow.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Nor thus to me alone, —
But fettered millions lift their arms on high,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And shriek, and wail, and groan,
To Heaven ascending, in one fearful cry,
Bid the red bolts of wrath in hissing vengeance fly.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And yet our God shall turn,
And on this land his fiery volleys pour,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Till his fierce wrath shall burn
From far Astoria, to her eastern shore,
And from her Sable cape, to where thy waters roar.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Joy to the bondmen then,
When his right arm is laid for Justice bare,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And loud from every glen
And mountain, lit by one funereal glare,
Ascends the tyrant’s wail upon the troubled air.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Then shall thy torrent be
Their strong munition, and its bounding flood
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡A guard, to them that flee
From the Avenger of the Negro’s blood ;
Where blackness shrouds the land, where erst her glory stood.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Over thy rugged brow
Changeless and bright, the bow of promise bends,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Making the dark mist glow,
As Hope the clouds of Sorrow, when she lends
To Earth the joyous light which from her glance descends.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Eternal Priestess, thine
Is the pure baptism of the chainless free ;
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Cool on this brow of mine
Thy holy drops descend, as broad to me
Unroll the temple-gates of meek-eyed Liberty !

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Let the fell tyrant rage ;
Into thy arms my sinewy form I fling,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And though his keel may wage
Mad warfare with thy billows, buffeting
The roaring floods with might, thou’lt guard me from his sting.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡He may not cross thy tide,
With the strong fetters of a tyrant’s power ;
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Thy waves in foaming pride
The shrieking wretch in madness would devour,
And clap their hands, and shout the bondman’s triumph hour.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡O that the Negro’s God
Would give to dust this mortal part once more,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡That o’er thy awful flood,
Swathed in the cloud-wreath dim, my soul might soar,
Exulting in the sound of thy eternal roar.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Loud with thy thunder tone
My voice shall blend, and when this land shall rock
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡With its last earthquake groan,
My shout the tyrant’s dying shriek should mock,
And chant the victor -hymn to Ruin’s rending shock.

November 1, 1841

Source: Buckingham, Joseph Tinker. Personal Memoirs and Recollections of Editorial Life. Boston: Ticknor, 1852.

Read more about the Freedom Crossing Monument

Read about the Underground Railroad which helped fugitive slaves to freedom in Canada


The Battle of Queenston Heights by Lieut.-Col. J. R. Wilkinson

Fought October 13th, 1812

Brock’s Monument on Queenston Heights and cenotaph erected on spot where he fell in battle, Canada. A Keystone View Stereotype, 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

They crossed in the gray of the morning,
‡‡Stole o’er from the other shore,
To invade the land of the Maple Leaf,
‡‡Two thousand proud foes, or more:
A detachment of the old Forty-Ninth,
‡‡And Dennis’s brave volunteers,
Opposed their landing determinedly,
‡‡Opening on them with cheers.

The roar of the guns from the battery
‡‡Rolled down Niagara’s gorge,
Awakening Brock and his fearless men
‡‡From their rest at old Fort George.
And in a hot haste Brock and his aides-de-camp
‡‡Rode fast through the pale, cold light,
Bidding Sheaffe and his men to follow on
‡‡To aid in the coming fight.

Meanwhile the Americans won the heights,
‡‡And the guns half way below;
Their loss was a serious menace, too,
‡‡In the hands of the haughty foe.
Swift as the fleet wind Brock gained the vale
‡‡And lifted his flashing eye,
Measuring the foe on the cold, gray steeps,
‡‡And the battery nearer by.

“The guns must be won!” Brock quickly cried,
‡‡And came an answering cheer
From the intrepid, ready Forty-Ninth —
‡‡Brave souls devoid of all fear!
“Forward! charge home to the battery’s side!”
‡‡And dauntless he led the way,
Driving the foe from the smoking guns
‡‡By the cold steel’s deadly play.

Heroically leading, he drew their fire,
‡‡And fearlessly fighting fell,
Pierced through the breast by a mortal shot,
‡‡The leader all loved so well.
“Don’t mind me,” he thoughtfully cried;
‡‡“Push on, brave York volunteers!”
Sent a message to his sister over the sea,
‡‡His eyes suffused with tears.

Thus perished war’s genius gloriously,
‡‡A great leader, young in years;
So loved and mourned for, brave, pure soul,
‡‡Thy name we bedew with tears.
Gallantly Sheaffe by St. David’s moves up,
‡‡Turning their flank by the way,
Gaining the heights by an impetuous rush,
‡‡Not a moment held at bay.

Consuming volleys they hurl on the foe,
‡‡Then charge with their deadly steel,
And hundreds are slain in the mad mêlée —
‡‡See, the foe in panic reel!
The British line sweeps resistlessly down;
‡‡The proud foe must surely yield.
Ha! they break — they break into headlong flight
‡‡In defeat from that blood-red field!

Over the heights in mad flight now leaping,
‡‡Some were impaled on the trees,
Where mockingly their garments fluttered
‡‡For years in the storm and breeze.
Some plunged in the cold, rushing river
‡‡To gain safely the other shore,
But were lost in the swirl of its waters,
‡‡And were heard of nevermore.

Nine hundred men surrendered to Sheaffe,
‡‡A force greater than his own.
Ah! ’twas a gallant day, and nobly won;
‡‡Signally the enemy were overthrown.
And standing there on the glorious Heights,
‡‡They cheered for country and King;
They unfurled the “flag of a thousand years”;
‡‡Their shouts o’er the scene did ring.

