A Legend of the Whirlpool by James Fenimore Cooper

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡PART I.

The Whirlpool, Niagara River, 1804 by George Heriot. Colour tinting by Jane Merryweather.
Image courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library


“Ih wakchohenry hah nakahneshthean habthohy ehean hancteayouth wench heahnahreawachereahheank.”  Tuscarora’s idiom of the Iroquois.

The same in English from the book of David Cusic, a Tuscaroran  Indian, published in 1827.

“I found the history mixed with fables.


In truth thou art a fearful place,
‡‡‡‡Who shall thy depths explore ?
Who’ll pass upon thy fluctuant waves,
‡‡‡‡For mines of golden ore ;
From far above impetuously,
‡‡‡‡The raging waters sweep, 
They come in their sublimity,
‡‡‡‡Descending, leap o’er leap.


In wrath and foam they rush along,
‡‡‡‡Through caverned rocks they flow,
And high towards the mirrored skies,
‡‡‡‡The feathery mist they throw.
Their noise is the wild tempest’s voice,
‡‡‡‡When whirlwinds sweep the shore,
And far abroad the sound is heard,
‡‡‡‡Like ocean’s hollow roar.


Trembling, the neighb’ring hills vibrate,
‡‡‡‡And the impending rocks,
Shake in their holds, as from the jars
‡‡‡‡Of far off earthquake shocks.
And when less loud Niagara’s Fall
‡‡‡‡Its distant echoes bound,
Then wide, the thund’ring roll is spread
‡‡‡‡The Whirlpool’s ceaseless sound.


Through earth’s domain a scene more grand,
‡‡‡‡Is no where to be found.
For in one narrow compass rush,
‡‡‡‡Waters that empire’s bound.
A thousand lakes and rivers deep,
‡‡‡‡Unite their powerful force,
Concentrate through the gorge they plunge,
‡‡‡‡Their headlong, downward course.


Though the Maelstrom’s dread abyss
‡‡‡‡No mariner will near ;
Though Plegethon roared fierce and loud,
‡‡‡‡Their terrors all are here.
Not mightier is the Cataract,
‡‡‡‡With rainbow, mist and cloud,
Whose snowy sheets hang in the air,
‡‡‡‡And massive rocks enshroud.


To him that views this wond’rous gulf,
‡‡‡‡What glowing thoughts will spring !
Awe struck, the reverential heart
‡‡‡‡Will warm devotion bring.
O’er chasms wide the frowning rocks
‡‡‡‡On either side arise,
Waves here advancing, there recoil,
‡‡‡‡Break spangling to the skies.


Imagination o’er the view
‡‡‡‡Casts round her ardent gaze,
For far beyond romance’s scene,
‡‡‡‡Nature herself displays.
Who’ll venture in that deluge stream,
‡‡‡‡Who’ll float upon the wave ?
There is no one with reason given
‡‡‡‡Would in those waters lave.


For death in many frightful forms,
‡‡‡‡His victims waits to win ;
And all his dread machin’ry moves,
‡‡‡‡Loud in the furious din.
There drive and strike a hundred wrecks
‡‡‡‡That one another crush,
Now sucked below, now bounding up,
‡‡‡‡Commingling round they rush.


In olden days that long have fled,
‡‡‡‡When the wild forest glen
Was yet in Nature’s myst’ry hid,
‡‡‡‡And sheltered savage men ; 
Then the bold Indian armed for war
‡‡‡‡With battle axe and bow,
Ranged fearless o’er his hunting grounds,
‡‡‡‡Or watched his wily foe.


The Iroquois of all the tribes
‡‡‡‡Extensive conquest sought, 
And many a bloody battle field
‡‡‡‡Was with the Hurons fought ;
Between them raged perpetual war,
‡‡‡‡In desert, wood, and plain,
Nor did they sheath the slaught’ ring knife
‡‡‡‡Till ev’ry foe was slain.


When o’er the earth the flowers bloomed,
‡‡‡‡And all the trees were green,
And brightly shone the summer’s sun,
‡‡‡‡And lit the smiling scene ;
The merry birds melodiously
‡‡‡‡With music filled the vales,
And the wild blossoms’ sweetness came,
‡‡‡‡Borne on the scented gales.


