A Sabbath at Niagara by Abraham Coles

abraham coles
Horseshoe Falls from Goat Island With Man Standing on Terrapin Point Boardwalk, c.1885
Photo by George Barker.
Image courtesy of The Library of Congress


 from thee, Niagara !
Religious Cataract ! Most Holy Fane ! 
A service and a symphony go up 
Into the ear of God. ‘Tis Sabbath morn. 
My soul, refreshed and full of comfort, hears 
Thy welcome call to worship. All night long 
A murmur, like the memory of a sound, 
Has filled my sleep and made my dreams devout. 
It was the deep unintermittent roll
Of thy eternal anthem, pealing still
Upon the slumbering and muffled sense, 
Thence echoing in the soul’s mysterious depths 
With soft reverberations. How the earth 
Trembles with hallelujahs, loud as break 
From banded Seraphim and Cherubim 
Singing before the Throne, while God vouchsafes 
Vision and audience to prostrate Heaven ! 
My soul, that else were mute, transported finds 
In you, O inarticulate Harmonies !
Expression for unutterable thoughts,
Surpassing the impertinence of words.
For that the petty artifice of speech
Cannot pronounce th’ Unpronounceable,
Nor meet the infinite demands of praise
Before descending Godhead, lo ! she makes
Of this immense significance of sound,
Sublime appropriation, chanting it anew,
As her Te Deum,” and sweet Hymn of Laud.

O God ! I thank Thee, I can do no less,
‡‡Since by Thy grace it is, and not by merit,
‡‡That Nature’s glorious fullness I inherit ;
That I, with all embracing arms, may press
‡‡The perfect Beauty, present in Thy works,
‡‡Present in all, in all profoundly lurks ;
May take the matchless Venus to my side,
As mine elect, my well beloved, immortal Bride ;
With a legitimate and holy rapture, kiss
Her unaverted face, and taste a boundless bliss.
‡‡O what am I. that I should so aspire,
‡‡Thus with the Daughter of th’ Eternal Sire,
‡‡Refulgent with His likeness, aye to wed !
‡‡To place the crown of glory on my head,
‡‡By virtue of these high espousals, heir
‡‡Of Thine eternal kingdom which is everywhere.
‡‡‡‡‡‡I now but know in part,
‡‡‡‡‡‡The sum of what Thou art ;
‡‡‡‡‡‡Tis little that I see
‡‡‡‡‡‡Of her infinity,
But little of those charms, whose perfect whole 
Shall ravish the transfigured and exalted soul.
‡‡‡‡‡‡Immortal gratitude,
‡‡‡‡‡‡For that sweet earnest of beatitude, 
Found in those glimpses which to me are given, 
Of her whose proper residence is heaven ! 
When comes a radiance streaming from the sky, 
I, by that token, know that she is nigh : 
When Earth puts on her robe of purest green,
‡‡‡‡‡‡And flowers fair
‡‡‡‡‡‡Spring everywhere,
Her presence perfumes and endears the scene ; 
‡‡‡When Ocean rises in his majesty, 
‡‡‡I’ve seen her walking on the troubled Sea,
‡‡‡‡‡‡An angel form
‡‡‡‡‡‡Amid the storm,
But never, never, until now,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Till in this place,
‡‡‡‡‡‡So seen her face to face,
Celestial glories beaming on her brow,
‡‡‡By each indubitable sign
‡‡‡Proved an apocalypse of the divine.

‡‡‡‡‡All hail, Niagara ! immortal Wonder, hail !
‡‡‡Rapt as a prophet, I have stood
And nothing spoke, for what could words avail ?
, said unconscious, It is good,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Good to be here,
‡‡‡‡‡‡With God so near,
Here will I stay, nor evermore depart !
‡‡‡What time my soul astonished, from her swoon
‡‡‡Awoke, her powers recovered soon.
Meanwhile, I felt th’ eternal mystery,
‡‡‡Like lightning through my being dart,
Then as I entered that o’ershadowing Cloud,
That dread Shekinah, Shrine of Deity,
And fell upon my face, and heard One speak aloud,
‡‡‡But not in mortal dialect, or speech ;
‡‡‡The sacred import, to my soul’s high reach
‡‡‡In that deep trance, intelligible alone,
‡‡‡That mystery of words, that thunder tone.
I heard, and felt—or, was it but a dream ?
‡‡‡The adamantine chain of sin 
Fall off, as riven by the lightning’s beam, 
‡‡‡And a new birth and being thence begin. 
‡‡‡O, can it be,
‡‡‡‡‡‡This broken chain
‡‡‡‡‡‡Shall close again,
‡‡‡And I shall lose my new found liberty ?