‘Twas a far-famed day for our lovèd land,
‡‡Ring it over the world so wide;
Like veterans Canadians fought that day,
‡‡With the regulars side by side.
Dearly the victory was won for us
‡‡In the death of beloved Brock.
Immortal hero! thy irreparable loss
‡‡Was to all a grievous shock.

They muffled their drums and reversed their arms,
‡‡And marshalled around his bier,
And solemnly bowed their war-worn heads,
‡‡And silently dropped a tear.
E’en the painted savages loved him well,
‡‡And o’er each stoical face
Stole a shadow of pain and tenderness,
‡‡Hallowing that sacred place.

A grateful country has planted there
‡‡A monument tow’ring high,
His memory e’er to perpetuate,
‡‡Pointing ever to the sky.
The hero and his aide, parted not by death,
‡‡Secure their relics rest there,
In the lovely land of the Maple Leaf
‡‡Ever so loyal and fair.

Aye, a grateful country placed it there —
‡‡On earth there’s no grander scene —
And we sing with a grateful, fervant heart
‡‡To our Country and our Queen.
Revere, then, the dead, and honor them still,
‡‡They died our freedom to save;
God bless the flag of a thousand years,
‡‡May it long o’er us proudly wave!

Source: Lieut.-Col. J. R. Wilkinson. Canadian Battlefields and Other Poems. 2nd ed. Toronto, William Briggs, 1901

Click here for more information on the Battle of Queenston Heights

The Burning of the Caroline by Susanna Moodie


Burning steamer Caroline going over the Falls of Niagara. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada

A sound is on the midnight deep—
‡‡The voice of waters vast;
And onward, with resistless sweep,
‡‡The torrent rushes past—
In frantic chase, wave after wave,
The crowding surges press, and rave
‡‡Their mingled might to cast
Adown Niagara‘s giant steep;
The fretted billows foaming leap
‡‡With wild tumultuous roar;
The clashing din ascends on high,
In deaf’ning thunders to the sky,
‡‡And shakes the rocky shore.

Hark! what strange sounds arise—
‡‡‘Tis not stern Nature’s voice—
In mingled chorus to the skies!
‡‡The waters in their depth rejoice.
Hark! on the midnight air
‡‡A frantic cry uprose;
The yell of fierce despair,
‡‡The shout of mortal foes;
And mark yon sudden glare,
‡‡Whose red, portentous gleam
‡‡Flashes on rock and stream
With strange, unearthly light;
‡‡What passing meteor’s beam
Lays bare the brow of night?

From yonder murky shore
‡‡What demon vessel glides,
‡‡Stemming the unstemm’d tides,
Where maddening breakers roar
‡‡In hostile surges round her path,
Or hiss, recoiling from her prow,
‡‡That reeling, staggers to their wrath;
While distant shores return the glow
‡‡That brightens from her burning frame,
And all above—around—below—
‡‡Is wrapt in ruddy flame?

Sail on!—sail on!—No mortal hand
‡‡Directs that vessel’s blazing course;
The vengeance of an injured land
‡‡Impels her with resistless force
‘Midst breaking wave and fiery gleam,
‡‡O’er-canopied with clouds of smoke;
Midway she stems the raging stream,
‡‡And feels the rapids’ thundering stroke;
Now buried deep, now whirl’d on high,
‡‡She struggles with her awful doom,—
With frantic speed now hurries by
‡‡To find a watery tomb.

Lo, poised upon the topmost surge,
‡‡She shudders o’er the dark abyss;
The foaming waters round her hiss
‡‡And hoarse waves ring her funeral dirge;
The chafing billows round her close;
‡‡But ere her burning planks are riven,
Shoots up one ruddy spout of fire,—
‡‡Her last farewell to earth and heaven.
Down, down to endless night she goes!
‡‡So may the traitor’s hope expire,
So perish all our country’s foes!

Destruction’s blazing star
‡‡Has vanish’d from our sight;
The thunderbolt of war
‡‡Is quench’d in endless night;
Nor sight, nor sound of fear
Startles the listening ear;
‡‡Naught but the torrent’s roar,
The dull, deep, heavy sound,
From out the dark profound,
‡‡Echoes from shore to shore.
Where late the cry of blood
‡‡Rang on the midnight air,
The mournful lapsing of the flood,
The wild winds in the lonely wood,
‡‡Claim sole dominion there.

To thee, high-hearted Drew!
‡‡And thy victorious band
Of heroes tried and true
A nation’s thanks are due.
‡‡Defender of an injured land!
Well hast thou taught the dastard foe
‡‡That British honour never yields
To democratic influence, low,
‡‡The glory of a thousand fields.

Justice to traitors, long delay’d,
‡‡This night was boldly dealt by thee;
The debt of vengeance thou hast paid,
‡‡And may the deed immortal be.
Thy outraged country shall bestow
‡‡A lasting monument of fame,
The highest meed of praise below—
‡‡A British patriot’s deathless name!

Source: Susanna Moodie. Roughing it in the Bush; or, Life in Canada. vol. II. London: Richard Bentley, 1852.

The burning Steamer Caroline went over the Horseshoe Falls on the night of December 29, 1837. Read about the burning of the Caroline at the Niagara Falls Museums website