Around the gorgeous landscape lay,
‡‡‡‡In green, and sun, and shade ;
The tenants of the wood repose
‡‡‡‡Upon the mossy glade. 
‘Twas then a daring Iroquois 
‡‡‡‡Strayed, with his forest love,
Through many a vale, and green clad copse,
‡‡‡‡And many a hidden grove.


Their way was near Niagara’s flood
‡‡‡‡Where circling eddies run,
And many a tale he told of war,
‡‡‡‡Of battles he had won ;
What sleeping foes he had surprised,
‡‡‡‡How swift had flown his dart ;
And love and vengeance mingled,
‡‡‡‡Were to win the maiden’s heart.


Right seemly moved the savage pair,
‡‡‡‡As on their course they went,
And still upon the billowy stream, 
‡‡‡‡Admiring eyes they bent.
They saw the trees of distant woods,
‡‡‡‡Dismembered torn and peel’d
Ride o’er the waves in ceaseless war,
‡‡‡‡And ever on they reel’d.


And there the gushing torrent springs,
‡‡‡‡Away with deaf’ning sound,
And ridged waves high vaulting rise,
‡‡‡‡And o’er the rocks rebound.
Convulsive billows towering fled,
‡‡‡‡Fast on their wild career,
And hollow circles widely spread,
‡‡‡‡And op’ning gulfs appear.


There brilliant dance the white capped waves,
‡‡‡‡Their plumaged crests display ;
As broken diamonds sparkling shine,
‡‡‡‡The drops of snowy spray.
Beyond, is beauty’s mantle spread ;
‡‡‡‡Here grandeur’s scene unfolds.
There, vast sublimity in might,
‡‡‡‡Her court in glory holds.


Pleased with the view the lovers stood,
‡‡‡‡No thoughts of danger rose,
For distant then the Hurons dwelt ;
‡‡‡‡Their only living foes ;
But then, as now, though safely fenced,
‡‡‡‡And far off ev’ry fear,
Man oft reposing, little thinks
‡‡‡‡What strange events are near.


By them unseen, by foliage hid,
‡‡‡‡Sits on the other side,
An angler who with demon scorn,
‡‡‡‡These happy ones had eyed.
That Huron chief, for such he was,
‡‡‡‡Rose slowly from the brake,
First rent the air with his shrill cry,
‡‡‡‡Then, taunting, thus he spake :


“Base dog of Iroquois give ear,
‡‡‡‡Thou mean and palt’ring slave, 
I dare thee mongrel meet me there,
‡‡‡‡On yon revolving wave.
When Huron meets with Iroquois,
‡‡‡‡In field, or flood, or fire,
He or his hated foe must die,
‡‡‡‡Or feed the funeral pyre.


Come on, thou minion’s dotard, come,
‡‡‡‡Come where the whirlpool’s rage—
Or, recreant, bear thyself away,
‡‡‡‡Nor warrior more engage.”
“Braggart !” the Iroquois replied ;
‡‡‡‡Well can’st thou banter here,
If thou were not beyond my reach,
‡‡‡‡Thou’d die with very fear.


Show, boaster, if thou even dare,
‡‡‡‡Thy wary feet to steep,
In this commingling flood of foam,
‡‡‡‡I’ll follow on the deep ;
I’ll follow thee from rock to rock,
‡‡‡‡And through the stormy wave ;
And in some low and loathsome pit,
‡‡‡‡Will lay thee in thy grave.”


The Chieftain heard, he bounded in,
‡‡‡‡And through the tossing stream,
Like a fierce serpent in his rage
‡‡‡‡His fiery eye balls gleam.
The whirlpool’s fitful voice ascends—
‡‡‡‡The waters bound away—
And fleecy clouds are wafted round,
‡‡‡‡Formed from the rising spray.


“I come ! I come !”  he loudly cried ;
 if you meet me not,
I’ll seize you where you trembling stand,
‡‡‡‡And rend you on the spot.”
Quick, echo bears the challenge on,
‡‡‡‡From shore to shore it flies.
And through the airy height it rings,
‡‡‡‡And in the distance dies.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡PART II.

