Niagara by Richard Edwin Day

Niagara Falls From Goat Island
by J. Hill, 1888.
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

 that runnest with tempestuous note,
‡‡With rioting eddies and tumultuous tide 
And maelstroms struggling in the chasm’s throat, 
‡‡A thousand tempests in thine onset ride ; 
‡‡A thousand storms, whose thunders never died 
When o’er the misty meadows of the air
‡‡The volleying clouds were scattered far and wide, 
Charge in mad wheel, like furious horsemen where 
Their frothing squadrons plunge around the embattled square.

But as thy waters throng the sheer decline,
‡‡What image in the mind’s fantastic world  
Of mighty cavalry down some path malign,
‡‡Unseen, unguessed, with trampling turmoil whirled ;
‡‡Or of innumerable bison hurled
Before the hunters to a cañon’s deep,
‡‡And myriads on rushing myriads swirled 
Over the maddening and horrid steep  
But sinks before thy unimaginable sweep 

Far other is the vision of thy strength
‡‡Where the dire tumults fail in murmurs low : 
Like level-lying lawns is thy green length, 
‡‡And meadow-white the great foam-blossoms blow. 
‡‡Beside thy bank, which evergreens o’ergrow, 
Most like a flower-strewn Titan thou dost dream  
‡‡After some vast primeval labor’s throe 
And the far cataract’s snows glide and gleam 
Thicker than star-foam on the Milky Way’s dark stream.

Methinks, brave river, muttering in thy jar
‡‡Ponderous syllables of an age-old tongue,  
Heir of some boisterous sea once billowing far,
‡‡Strength of the old world’s loins when time was young,
‡‡I hear thee faintlier chant a pæan flung 
Along thy footpath, in Earth’s rugged prime,
‡‡When from a grander steep thy challenge rung, 
And vapors rose on pillars more sublime
‡‡To where thy rainbow’s unsubstantial arches climb.

Emblem of youth eternal, in whose course
‡‡A thousand years are as the vasty surge
That every moment crashes, loud and hoarse, 
‡‡Into the torment of the whelming gurge,
‡‡Why do thy floods such march impetuous urge ? 
No sovereign voice exhorts thy restless tide
‡‡In one impatient hour its life to merge, 
Lest some unconquered good may yet abide 
When thy spent waters in the solemn sea subside.

Thy lips do swallow up my tiny voice ;
‡‡My thoughts lie baffled in thy torrent’s spell. 
Yet in thy shock and riot I rejoice,
‡‡Type of humanity when life did well
‡‡Lavish and buoyant as thy chanting swell, 
When all its days to stormy music ran,
‡‡Unconscious of the sea-goal seaward fell ; 
When laughter like thy spray flew in its van ; 
And as thy chainless flow was the free heart of man.

Source: Richard Edwin Day. Poems. New York: Cassell & Co., 1888

At Niagara by Clark W. Bryan

The American Falls from Below
illustration for this poem from Good Housekeeping Magazine


GREAT waters gathered from far mountain streams,
From murmuring rivulets, rushing rivers,
And broadened lakes enchained with silvery links,
All held within the hollow of God’s Hand,
To be poured boldly, generously out
Upon His trembling footstool, swinging now
In space, that once was without form and void.

To look and listen where these waters fall,
Grave thoughts come thick and fast, but words are few ;
The inmost soul fain lists and looks in awe,
And yet how forcefully it throbs against
Its prison walls, as if to tear away
The shreds of flesh and nerve that bind it fast.

Sentiment keeps silence, thought steals away,
Erewhile such Real Presence passes by ;
Idea wanders aimlessly about,
Anear the throne of such immensity,
Where grandeur and magnificence hold sway
’ Mid rolling thunder’s warring elements,
Above the fearful sweep of perilous descent,
Rushing down ‘ neath bending bows of beauty,
In diapason deep, in whelming sound,
And sending up along its rocky balustrade,
The smoke of incense to the Heavens above.

From seething caldrons full and overflowing,
Where witches wild and furies fierce come up,
From seething wells of foam, enclosed and held
By rocky walls, by cliff and precipice,
By frowning battlements worn and beaten,
Seamed and scarred by gathering storms of years,
By telling ravages of Time and Age,
But holding well and firmly their allotted place
As when “ In the beginning ” it was said,
By Him, “ Let there be light ; and there was light. ”

Niagara ! where rainbows rest in beauty,
Where majesty sublime sits full enthroned,
Where Power Eternal walks and waits,
Where weak and finite strength dares not approach
The Infinite, mankind full well may gaze,
May listen , meditate and moralize,
Coming not too near, but worshiping afar,
May ask, “ Who built these ribbed and rocky walls ?
“ Who pours these gathered rapids with such force,
“ Headlong adown their steep and rugged way,
“ Into the fathomless abyss below ?
“ Who holds these foaming torrents in their place,
“ Taking their full measure, calms their violence,
“ And bids them go in peace again , to bear
“ The sails of commerce and to turn the wheels
“ Of the great world’s industries anew ? ”

‘ Twere well to ask, and those who ask and say
There is no God, may look and list and learn
A lesson full of meaning and of moment,
From out the book of nature, boldly spread
Before the eyes of man above, below,
Or near where falls the waters of Niagara.

Such restless volume ever flowing on,
And falling ever ; always following
Closely in the wake of what has gone before,
Plunging madly down this fearful cataract,
On through angry whirlpools, grand old gorges,
Soon calmly waiting in some sleeping lake,
Or held in close embrace by sunny slopes
Or broad and bending river, dotted thick
At times with rock-bound, leaf-embowered
Homes of water nymphs on Isles of Thousands,
Where beauty reigns and rest for man is found.