‡‡‡‡‡‡Is God not here ?
‡‡‡The thunder utters, Yes !
‡‡‡‡‡‡The trembling rocks in fear
‡‡‡The truth confess ;
‡‡‡The assenting mountains nod,
‡‡‡‡‡‡And all things round
‡‡‡‡‡‡Echo one sound,
‡‡‡All testify of God.
‡‡‡‡‡‡O, let my soul exult,
‡‡‡‡‡‡That here she may consult,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡The Oracle Divine !
‡‡‡‡‡‡That at Jerusalem, no more,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Is fixed as heretofore
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Jehovah’s Shrine !
‡‡‡‡‡‡That ancient ritual is past,
‡‡‡‡‡‡That Temple to the ground is cast,
Those symbols and those semblances sublime,
‡‡‡Endured but for a time.
Their everlasting prototypes, I ween,
Their patterns on the Mount by Moses seen,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Were these, are here !
‡‡‡‡‡‡This much, at least is clear ;
If, in th’ immensity of space,
God makes one spot His special dwelling-place,
‡‡‡That sacred spot is this.
‡‡‡‡‡‡I find the witness and the sign,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Authentic, marvelous, divine,
Here in th’ ebullient, luminous abyss,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Where thousand suns once bright,
So seems, now back exhausted pour
‡‡‡Their full collected light,
In ceaseless flood for evermore.

‡‡‡‡‡I tread the vestibule, I press,
‡‡‡I, who am dust and nothingness,
‡‡‡Within the Veil, into the Holiest Place,
‡‡‡Even to the Mercy seat, and Throne of Grace.
‡‡‡‡‡‡I look around, I kneel,
‡‡‡‡‡‡The Deity I feel ;
‡‡‡‡‡‡Too bright for visual sense
‡‡‡‡‡‡Is His magnificence,
But there, methinks, on the horizon’s rim 
I see the hovering wings of Cherubim.
‡‡‡‡‡‡Open, ye crystal gates !
‡‡‡‡‡‡The King of Glory waits ;
‡‡‡‡‡‡Ye rainbows, spring your arch
‡‡‡‡‡‡For His triumphal march !
‡‡‡Who is the King of Glory ? He
‡‡‡Whose presence fills immensity ;
‡‡‡Th’ Omnific Word, who spoke,
‡‡‡And day on darkness broke.
‡‡‡Who is the King of Glory ? Who ?
‡‡‡The Faithful and the True,
‡‡‡The Lord, omnipotent to save,
‡‡‡Who triumphed o’er the grave ;
‡‡‡Who rising from the dead
‡‡‡Captivity captive led ;
‡‡‡Who spoiled Infernal Powers,
‡‡‡And made the victory ours.
‡‡‡He, wonderful to tell,
‡‡‡Still deigns with men to dwell ;
‡‡‡Has built Him here a home,
‡‡‡Gates, pillars, architrave, and dome 
‡‡‡Of molten emeralds, and precious gems,
‡‡‡Richer than grace imperial diadems :
‡‡‡Here reared His throne, here fixed His seat,
‡‡‡Where everlasting thunders beat.
‡‡‡‡‡‡Open, ye pearly gates !
‡‡‡‡‡‡The King of Glory waits.
‡‡‡Ye sapphire doors, wide open swing,
‡‡‡Admit the pomp of the Celestial King !
‡‡‡‡‡‡Ye censers, smoke ! waft high,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Your clouds of incense filling all the sky !
‡‡‡In this high service can I bear no part?
‡‡‡‡‡‡One sacrifice
‡‡‡‡‡‡He’ll not despise,
A broken spirit and a contrite heart.

‡‡‡By this rapt converse, lifted high
‡‡‡Upon the wings of ecstasy,
‡‡‡My soul, grown buoyant, bold and rash,
‡‡‡Goes forth to meet the Cataract’s dash.
‡‡‡I climb the fearful precipice,
‡‡‡And look and lean there o’er the abyss ;
‡‡‡Ascend the loftiest pinnacle,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Of this rock-built and mighty fane—
‡‡‡A thought, I instantly repel,
‡‡‡‡‡‡A horrid thought, shoots through my brain,
‡‡‡As standing on the perilous steep,
he Enemy tempts me down to leap.

