Low-bending o’er the rugged bier,
The soldier drops the mournful tear
For life departed, valor driven
Fresh from the fields of death to Heaven.
But time shall fondly trace the name
Of Brock, upon the scrolls of Fame,
And those bright laurels, which should wave
Upon the brow of one so brave
Shall flourish vernal o’er his grave.
Source: McCabe, Kevin. (ed.) The Poetry of Old Niagara. St. Catharines: Blarney Stone Books, 1999. Previously published in F.B. Tupper (ed.) The Life and Correspondence of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock. 2nd ed. London, 1847. Poem is undated.
Composer and conductor Harris Loewen set this poem to music, with the score published by Renforth Music Publishing (New Brunswick) under the title Tears and Laurels. At the publisher’s request, the lyrics were slightly altered to create a version of the musical score that is non-specific, allowing it to function as an elegy for any war veteran. However, this recording was used on the publisher’s website. Many thanks to Prof. Loewen for permission to post this here.
You will notice that, coincidentally, all three pieces are originally written for male voices (although scores for other voicings are now also published). These tracks were all recorded, here in Niagara, by the combined male singers of Avanti Chamber Singers and the Brock University choirs. So, this is “home-grown” material in every sense.
At Niagara Falls and Peaceful Niagara were commissioned by the Niagara Men’s Chorus and premiered separately in two concerts in 2008. On the Death of General Brock (my original title) was written to celebrate the bicentennial of the War of 1812 and premiered by a small male ensemble at the October 2012 Brock University Soiree, a fundraising event. The publication dates of the musical scores, by the way, do not reflect the date of composition.
*Peaceful Niagara is the name of the composition of Prof. Harris, using the poem Niagara in 1882 by John Macdonald.
The sun had sunk beneath the western main, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And with a parting ray ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Bid adieu unto the day: ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡ Twilight drew nigh, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And purpled o’er the sky, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡While, smiling in the East, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡The Queen of night arose, ‡‡‡‡Full orb’d;—in modest majesty ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Above the hills’ high head ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡She her silver lustre shed, ‡‡‡‡Mild as the evening taper’s blaze. ‡‡‡‡Sweet contemplative hour! ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Now let me stray,
Unseen by the observing eye of day, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡For mediation dear, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Where the purling rill
Its music breaks upon the listening ear.
Thoughtful I wandered o’er a blooming mead; ‡‡‡‡Reclined beneath a spreading tree, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And cast my eyes around. ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡ Full in my face ‡‡‡‡Fair Cynthia pour’d her silver beams, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And e’er I was aware ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡The downy hand of sleep ‡‡‡‡Seal’d fast my eyes in pleasing slumbers; — ‡‡‡‡And something fell upon my soul ‡‡‡‡Which o’er my spirit seem’d to meet ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡ Sublimely soothing! ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And mellow down my feelings, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡O’er which the tremulous chords
Of plaintive sensibility were strung. ‡‡‡‡Then rose the visions of the night,
And, undisturb’d, their free dominion kept ‡‡‡‡Within the province of any brain. ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Methought the trump of war ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Was heard to sound no more; ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡The soldier’s shining blade ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Was in his scabbard laid;
The cannon with reverberating roar,
Deep-sounding, shook the vaults of heaven no more;
No more it vomited destructive ire,
Or belch’d out death at each convulsive fire! ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡ The bleeding warrior’s sighs ‡‡‡‡No more to Heaven did arise; ‡‡‡‡The widow’s tears had ceas’d to flow, ‡‡‡‡The orphan had forgot his woe,
And Peace, sweet goddess of celestial birth, ‡‡‡‡Reassumed her reign on earth. ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Joy dwelt in every look; ‡‡‡‡Gladness sat on every face; ‡‡‡‡Thankful man the blessings took ‡‡‡‡As a reward for past distress. ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡QUEENSTON appeared to rise ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡At once before my eyes, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And wave full fields of grain ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Luxuriant o’er the plain.