Kahne heanwahkayean heanyeannat kahakehah hah kahneahweah hetho hah yohrakanethe hane hah  keanwahkneah nakha wean. Tuscaroras, &c.

Who will secure the woman from the terror of the great water.— David Cune


The Iroquois cast on the maid, 
‡‡‡‡Sadly, a farewell smile,
Then hurried turned, and in he plunged,
‡‡‡‡Where th’ troubled waters boil ;
And she upon that lonely strand
‡‡‡‡Amazed and shuddering stood,
A witness of that battle scene,
‡‡‡‡On that rebounding flood. 


The warriors toiling through the deep,
‡‡‡‡Their onward progress urge,
And nobly dash o’er whitened waves,
‡‡‡‡Or ride the rolling surge
Now a strong current sweeps them down,
‡‡‡‡Then on the rising swell 
They buoyant mount, and wave their hands,
‡‡‡‡And peel the Indian yell.


Again, into somc vortex hurled,
‡‡‡‡Powerless they whirl around
Till gathering all their strength,
‡‡‡‡They spring and clear the deep profound. 
Their course is to the centre bent,
‡‡‡‡Where the curving waters run ;
And face to face and eyes to eyes,
‡‡‡‡Their way is onward, on !


And when unto the outward disk,
‡‡‡‡The combattants arrive,
They whooping loud with furious rage
‡‡‡‡At one another drive. 
They miss their aim, and round are thrown,
‡‡‡‡Round, round the Whirlpool goes ;
Yet near, and nearer they approach,
‡‡‡‡And fast the circles close.


They spread their arms, they reach their hands,
‡‡‡‡Resistlessly they go,
Till grasping in the vortex’ mouth,
‡‡‡‡They strug’ling sink below.
Down far beneath the gurgling waves,
‡‡‡‡In fierce and bloody strife
Foe presses foe, and hard they tug,
‡‡‡‡For vengeance more than life.


To noisome vaults, whose horrid sights
‡‡‡‡No living eye can see
Where monsters dwell, and ever hold
‡‡‡‡Their venomed revelry ;
Through sunken woods that bristle up,
‡‡‡‡And broken timbers stand,
Mangled, their bodies press along,
‡‡‡‡Disabled and unman’d.


In many a mazy depth they wind,
‡‡‡‡Till ‘gainst a jutting crag
Their bodies strike, their holds relax
‡‡‡‡Apart, they onward drag.
The heaving eddies cast them up,
‡‡‡‡Enfeebled they arise,
And sunder’d on the surface, each,
‡‡‡‡Almost exhausted lies.


Awhile they panting rest their powers,
‡‡‡‡Awhile look wildly round ;
Then on each other rush again,
‡‡‡‡And grasp, and tear, and wound.
Their gory fingers deeply press,
‡‡‡‡The quiv’ ring flesh they rend,
And the warm crimsoned flood of life
‡‡‡‡With the cold waters blend.


The Huron’s rage without control,
‡‡‡‡Exerts its utmost might ;
His enemy reserves his powers,
‡‡‡‡Yet doubtful is the fight.
The nymph to the great spirit raised
‡‡‡‡Her fervent prayer, to give,
Nerve to the arm of her beloved
‡‡‡‡To conquer and to live.


On the vexed waters still they strive,
‡‡‡‡And still around are driven,
sometimes submerged below the waves,
‡‡‡‡And sometimes raised towards Heaven. 
And as the sweeping eddies turn,
‡‡‡‡And as the torrent flows,
Amid the din and tempest roar,
‡‡‡‡Their savage yells uprose.


At length with more than human strength,
‡‡‡‡The Huron’s deadly foe,
Seized on his throat and held him down,
‡‡‡‡To suffocate below.
Hard was the struggle, and the waves
‡‡‡‡Contending claim their prey,
And o’er the dying Huron dance ;
‡‡‡‡Then bear his corpse away. 