‡‡‡‡As through the lone and wooded isle, 
‡‡‡I pensive walk and muse the while, 
‡‡‡The scales fall suddenly from my eyes : 
‡‡‡With a new transport of surprise,
‡‡‡I see all common things intense
‡‡‡With mighty pomp of evidence ;
‡‡‡Each insect, flower, and shrub, and tree 
‡‡‡Blazing with proofs of Deity :
‡‡‡Where’er I look, where’er I turn,
‡‡‡His glowing footprints I discern ;
‡‡‡In small and great, alike, I find
‡‡‡Sweet intimations left behind
‡‡‡Of wisdom, goodness, power, and grace—
‡‡‡The glory of a hidden face :
‡‡‡In every sound, in accents clear,
‡‡‡His name is whispered in my ear : 
‡‡‡My quickened sense, now as I pass, 
‡‡‡Hears holy anthems from the grass. 
‡‡‡Meek insect choristers ! not in vain, 
‡‡‡You feebly pipe your humble strain, 
‡‡‡Not less significant, when understood, 
‡‡‡Than thunder sounding through the wood.

Source: Abraham Coles. The Microcosm and Other Poems. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1881

Read about Dr. Abraham Coles

Niagara by Abraham Coles


Horseshoe Fall
Print by Goupil, Vibert & Co., May 1849. Image courtesy of The Library of Congress

 I, thine awful charms peruse,
‡‡‡‡‡‡And meditate the rustic Muse—
Wilt thou, Niagara, refuse
‡‡‡‡‡‡My humble lay,
Piped ere the time the morn her dews
‡‡‡‡‡‡Hath snatched away ?

I cannot “build the lofty rhyme”
Of solemn cadence, keeping time
With thy proud step and march sublime :
‡‡‡‡‡‡A task so hard,
Fits one of other age and clime,
‡‡‡‡‡‡As Scio’s bard.

But not the music of the spheres,
Alone delights th’ Almighty’s ears,
For He well-pleased the meanest hears,
‡‡‡‡‡‡The cricket even,
That all night long the hearth-stone cheers
‡‡‡‡‡‡With songs to Heaven.

Matchless in majesty and might, 
Type of the Heavenly Infinite ! 
Unspeakable ! that dost delight,
‡‡‡‡‡‡And yet appall ; 
While deep to deep, and depth to height
‡‡‡‡‡‡Incessant call !

Thou, like a racer, spurning curb,
That snuffs the fatness of the herb,
Or battle’s fierce alarms perturb—
‡‡‡‡‡‡Adown the steep, 
With curved neck, thunderous and superb,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Dost fearless leap.

Or like some bird, gay plumes adorning, 
Earth’s highest summits proudly scorning, 
Seen soaring near the gates of morning,
‡‡‡‡‡‡With flashing crest, 
Then stooping downward without warning
‡‡‡‡‡‡His rainbow breast.

What mean these constant earthquake shocks ? 
Thy inland sea her gates unlocks, 
And hither drives her fleecy flocks
‡‡‡‡‡‡Of waves, thence hurled,
Sheer o’er the precipice of rocks
‡‡‡‡‡‡And shakes the world.

A deep descent I reach at last,
The rocky floor, on which is cast
The watery column rising vast,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Th’ inflected River,
Which standing there through all the Past,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Shall stand forever.

I feel how awful is this place,
As, darkling, I my pathway trace
Behind the flood at thy dread base,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Baptized to thee,
As was to Moses Israel’s race,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Beneath the sea.

O God ! shut in by rock and sea,
What fitter place to bow the knee,
So cool and secret, near to Thee !
‡‡‡‡‡‡Hence, ye profane !
In Thy pavilion, here with me,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Lord, converse deign !

As drenched with the resilient spray, 
I seek once more the open day, 
I pause and muse how all decay :
‡‡‡‡‡‡Though this may seem, 
Type of Eternity, ’twill pass away,
‡‡‡‡‡‡A murmurous dream.

Written in 1847.

Source: Abraham Coles. The Microcosm and Other Poems. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1881

Read about Dr. Abraham Coles


Niagara Falls: A Poem by Jim Daniels


Clifton Hill, 1977
Photo by Ron Mottola
Ripley’s Museum on the left
Image courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

Niagara Falls
is a long poem of 700 lines where three stories, growing up Catholic in the industrial North, a honeymoon to Niagara Falls and a pilgrimage to Assissi, Italy, are interwoven in a master work of fractured narration. The language is relaxed and upbeat where metaphysical concerns meet, head on.


Excerpt from Niagara Falls (p. 8-9):

25 years ago, here,
on a rainy camping trip
my father splurged on
Ripley’s Believe It
Or Not Museum where I stared
at the shrunken head.
I bought a postcard:
The Hair continues to grow.
I still have it: long beaded threads
hang from the nose like a rosary.