The battery strong, where, late the cannon’s mouth,
Just pointing thro’ stood threat’ning — charg’d with fate,
Ready to hurl destruction on the foe,
And rival thunder with its dreadful voice,
Disgorging death’s commission! — these same mounds ‡‡‡‡Where mouldering down to common earth, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And, crown’d with grassy tops,
They spread their vests of Nature’s carpet green ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Besprent with op’ning flowers, ‡‡‡‡And the soft notes of warbling birds ‡‡‡‡Succeeded to the roar of arms. ‡‡‡‡Methought a train of youths I saw, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Each with a garland crown’d, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And on each breast was bound ‡‡‡‡A golden plate, on which engrav’d
Britannia sat, reclining on her spear. ‡‡‡‡At her right hand appear’d an urn ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Of gold beset with pearls, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Transmuted from her tears, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡With the inscription on it:
“Here are inclos’d the ashes of my BROCK.” ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡With solemn silent step, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡In order they advanc’d ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Towards a new-raised pile: — ‡‡‡‡It was a marble monument, — ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡A tribute to the chief, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Who fell upon the spot: —
‘Twas built in memory of our hero BROCK. — ‡‡‡‡And here these youths repair’d to pay ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡The debt of gratitude ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Due from a generous mind, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Due from the virtuous brave,— ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Due to superior merit. ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡A youth whose graceful mien ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Was pleasing to behold,
When they were gather’d round the monument, ‡‡‡‡In words like these began to speak : — ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡“War was our country’s lot : — ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡The enemy advanc’d, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And with unhallowed step ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Defil’d our peaceful shores. ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Our hero took the field, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And with him march’d a band ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Of generous hearted youths ‡‡‡‡Who, prompted by their country’s good, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡The shock of war withstood. ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡BROCK led these heroes on; ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And, e’er they left the field,
The song of triumph flow’d from every tongue! ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Brave youths! can we forget ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Your efforts generous while ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Our hearts shall beat? — Ah no! —
Cold be those hearts in death that can forget you, —
That can forget your patriotic deeds! ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡“But ah! the fatal day ‡‡‡‡Which saw our country’s enemy ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Advance on Queenston Heights: — ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‘Twas then the hand of death ‡‡‡‡Fixt on our hero’s mortal part, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡With his cold gathering grasp, ‡‡‡‡And snapt the brittle thread of life! ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡He rush’d to meet the foe — ‡‡‡‡His bosom caught the shaft of death — ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡He fell — he soon expir’d! — ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡The saddening news was heard, ‡‡‡‡“Since heaven hath given our country peace, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And still’d the storm of war, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And granted us the means ‡‡‡‡This pile of gratitude to rear; ‡‡‡‡Let us return our thanks to Heaven ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡For all these mercies given, ‡‡‡‡And then the tribute of a tear ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Pay to him whose dust lies buried here.
“Almighty God! supremely good and just,
To whom we look for help, in whom we trust,
Vouchsafe to hear the thanks our hearts would pay
To thine Eternal Majesty this day.
We own the power of thine extended hand,
Which drove invasion from our native land,
And bade contending powers from conflict cease,
And join their hands in mutual love and peace.
May peace continue, and concord abound,
Thou Sire of being! all the world around.” ‡‡‡‡He paus’d respectfully, — then broke ‡‡‡‡The solemn silence, and thus spoke: — ‡‡‡‡Each soldier’s bosom felt the stroke, ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And heaved in speechless woe! — ‡‡‡‡But gathering like a cloud the foe ‡‡‡‡Advanc’d and thicken’d on the field. ‡‡‡‡Ready for combat our brave band ‡‡‡‡Like lions rush’d amidst the fight, ‡‡‡‡Then ghastly death stalk’d hideous round ‡‡‡‡And fell’d his victims to the ground; ‡‡‡‡Amidst the rage of carnage stood ‡‡‡‡Grimly majestic, smear’d with blood! — ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡But e’er the rolling sun ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Sunk down the steep of night, ‡‡‡‡The deaf’ning cannon ceas’d to roar, ‡‡‡‡The clank of arms was heard no more, ‡‡‡‡The joyful tidings flew around, — ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‘The victory is ours!’ ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡“But sadness damp’d the joy in every breast; — ‡‡Sorrow sat heavy at each heart; — ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡’‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Alas, our chief was slain! — ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡’‡‡‡‡‡‡‡No more the generous smile — ‡‡No more commanding dignity ‡‡Shone in his countenance, — cold death — ‡‡Cold, icy death sat silent there! — ‡‡Yet still his memory blooms afresh, ‡‡The fragrance of his virtues rises ‡‡In grateful odours to the soul ‡‡That knows to value worth and merit, ‡‡Which he in measure large possess’d.
“When duty call’d him to the helm of th’ state,
He found our country on the brink of fate.
A treas’nous faction burning to display
Rebellion’s ensigns, in her bosom lay:
Without, a numerous and insulting foe,
Threat’ning to strike th’exterminating blow.
He saw the danger — mark’d — pursu’d his plan,
And magic influence with his measures ran:
O’er discord’s strings his master hand he threw;
Faction was silent, and her friends withdrew:
The undetermined bosom he inspir’d;
The lukewarm heart with patriot ardour fir’d;
He taught us conquest in th’unequal strife,
And seal’d us victory with his valu’d life.
“His mind was noble, — all his actions great;
Fitly he held the guiding reins of state;
Compassion, pity, justice moved his soul,
Nor e’er he swerved from their divine control.”
Thus spoke the youth, and with a melting heart
Each stander by sustain’d an equal part;
Tears following tears the soul’d emotions spoke,
While sighs responsive from each bosom broke.
In weeping charms the virgin band appear’d,
Which struck my soul with softness as I heard:
Involuntary tears began to flow;
I join’d in concert in the scene of woe,
‘Till, quite absorb’d in the heart melting theme,
Sudden I woke, and found it all a dream: —
Yet such our Brock, and such the patriot band
Who fought and conquered under his command.
Adam Hood Burwell published poems under the pen name Erieus, the “Pioneer Poet of Upper Canada.” Read about Burwell