Great waters , moving on , in motion ever,
As though from out the world of which we know,
Away to distant realms of unknown seas ,
Where “ deep calleth unto deep,” and where
The streams that once dashed down Niagara’s rocks,
So weird and wild are now engulfed and lose
Themselves among the ceaseless rolling billows
Of the boundless ocean—going out in turn,
From mountain brooks, from restless rivers,
And placid lakes, as from the stream of Time,
Into the realms of a vast Eternity ;
Rolling ever on, ever and forever,
Where proudly stand Niagara’s world-famed rocks,
Mirroring in thought the earthly life of man,
From mountain rill, rough water-tides and currents,
Each in their course presenting features rich and rare ;
Intermingling reverent thought with low inquiry : —
“ Who poureth all these waters from His hands, ”
“ From which uprise the thunders of Niagara ? ”

To answer give to inquiries that come
Forcefully to the human soul and sense,
While sitting at Niagara’s feet,
With eyes and ears filled with all the wondrous
Sights and sounds which there come crowding in upon
The contemplative mind, wrapt in reverent thought,
Where whirlwinds roar, and incense rises
Heavenward, the human voice dares not give
Answer to these soul questionings at once : —
“ Who poureth all these waters from His hands ? ”
“ Who holdeth them in bounds so close and firm ? ”
“ Who bids them go in peace from out their rocky
“ Fastnesses ? Who sends them forth in peaceful
“ Paths toward the sea, o’erwhelmed and lost,
“ Within the boundless realms of waves and tides
“ And billows ? ”
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Man may not boldly venture
To reply, where heavenward rise the thunders
Of Niagara’s fall .

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡But still there comes
The same inquiry, whether within hearing
Of the deafening roar of wind and wave,
Or out upon Ontario’s placid face,
Or down the restless rapids of St. Lawrence,
In its course, or when engulfed within the
Billowy embrace of the broad Atlantic,
Holding itself in quick abeyance to a
Spirit nature that falls in tones sublime
Upon the mortal ear, save to recite
From out the book of Holy Writ, wherein
We read that in the Morning of Creation
The bounds were set and lines were closely drawn
Between “ the waters under the heavens,
And the dry land called earth ” for aye and ever.

God ” saw that this was good ,” and ever hence
Have poured, and continually will pour, in bounds
Already set,, on through coming ages,
And pass unchanged, the waters At Niagara.

Source: Good Housekeeping, February, 1894

Bryan was the founder and editor (1885-1899) of Good Housekeeping magazine. Read more about Bryan here.

Niagara by Ada Elizabeth Fuller

Niagara Rapids Seen From Goat Island, 1843
by George Russell Dartnell. Colour tint by Erna Jahnke
Image courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

Dashing and boiling,
With furious pace,
Rush the wild waters
In their mad race.

Crowned with a glory
Of maple and oak,
Thy rocks tell the story
Of Nature’s yoke.

Flushed with the splendour
Of Autumn’s bright glow,
Silent, yet tender,
Sweet Gentians blow.

Oh mighty river,
With boiling and foam,
Dash on forever,
Knowing no home.

Bear my wild longing
Far out to sea,
Away from life’s thronging
To liberty.

Dashing and boiling,
With furious pace,
Seethe the wild waters
As on they race.

Source:  Ada Elizabeth Fuller.  Sunshine and Shadow: Poems by Ada Elizabeth Fuller.  Niagara Falls, Ont. Ada Elizabeth Fuller, 1919

Niagara by Kathy Gilbert

Deer in the Winter
Image courtesy of PxHere

The river carries me here
As a babe on its island’s shores I play
Palms and fingers squish soft sand, feet kick,
On my back, sun warmed laps of waves.

Currents change with the seasons
Moody green, then blue; milky, then grey
Factory polluted in a haphazard way.
In autumn steam rises after first frost

Buckhorn’s creek freezes over in white
Our skates’ steel cuts crust to granules of light
We hear the creak of the sheet unable
to bear our weight; it cracks, we lie on the ice

crawl to shore; imagine the classmate trapped
head under the lip of ice, face turned blue
frozen in his boots, red cap and jacket;
first of our generation to pay the price

like deer seeking to drink fresh water
stranded on ice floe; eyes wide in fear
headed for the Rapids, then the Falls.
Sooner or later the current carries us all.

Source: Kathy Gilbert, 2021

Award winning poet Kathy Gilbert grew up in Niagara Falls, NY, attending St John de La Salle, Prince of Peace, and 66th Street schools before moving to Grand Island.  She currently resides  in Northern California where she received an MFA in poetry from San Francisco State University. In 2020, she published a poetry collection, Aprils Three. Other poems have appeared in Transfer, Anomalous, Swampwriting, The Steel Toe Review, The Community of Writers, and,Vistas & Byways. She is currently working on a book about Niagara Falls.

Bruce Trail by Jean Roland

Bruce Trail Sign on Tree.
undated. Courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

Glacier left these giant’s pebbles
Strewn along a path
Now green moss and brown earth
Velvet our feet as we walk
Leaves like ruffled lace
Are sewn to its edges
Sun caresses with delicate fingers
Bright stars of flowers shine
Purple, gold and white
And the wind plays tag
Giggling through the trees

Source:  Captured Essence: Niagara Poetry Anthology, vol. 11. St. Catharines: Canadian Authors Association, Niagara Branch, 1995

With thanks to Arden Phair who pointed out this poem by Jean Roland to the Niagara Falls Poetry Project curator.

The Bruce Trail runs from its southern terminus at Queenston Heights, through the northern part of Niagara Falls, to Tobermory, a total of 895 kilometers.