Source: Jim Daniels. Niagara Falls. Easthampton, MA: Adastra Press, 1994

Read about Jim Daniels

Niagara Falls by John Imrie

Man Looking Over Niagara Falls From the Brink of the Boardwalk
Photograph by George Barker, 1885
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Oh, Niagara ! as at thy brink I stand,
‡‡My soul is filled with wonder and delight, 
 To trace in thee that wonder-working Hand,
‡‡Whose hollow holds the seas in balance light !
 Worthy art thou to be a nation’s pride, — 
‡‡A patriot’s boast — a world’s unceasing wonder ; 
 Like some bold monarch calling to thy side 
‡‡Subjects from every clime in tones of thunder !

Deep on my soul thy grandeur is impress’d,
‡‡Thy awful majesty — thy mighty power ;
Thy ceaseless tumult and thy great unrest.
‡‡Like nations warring in dread conflict’s hour !

Rainbows of glory sparkle round thy shrine.
‡‡Cresting thy waters with effulgence bright ;
And in thy foaming currents intertwine
‡‡Rare corruscations of commingl’d light !

Like roar of battle, or like thunder’s call,
‡‡Thy deep-toned echoes roll with solemn sound ;
Like pillar’d clouds thy vapours rise, and fall
‡‡Like sparkling pearls upon the thirsty ground !

Rush on ! rush on ! in thy uncheck’d career,
‡‡With avalanchic power thy course pursue ;
While rending rocks quake as with mortal fear,
‡‡And stand in awe to let thy torrents through !

Naught but the hand of God could stay thy course,
‡‡Or drive thee back to Erie’s peaceful keep ;
Then onward press with thy gigantic force,
‡‡Till in Ontario’s bosom lull’d to sleep !

Emblem of Freedom ! who would dare essay
‡‡To bar thy noisy progress to the sea ?
Then onward press ! while bord’ring nations pray
‡‡For strength and wisdom to be great and free !

Source:  John Imrie. Sacred Songs, Sonnets, and Miscellaneous Poems. Toronto: Imrie & Graham, 1886

Read about John Imrie



Niagara by John Edward Howell


The Falls of Niagara – From the Canadian Side
Currier & Ives Print Painted by B. Hess, 1868
Courtesy of the Library of Congress


THUNDER OF WATERS, triumph by thy fall
‡‡As must a fallen Infinite !—A storm
To drown a world and scourge it over all,
‡‡Were not a type of God’s uncreate form :
All quake, are silent, yet shall none adore.
‡‡If God—His terror, that in ruin lays
Art and all man’s memorial—before
‡‡The soul ascends in ecstacies of praise

For power benevolent o’er wrath sublime,
‡‡In shape innocuous as the light or dew—
Must see Niagara, type for all time,
‡‡Of God in nature, vast, benign, and true :
Must see her waters, yet descry a hand,
‡‡Or shadow of a finger pointed there—
Cry—if she speaks, she speaks by God’s command,
‡‡For Nature is Jehovah everywhere.


So like a present God, th’ unmeasured power
‡‡Of thy vast waters, whose eternal flow
Has never craved an intermittent hour,
‡‡Tumbling whole oceans into depths below,
As with such ease of motion thy green tide
‡‡Seeks as with conscious life its skyward steep,
And with a roar of thunder—aught beside,
‡‡In nature mimics—takes its downward leap.


Thou art not tumbling from yon frightful height,
‡‡A world of waters, on a plea so vain
As to display a wantonness of might :
‡‡The eternal equipoise of all the Main
Is thy supremest care :—thy sport alone
‡‡To balance oceans, and an equal wave
Sets to the pole and spreads beneath the zone
‡‡Whose fretful shores its healing waters lave.


Empires have fallen—races have decay’d,
‡‡Their cities buried low beneath the sod,
In elemental strife, that erst hath laid
‡‡Nature submissive at the feet of God ;
But thou—how long thy solemn front hath reared
‡‡Itself sublime, while ruin hath been hurled
Across a continent ?—as thy youth appeared
‡‡Such thou art now—Survivor of a world.


Ye who admire the wonderful in Art—
‡‡Colossi striding seas ; crowning the soil,
Some sky-bound shaft piercing a nation’s heart,
‡‡Or pyramids all time shall not despoil—
Gaze with surpassing wonder, as ye see
‡‡How sovereign the contempt of Nature’s smile :
Standing before her stark immensity,
‡‡See Art to less than nothing shrink the while.


