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

The History of Niagara Falls Through Poetry by Alison Langley

Niagara Falls Public Library’s Victoria Avenue branch. – Torstar file photo

When Andrew Porteus came across a poem about Niagara Falls in an old book on engineering, he was intrigued.

As manager of adult reference and information services at Niagara Falls Public Library, he knew it was unlikely anyone else would read the poem.

“I realized it wouldn’t be seen again, except by accident, so I put it in a vertical file at the library,” he recalled.

“I started finding more in odd places, and collected them.”

Now, more than 20 years later, the retired librarian has amassed more than 300 poems relating to Niagara Falls.

“… and I have tons more to put up.”

Porteus created a website — niagarapoetry.ca — to share his poetry project with others.

The collection includes “Niagara” by Jose Maria Heredia.

“He’s one of the best known Latin American poets and this poem helped solidify his reputation,” Porteus said.

There’s a plaque dedicated to Heredia at the Table Rock Welcome Centre.

On Friday, January 3 he’ll present “An incomplete and non-comprehensive history of Niagara Falls through poetry” at the Victoria Avenue library starting at 7 p.m.

The free event will look at some of the major events that occurred in Niagara Falls over the years.

The stunters and daredevils, the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, the Hermit of Niagara, everyday life in the city, the bridges, trains, honeymoons and deaths will all be covered.

Porteus will be doing a similar presentation in April at the Popular Culture Association of America conference in Philadelphia. He’s also developing a poetry walking tour based on the Poetry Project.


Published in the Niagara Falls Review, December 29, 2019 langley

See the article here