All helpless floats the Iroquois,
‡‡‡‡And oft around is roll’d.
Till on a frail and broken wreck,
e faintly makes his hold.
No power had he to tempt the deep, 
‡‡‡‡His wonted strength was gone,
And ev’ry passing wave that rose, 
‡‡‡‡Frowned on him as its own.


Life wanders through his shiv’ring frame,
‡‡‡‡Just ready to depart,
t trembles on his quiv’ring lips, 
‡‡‡‡And flut’ring beats his heart ;
But ’twas not his its parting throbs,
‡‡‡‡To wait with humbled will,
And die in ling’ring agony, 
‡‡‡‡As death’s slow drops distil.


The Heav’ns in anger frowned, 
‡‡‡‡Thick clouds a shadowy gloom spread o’er, 
And gath’ring films obscured his eyes,
‡‡‡‡And hid the distant shore.
The changing waters suck below, 
‡‡‡‡While some upheaving rose,
And hideous noises whistle round, 
‡‡‡‡As when the storm wind blows.


The forest maid away had fled,
‡‡‡‡And up the bank had hied
Soon she returns—a light canoe
‡‡‡‡Was to her shoulders tied.
‘Tis quickly launched upon the stream,
‡‡‡‡That deep and treach’rous flow’d,
And swiftly o’er tho crested waves,
‡‡‡‡Light as a swan it rode.


Ye Spirits of the watery caves,
‡‡‡‡From her your dangers stay,
Grant her the object of her hopes,
‡‡‡‡And safely speed her way.
She nears the dark and fainting brave,
‡‡‡‡And ‘mid the Whirlpool’s roar
She lifts him in her fragile boat,
‡‡‡‡And turns her course to shore.


Now if that little bark shall pass
‡‡‡‡Yon disk of lucent green,
The course is safe unto the land, 
‡‡‡‡No dangers intervene. 
But once more down it sweeps away,
‡‡‡‡Still further on it wheels
The raging torrent draws it in—
‡‡‡‡Away ! Away ! it reels. 


No longer lonely is the shore,
‡‡‡‡For on the wood crowned height,
A numerous band of Iroquois
‡‡‡‡Are ushered to the sight.
It was their native village friends,
‡‡‡‡That lined the towering steep,
Who saw them in their peril drive,
‡‡‡‡Careering o’er the deep.


Loud shouts burst from the excited band ;
‡‡‡‡Trophies of war they wear—
And pennons formed from human scalps,
‡‡‡‡High flutter in the air.
With eager steps, and straining eyes,
‡‡‡‡They line the rocky cliff,
And sight, and thought, are centred all,
‡‡‡‡Upon that whirling skiff. 


A cry ! from off the water comes,
‡‡‡‡No more the oar is plied !
But all erect the maiden sits,
‡‡‡‡Her warrior by her side.
They raise their eyes towards the sky,
‡‡‡‡Then on the fearful surge
Fondly embrace, then all resigned,
‡‡‡‡They sing the funeral dirge.


The bark is on a mountain wave,
‡‡‡‡A moment there it rides,
Then downward shootsthe scene is closed,
‡‡‡‡The wreck the water hides.
And from the Indian band there rose,
‡‡‡‡Sad sounds of sore dismay ;
A frightful scream of woe burst forth.
‡‡‡‡Then turned they on their way.


The cauldron deep boils from beneath,
‡‡‡‡The foaming surface shakes 
A mighty billow rolls along— 
‡‡‡‡In misty clouds it breaks :
Again recoils the flowing mass
‡‡‡‡And turns its whelming force
Still back and forward, round and on,
‡‡‡‡Such is its destined course.


Forever shall the waves revolve,
‡‡‡‡And high the billows swell ;
And fancy oft amid the roar.
‡‡‡‡Yet hears the Indian yell.
There lonely on the hurrying stream,
‡‡‡‡And on the rising hill,
Are yet observed the forest’s sons,
‡‡‡‡To sit and linger still.

Source: Cooper, James Fenimore [attributed to]. A Legend of the Whirlpool. Buffalo: Thomas & Co., 1840.