Ancient of Waters, were thy years a few,
‡‡Or countless as the sunbeams that transform
Thy changeful flood to glory ever new,
‡‡When the fierce nomad saw in thee the form
Of the Invisible, and turn’d aside
‡‡From love or war or chase or dance, awhile
To gaze upon thy forehead, and decide
‡‡To fly thy presence or invoke thy smile ?


Ere Christians saw the Ocean burst with rage,
‡‡Mont Blanc, thy kinsman, crown’d before the Flood
Provoked no rival, in some envious age—
‡‡Rome proud in irons, Greece immortal, stood
Before their fancy or their kindling eye—
‡‡A virgin World with Freedom in her arms,
The leap and roar of thy sublimity,
‡‡They neither saw, nor glow’d with either’s charms.


How many eras upon eras then,
‡‡Had ceased to be, when the delightsome song,
To which all seas responded an amen,
‡‡Rose and resounded orb from orb along ?
What was thine age when not a living thing
‡‡Heard thy hoarse anthem as it rose sublime,
Deep-throated, solemn, in the evening,
‡‡Of the first day the sun recorded time ?


Dost deign no answer ? Keep thy secrets, then :
‡‡Vaunt co-antiquity with yonder spheres ;
Go shout the march of nature and of men
‡‡Till thy tremendous voice shall pierce their ears.
Thou hast no sympathy with man—thy walk
‡‡Is like Orion’s, single. Thou dost see
Man stare unmoved—dost hear the babbler talk :
‡‡Oceans and spheres alone consort with thee !


O hoary Witness, that before the Flood
‡‡Noted the infant ages—or went back
To the Creation, and amazed stood
‡‡As the Sun rose and blazed along his track,
Spanning thy waters with the various light
‡‡Of the new morning : arc on arc arose
Through the cleft curtain of eternal night,
‡‡Startling thy thunders out of deep repose.


Light—and light was : and then, as sun on sun
‡‡Leaped out of void and swept into his sphere,
As God commanded, and the deed was done—
‡‡Didst thou rejoice with Him, or blanch with fear ?
Or didst thou cheer on cheer roar out so loud,
‡‡The morning stars confess’d a peer in thee,
And wafted thee stout hail from every cloud,
‡‡Breaking their gladness through infinity ?


Yet hadst thou caught an echo of that voice,
‡‡As Nature took her fortunes from the Word,
Thou hadst not heard the stars of morn rejoice :
‡‡Prone on thy face thou hadst confess’d thy Lord.
Or had it been a whisper—such a breath
‡‡As in a dream falls on the sleeper’s ear,
Thy joy had been so vast it had been death,
‡‡As high o’er all that whisper thunder’d clear.


Still, ere the Sun ascended to his sphere
‡‡In the diurnal heavens—before the Earth
Acknowledged her allegiance and drew near
‡‡To her attractive orb—before the birth
Of the Leviathan—or ere a wing
‡‡Cut the ethereal skies—before a tree
Peopled the soil, or ere a living thing
‡‡The shuddering globe—thou hadst begun to be.


Triumph of Power—as when God laughs at kings,
‡‡Laugh thou at everything beneath the sun :
Laugh when it rails, or when it tribute brings.
‡‡Let captains break their swords when they have won
Kings cast their sceptres down chagrin’d and stung
‡‡With envy as they gaze, admire, and bow—
Confess how mean their state, dazzled among
‡‡Oceans of pearls, thou flingest from thy brow.


Creep, Pharaoh, from the pile that grinds thy dust,
‡‡Crawl, Nero, from the Tiber to the sun,
And hail a monarch faithful to his trust,
‡‡Yet girt with power to which your power was none :
And as ye slew the weak and kiss’d the strong,
‡‡And now are fallen—fallen—see a Power
Crown’d with the sun, and to roll on as long,
‡‡While Peace and Mercy o’er Dominion tower.


Thine honors are secure—regal, alone—
‡‡Save, when the ocean monarch thunders by,
Then tremble lest a rival blot thy throne,
‡‡Snatch off thy crown, and roar along the sky
With such a yell of triumph, as shall damn
‡‡Thy thunders to oblivion—and thy fall
For weakness pitiful, become the lamb
‡‡As Silence wraps thy seas within her pall.


All Laureate ever sung in vaporing strain
‡‡For stipend or for fame, is trash to thee.
No monarch lives or ever lived, so vain,
‡‡Or bard so venal, as a crown to see
In thy stupendous waters. Thou alone
‡‡Art measured by thyself, except the Deep ;
And ye, though rivals, smile on either’s throne,
‡‡And poise a Planet lest adrift she sweep.


