Dedication of “The Miracle and Other Poems” by Virna Sheard

Frozen Niagara River with the American Falls in the background just before the fatal disaster of February 4, 1912. Image courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library





No tears for thee, no tears, or sighs,
Or breaking heart —
But smiles, that thou so well that bitter hour
Didst play thy part !

Source: Virna Sheard. The Miracle and Other Poems. Toronto: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1913

A dedication to Eldridge Stanton, Junior, who died alongside his wife, Clara, and Burrell Hecock when the ice bridge across the Niagara River just below Niagara Falls broke up suddenly, leaving them adrift. Read Brian Busby’s account of the tragedy and the dedication in Virna Sheard’s book in his posting “A Dedication Born of Tragedy” in The Dusty Bookcase blog, November 7, 2019.

Lines On Reading That the Only Words Spoken…. by Anonymous


On reading that the only words spoken by the young lady recently killed at the Falls, after the accident, were — “Let me” —

The Bride of Death; by Thomas Jones Barker Victoria Art Gallery

“Let me,” and here the fast receding breath
‡‡Denied the power of utterance — the throb
Of that young heart grew faint.    Ah, reckless Death,
‡‡How didst thou then of hope surviving bosoms rob!

What was the wish thus less than half expressed,
‡‡That latest image of the aching brain,
Imprisoned in the fair young sufferer’s breast,
‡‡Without the strength to burst the feeble chain.

Was it a prayer that she might longer live,
‡‡Addressed to Him who holds the scroll of fate?
Or did she wish a parting thought to give
‡‡In trust to those that watching, round her wait?

Some fond remembrance of her distant home,
‡‡Where late perhaps maternal love had shed
Its hallowed flame, — and when resolved to roam
‡‡Had breathed a farewell blessing on her head.

Ah, who so fitting now to claim her thoughts,
‡‡As she whose hand sustained her helpless years?
Oh, that the action of that hand, were brought,
‡‡To wipe, with tender care, those dying tears.

See, in this theatre of nature’s might,
‡‡In boundless strength the dashing waters rush,
With headlong fury o’er the dizzy height,
‡‡And threaten e’en the solid rock to crush.

But mark the contrast!   On that bed of pain
‡‡The form reclines of nature’s noblest art,
Whose strongest energy is spent in vain,
‡‡To breathe the last conception of her heart.

Great Ruler of the destinies of Man!
‡‡Teach us to reverence thy dark decree;
Forgive the daring murmur at thy plan,
‡‡And make us yield and humbly trust to thee.

The last words of the dying girl may be
‡‡The first to form the Christian’s hopeful prayer;
Trusting her happy spirit is with thee;
‡‡He cries, “O Father ‘Let me’ join her there.”

Source: Table Rock Album and Sketches of the Falls and Scenery Adjacent.Buffalo: Steam Press of Thomas and Lathrops, copyright by Jewett, Thomas & Co.,1856c.1848

Avery, 1853 by William Dean Howells

Joseph Avery stranded just above Niagara Falls. Daguerreotype by Platt Babbitt

All night long they heard in the houses beside the shore,
Heard, or seemed to hear, through the multitudinous roar,
Out of the hell of the rapids as 't were a lost soul's cries, --
Heard and could not believe; and the morning mocked their eyes,
Showing where wildest and fiercest the waters leaped and ran
Raving round him and past, the visage of a man
Clinging, or seeming to cling, to the trunk of a tree that, caught
Fast in the rocks below, scarce out of the surges raught.
Was it a life, could it be, to yon slender hope that clung?
Shrill, above all the tumult, the answering terror rung.


Under the weltering rapids a boat from the bridge is drowned,
Over the rocks the line of another are tangled and wound;
And the long, fateful hours of the morning have wasted soon,
As it had been in some blessed trance, and now it is noon.
Hurry, now with the raft! But O, build it strong and staunch,
And to the lines and treacherous rocks look well as you launch!
Over the foamy tops of the waves, and their foam-sprent sides,
Over hidden reefs, and through the embattled tides,
Onward rushes the raft, with many a lurch and leap, --
Lord! if it strike him loose, from the hold he scarce can keep!
No! through all peril unharmed, it reaches him harmless at last,
And to its proven strength he lashes his weakness fast.
Now, for the shore? But steady, steady, my men and slow;
Taut, now, the quivering lines; now slack; and so, let her go!
Thronging the shores around stand the pitying multitude;
Wan as his own are their looks, and a nightmare seems to brood
Heavy upon them, and heavy the silence hangs on all,
Save for the rapids' plunge, and the thunder of the fall.
But on a sudden thrills from the people still and pale,
Chorusing his unheard despair, a desperate wail:
Caught on a lurking point of rock, it sways and swings,
Sport of the pitiless waters, the raft to which he clings.


All the long afternoon it idly swings and sways:
And on the shore the crowd lifts up its hands and prays:
Lifts to Heaven and wrings the hands so helpless to save,
Prays for the mercy of God on him whom the rock and the wave
Battle for, fettered betwixt them, and who, amid their strife,
Struggles to help his helpers, and fights so hard for his life, --
Tugging at rope and at reef, while men weep and women swoon.
Priceless second by second, so wastes the afternoon,
And it is sunset now; and another boat and the last
Down to him from the bridge through the rapids has safely passed.


Wild through the crowd comes flying a man that nothing can stay,
Maddening against the gate that is locked athwart his way.
"No! we keep the bridge for them that can help him. You,
Tell us, who are you?" "His brother!" "God help you both! Pass through."
Wild, with wide arms of imploring, he calls aloud to him,
Unto the face of his brother, scarce seen in the distance dim;
But in the roar of the rapids his fluttering words are lost
As in a wind of autumn the leaves of autumn are tossed.
And from the bridge he sees his brother sever the rope
Holding him to the raft, and rise secure in his hope;
Sees all as in a dream the terrible pageantry, --
Populous shores, the woods, the sky, the birds flying free;
Sees, then, the form -- that, spent with effort and fasting and fear,
Flings itself feebly and fails of the boat that is lying so near --
Caught in the long-baffled clutch of the rapids, and rolled and hurled
Headlong on the cataract's brink and out of the world.

Source: Myron T. Pritchard, comp. Poetry of Niagara. Boston: :Lothrop Publishing Co., 1901.

Also published in Johnson, Richard L. (ed).  Niagara: Its History, Incidents and Poetry. Washington: Walter Neale General Book Publisher, 1898

Image courtesy of The Library of Congress

About Joseph Avery

Read the prose poem Platt by James Penha – the story of Avery from the viewpoint of photographer Platt Babbitt