The text also contains notes that Cooper wrote about the Whirlpool before the poem; and some explanatory notes about the poem at the end. See the full text at Hathi Trust


Note on the first page: A part of this Legend was published in the United States Magazine [and Democratic Review], October 1839. It is authored by  “S. de V.,” and has the epigram: “This grand and beautiful scene is three miles from the Falls of Niagara, and four miles from the Village of Lewiston.” It can be viewed at the Hathi Trust.


Creation’s Pride by Wilhelm Meister

The Rapids Above the Horseshoe Falls
From the book Niagara, Its History, Incidents and Poetry

Niagara’s canon, swept by waters grand!
No gorge like thine, nor depths, the mighty hand
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Of time hath wrought.

Thy cataract stupendous is, and fierce;
No human voice or sound can ever pierce
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Its deaf’ning roar.

Thy seething currents rend with awful might
Great rocks, that nature in chaotic night
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Did rear on high.

A whirlpool deep within thy walls doth hiss,
And, raging ’round, sinks down in dark abyss
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡To unknown depths.

Around Ontario’s blue and wide domain,
No mountains check, nor lofty barriers chain.
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Thine outlet vast.

In the great ocean’s infinite expanse
Thy volumes rest, and with their powers, enhance
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡The vasty deep.

Source: R. Lespinasse. Notes on Niagara, 2nd ed.  Chicago: R. Lespinasse, Publisher, 1884

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

The author’s name, Wilhelm Meister, is probably a pseudonym, as Meister is the protagonist of two of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s novels.

Niagara’s Charms and Death of Webb by James McIntyre


Matthew Webb killed in the Whirlpool Rapids July 24 1883. Courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

Gazing on rapids mighty sea,
Struggling fiercely to be free,
But drawn downwards in its course
By gravitation’s wondrous force,
O’er those perpendicular walls,
Hurled ’mong mighty rocks it falls,
Causing the earth to throb and shake
Like to the tremor of earthquake.

Thus the world’s greatest wonder
Reverberates like peals of thunder,
Enshrined with mist and beauteous glow
Of varied tints of the rainbow,
Most glorious sight the human eye
Hath ever seen beneath the sky,
Along these banks none ever trod
But did feel grateful to his God,
For lavishing with bounteous hand
Glories majestic and so grand.

The foaming billows soon are seen
Transformed into a beauteous green,
Plunged by whirlpools dread commotion
It becomes a seething ocean,
Where furies join in surging dance
From centre to circumference,
This is the favorite abode
Of Neptune, mightiest sea God,
He hath decreed none shall survive
Who will into this vortex dive.

Webb swam the English channel brave,
Like seabird he did love to lave
His breast upon the mightiest wave,
Alas, found here a watery grave;
Torrent onward rushes frantic
On its course to the Atlantic,
But on its way doth gently flow
Through blue lake Ontario,
Rejoicing on its way it smiles,
Kissing the shores of Thousand Isles,
Mingling with St. Lawrance motion,
It soon is blended with the ocean.

Source: Niagara’s Charms and Death of Webb was published in McIntyre, James. Poems of James McIntyre.  Ingersoll: The Chronicle, 1889.

Biography of James McIntyre in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

An Address to the Body of a Man in the Whirlpool — Niagara by Emily Thornton Charles