Thy beauty never fades. Unlike the maid
‡‡Whose hopes decline when charms forsake her face—
Virgin without espousal—though array’d
‡‡In garments woven by the Sun, and grace
Lingers in every fold along thy breast—
‡‡Graceful and modest beyond all the fair,
Keep thy heart shut against each tender guest,
‡‡And Sol, thy constant lover, gently spare.


Nothing remains to Art. Thou hast it all ;
‡‡Insatiate still to aggregate in thee
All types of the sublime—and in thy fall
‡‡To push thy power towards infinity.
Beauty bestrides thy waters with his bow,
‡‡Transfigured by the Morn ; descending Eve
Sits like a heavenly vision on thy brow,
‡‡Till Night comes late her vigils to relieve.


What hast thou not that Nature hath ? What Art
‡‡Shall torture her creations to compare
In majesty of mien, with thine—or start
‡‡From canvass into life a grace so rare,
As when unmeasured seas remain to crown
‡‡Thy head with honors as they pass thee by,
Pausing with reverence, ere their floods go down
‡‡Deeps, whose resurgent deluge drowns the sky ?


Painting and Song retire. Art, with her boast,
‡‡Of multiplying strength, concedes her loss
Of fame and fortune, yielding up the ghost,
‡‡In presence of thy might, whose feeblest toss
Of its unmeasured strength sends to one grave,
‡‡Man and his triumphs. Nor to hold thee back,
Hath age or sex a charm. All vainly crave
‡‡Life—at the hands of Death, who strews thy track


With wrecks of futile Art—adventured near
‡‡Thy precipice—that should have hugg’d the shore,
Stood out by helm, or steam’d thy rapids clear ;
‡‡Down, gurgling down—engulph’d forevermore,
Blossom of childhood, crown of almond flower,
‡‡Love, ere its life had quicken’d, of embrace,
Death-challenged wretch and infant of an hour,—
‡‡Shrieking, to silence—down—down—down apace.


When thou wert crown’d, who crown’d thee? By what right
‡‡Hast thou succession to a throne ? What sire
Sat on thy throne before thee? Elder Night,
‡‡First crown’d of Nature, ruled by flood and fire,
Terrific behind shadows, waved her hand,
‡‡Signal of silence to the listening Main ;
Convulsed the ocean, shook the solid land,
‡‡When the heavens fell with storms and rose again.


Out of her womb a monarch thou didst leap,
‡‡Born without childhood—at thy birth so vast—
Always impatient—living without sleep,
‡‡Thy tumults never hush’d nor overpast.
Yet thou wert not a monster, nor a freak
‡‡Of nature, at thy birth : a world of grace
And strength, confess’d no terror to the weak,
‡‡Tower’d from thy presence, mantled o’er thy face.


As if to hell, thy leap—and thy rebound—
‡‡As if to heaven—but in mid-air the Sun
Surprises thee with smiles, and thou art crown’d
‡‡A faithful witness for the Holy One.
Eternal as His promise, stands the bow
‡‡Clasping thy forehead to confirm His word,
To bring Him nearer to our touch, and show
‡‡A ladder for our faith to reach the Lord.


Sapphires and emeralds thou hast enough,
‡‡Streaming along thy forehead in a flood ;
Jewels that queens esteem, were paltry stuff,
‡‡Bays men have sought through brimming seas of blood,
Were toys, cast down by thee, to sink or swim :
‡‡Thy pomp and state o’ertop the glare of kings—
Anointed monarch, throned and crown’d of Him
‡‡From whom thy diadem dominion brings !


” Good !” God exclaim’d, as His applauding eye
‡‡Swept thee, a monarch. He had crown’d the Deep,
Stretched out his realm abroad, from sky to sky—
‡‡Creatures that walk, or fly, or swim, or creep,
Populous from His will, beheld the light—
‡‡Responsive to His will, thy thunders rose,
And Night, thy mother, blanching with affright,
‡‡Kissed thee, and vanished to her last repose.


God, art Thou angry, and is this the breath
‡‡Of Thy dilating nostrils ? Is Thy wrath
Rekindling for a jubilee of death,
‡‡And this the herald to prepare thy path ?
Or, this a shadow of the wrath to come,
‡‡When mountains shall not hide us from Thy stroke,
As the last judgment shall strike devils dumb,
‡‡Bade to leap in ascending fire and smoke ?


Peace is a river by the throne of God,
‡‡And “peace to men,” is on thy forehead writ,
O flood, that were a rush and not a rod,
‡‡If God were angry. Here a worm may sit
Unmoved amid thy waters, and His hand,
‡‡Fast in thy mane, shall hold thy terrors back ;
And not a thunder, but by His command,
‡‡And not a wreck or life in all thy track.


O ! be a fool, O man, and shrink to naught,
‡‡Then wisdom enters, for she findeth room—
If of the earth—out of her volume taught,
‡‡Return divine into thy mother’s womb ;
Or fix thine eyes upon the farthest star,
‡‡Or past its radiance—push thy vision on,
And what thou seest, is not God, afar—
‡‡God filleth all, and bids all worlds begone.


He taught thee, O Niagara, to keep
‡‡Thy seas within their bounds. He taught thee where
To make thy name eternal in a leap—
‡‡When to leap down, and where to disappear.
He wrote, O man, in universal signs,
‡‡A truth thy logic never proves, but feels—
Benevolence with evil so combines
‡‡That their innocuous strife one God reveals.


Thou hast no sleep, and therefore hast no dreams,
‡‡Thy course of thought, what mortal shall divine ?
Perhaps subjective—all without thee seems
‡‡Too mean for such analysis as thine ;
Perhaps the mighty chambers of thy soul,
‡‡O’ercrowded by her thoughts, make room for more,
Catching the voice of ages as they roll,
‡‡Thou hast the keys of Time and all his lore.


Art thou a Patriarch, and not inspired ?
‡‡Speak, theologian, versed in nature’s school,
What is the life of man to be desired
‡‡If vice and virtue reach a common goal ?
If all shall die accursed and none be blessed—
‡‡If all shall rot together in the dust
And know no resurrection ? Which is best—
‡‡Not to be born, or die as mortals must?


Thunderer, speak. Rebuke or bless the creed—
‡‡Is heaven a blessed lie—is hell a cheat ?
Shall man abjure his faith, or for it bleed ?
‡‡Wherefore our life, and whither its retreat ?
To life or silence ? Answer, if thou wilt.
‡‡At once his floods congeal, his thunders fall,
Does the north freeze his soul, or conscious guilt ?
‡‡His silence, though it speak not, answers all.


Hadst thou beheld the Star the wise men saw
‡‡In the far Orient, thou hadst bowed thy head—
Dumb as was Moses, when he took the law
‡‡From God at Sinai–living, but as dead,
As the Star paused and dwelt upon the face
‡‡Of Him, who holds thee in His mighty hand :
Thou hadst confessed a soul, and sought the grace,
‡‡A world rejects, and dies, to understand.


Yes ! God is worshipped singly by all seas,
‡‡All floods, all mountains, cataracts, and suns ;
Though man may curse his God, damn His decrees,
‡‡And feel his curse o’ertake him as he runs,
These all are silent when His voice is heard,
‡‡These all rejoice before Him with their might—
Dust, God hath crowned with life, alone absurd,
‡‡Reads Him amiss, to set our errors right.


Nothing is half so dreadful as our guilt.
‡‡Hell shrieks with its rewards, and the bald earth
Writhes with a curse, for which the Godhead spilt
‡‡Blood quite divine, though human in its birth.
All nature frowns and smiles by turns, and weeps,
‡‡As from the Curse and Cross she ever takes
The hues of her delirium when she sleeps—
‡‡Her calm, her storm, her sunshine, when she wakes.


Have rocks conspired to prove the earth so old,
‡‡Ere lazy Saurians crept through seas of slime—
Before a fern or lichen wrapped the cold,
‡‡Rayless, dissocial orb of ante-time ?
When darkness made the silence more profound
‡‡That filled the absence of all life ? Hast thou
Knowledge our halting science shall confound,
‡‡Rocks teach, inscribed on thy expanding brow ?


Fountain of youth, and sovereign emblem, too,
‡‡Let him who thirsts drink deeply of thy wave—
Feel, as his cheek renews its summer hue,
‡‡Baptismal blessings on his brow, to save
His soul from that perdition of the cup,
‡‡Whence to escape, she dares twice die, and thrust
Herself to proper Hell— lastly, filled up
‡‡By sots devoured of wine, of blood, of lust.


Historian of a Continent, begin—
‡‡Since thou hast borne, or wert thyself the bier,
Huddling the dust of empires headlong in
‡‡The grave of thy remembrance—If a tear
Postponed oblivion ages, it is come—
‡‡God buried them Himself, and hid the grave,
Commanding thee to look, and then be dumb—
‡‡His vindication buried in thy wave.