Emily Thornton Charles

Ah, how ceaseless the rounds which, in darkness and gloom,
Thou hast made in the noisy confines of thy tomb,
‡‡‡‡‡Since the whirlpool so great,
‡‡‡‡‡Like a maelstrom of fate,
‡‡‡‡‡Did fiercely surround thee.
‡‡‡‡‡Drew downward and drowned thee.
‡‡‡‡‡Thou shrieked but none heard thee.
‡‡‡‡‡It beat thee and stirred thee,
‡‡‡‡‡Despoiled thee of breath,
‡‡‡‡‡And whirled thee to death.
Rising up, sinking down, with a thundering sound,
Thou art lashed by its fury around and around.
‡‡‡‡‡Now to sight thou art lost ;
‡‡‡‡‡Like a bubble art tossed
‡‡‡‡‡By the torrent’s strong clasp,
‡‡‡‡‡By the raging wave’s grasp,
‡‡‡‡‡Ever round and around,
‡‡‡‡‡Whilst the thundering sound
‡‡‡‡‡Ringeth still on deaf ears,
‡‡‡‡‡As it did ere you drowned.
Who, alas, were thy friends who must mourn thy sad fate ?
And how many are made, by thy death, desolate ?
Idle questions we ask, for we never shall know
Who was tossed by these waves, or in depths thrust below,
‡‡‡‡‡Now so fast and now slow,
As the wild gleaming whirlpool compels thee to go ;
‡‡‡‡‡Now a hand, or a foot
‡‡‡‡‡Close incased in a boot,
‡‡‡‡‡But a glimpse of a face —
So quickly it vanished — all too quickly to trace
Or to search out its features. Oh, terrible jest !
It is said, after death, that the body finds rest ;
Finds rest ! Seest thou thine ? It is whirling about
From the great seething caldron no more to get out.
Didst e’er fancy a fate like to this — that thou must
Be beaten and pounded, as ’twere hastened to dust,
‡‡‡‡‡With a din and a roar
‡‡‡‡‡Like the cannon’s outpour ?
‡‡‡‡‡For an instant didst think,
‡‡‡‡‡As thou stoodst on the brink
And looked on the rapids, that whene’er thou wert dead
They would grind thee to dust for Niagara’s bed ?
‡‡‡‡‡For it will not be long
‡‡‡‡‡Ere the eddying throng —
Waves we read of in story and picture in song —
Fiercely dash thee to pieces with shriek or deep groan —
Even droppings of water will wear away stone—
They will rend thy limp limbs, and will tear them apart ;
Will reach to thy vitals ; they will pluck out thy heart,
‡‡‡‡‡Until no one can see
‡‡‡‡‡What resemblance there be
‡‡‡‡‡Or a vestige in thee
‡‡‡‡‡Of a being who once was a mortal like me !

Source: Emily Thornton Charles.  Lyrical Poems, Songs, Pastorals, Roundelays, War Poems, Madrigals. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1887

Emily Thornton Charles had previously published the book Hawthorn Blossoms under the name Emily Hawthorne

Read about Emily Thornton Charles

“Not a great poem, but written in an interesting and buoyant style” — Charles Mason Dow

Lines on the Death of Captain Webb by James Gay

Captain Matthew Webb who lost his life attempting to swim the Whirlpool Rapids July 24 1883. Courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

These verses composed on one of the brightest of men,
Can never return on earth again.
No man like him before ever swam from shore to shore:
This was done by him as hundreds have seen
From Dover in Kent to Calais Green.
He left his wife and children dear,
His lot was cast this proves so clear.

Could see no danger before his eyes,
Death took him quickly by surprise.
No doubt he thought himself clever,
Could never have thought to breathe his last in Niagara river—
Where no man on earth could ever swim
Across this whirlpool, never, never.
This brave young man, he caused no strife,
Cut down in the prime of life, left behind him a widowed wife.

‘Tis not for man to frown or brawl,
His lot was cast in Niagara Falls.
I saw his likeness in Marshall’s place,
Plain to be seen without disgrace.

Those men in his company that day were clever,
Could not see his danger in Niagara river.
It was not to be, the young and fast,
This was laid out for him to breathe his last.
As I have often said, and say again,
I am sorry to hear of an untimely end.

‘Tis time for us all to prepare for fear of this dreadful snare;
As this roaring lion is around every day,
Our precious souls for to betray.
Let us cast all our fears on Christ, and on his word rely—
We can all live happy while on this earth,
And in heaven when we die.

Composed by
James Gay,
The Master of all Poets this day.

Royal City of Guelph, East Market Square.
N.B.—Your poet is about to visit these falls,
Where Captain Webb received his death call.

Source: James Gay. Canada’s Poet. London: Field & Tuer, [1884]

James Gay was the self-styled Poet Laureate of Canada and Master of All Poets

Read about James Gay in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography

Read about Captain Webb here

Crawford Kilian rated James Gay as #1 in the article Canada’s Five Worst Poets: Are You Number Six? in The Tyee.