An exodus of nations—a surprise
‡‡Of Providence confessed too deep, too high
To scale or fathom till we reach the skies—
‡‡The curtain fell and shall forever lie
On those enacted scenes. Yet, who shall say
‡‡What legends or traditions half declare—
The measure of their fame, whose tombs betray
‡‡Arts mourned as lost—alive, though silent there ?


No crimes deform, no virtues make thee blest,
‡‡Impassive, soulless, heartless, thou hast fled
Onward from lake to sea, thy footsteps pressed
‡‡By flood-compelling stars. While seas have slept
Profound as a child slumbers, Deep with Deep,
‡‡Glassing in silence beatific skies,
The law of worlds delivers thee from sleep,
‡‡Law—were it less than God, thou mightst despise.


Is it a pain or pleasure to obey
‡‡Where there is no election ? On, still on ;
No sluggard ; but forever, night and day,
‡‡To yield, and bid disloyalty begone ?
Alive to fates prefigured at thy birth
‡‡By stars convulsed, or shot from sign to sign,
Figure to man how much his will is worth
‡‡When it would thwart a jot of the divine.


Life is a cloud, a shadow, or a hue,
‡‡Shed from the hour that passes o’er its head—
Born of the past, child of the future, too,
‡‡Life is not real till our life is fled :
Porch of the soul, man enters, looks around,
‡‡Just on the threshold is surprised, and dies
He flings his dusty mantle to the ground,
‡‡And walks, or flies, or rides to Paradise.


Like and unlike our life, fleet, changeful flood,
‡‡Ever the same, yet never what thou wert ;
Youth does not fire nor palsy chill thy blood—
‡‡Giant, surnamed the Thunderer, begirt
With torrents, and sustained on left and right
‡‡By batteries of adamantine rock :
Defiant, till thy Maker puts to flight
‡‡Thy prowess, in the final, fatal shock.


Emblem of freedom, bold, unshackled tide,
‡‡Thou hast a lion’s mane—an eagle’s eye ;
Fortune, that sports with men, thou dost deride,
‡‡Braced by the earth, and covered by the sky.
To-day a freeman looks into thy face—
‡‡A savage or a slave to-morrow creeps,
Idolatrous before thee. So the race
‡‡Hails her brief presence—her long absence weeps.


Who are the free ? What patent made them such ?
‡‡Who are the slaves ? Who chained them? Who can see
That airy finger move, whose slightest touch,
‡‡Discovers God, by chains or liberty ?
Divine, the right to be a king or slave—
‡‡Either or neither, an elective state—
Human, the word or blow that does not save,—
‡‡Because it falls too early or too late.


Once wert thou silent ? Cradled o’er thy head
‡‡Swam a prospective world in one tossed pair ?
When, as the drowning earth embraced her dead,
‡‡Bade the sun farewell, and forsook the air, 
Tumultuous tides swept over thee profound
‡‡Beneath a shoreless sea—mute in thy grave
With oceans, mountains, seas, thy compeers, drowned,
‡‡Awaiting resurrection from the wave.


O solitude of nature, shriek aloud,
‡‡That mystery of evil passing cure,
Seen like a corpse blaspheming in its shroud,
‡‡Good it esteems divine, yet can’t endure.
Virtue confessed impossible to man—
‡‡Saved by her utter loss, God raises whole,
As man retires, God fills the scene, who can
‡‡Raise by a second fall the fallen soul.


A rotund Ocean drifts, before the sun,
‡‡Whose fires consume its waters, and restore
The mountains from oblivion, one by one—
‡‡Thick clouds ascending sky-ward, fall no more ;
Celestial with the promise wrung from God,
‡‡The weltering globe revisits the clear skies—
Oceans collect their seas dispersed abroad,
‡‡Once more thy floods leap down—thy thunders rise.


Who christened thee Niagara—or stood
‡‡Sponsor for thee ? or bore thee in her arms
When nature sprinkling, washed thee in her blood,
‡‡Child, for whose weal no mother’s bosom warms ?
No voice with solemn pomp announced the rite,
‡‡No blazonry of heralds on thy crest
Inflated thee with pride of birth or might :
‡‡Only thy Maker mars or makes thee blest.


The gentle bride is half, not wholly wed ;
‡‡Unfelt her pride of maiden innocence—
Vows to obey, and by a wife’s pure bed
‡‡Sanctify love, and be its own defence—
Till at thy crystal altar, virgin priest,
‡‡Her nuptial pledges solemnized anew,
She feels by thine her purity increased,
‡‡And journeys home a wife, and Cæsar’s too.


When Fashion sought thee out, the whole world came,
‡‡Felt all thou art, but could not speak it well ;
All saw thy vast proportions, felt the same
‡‡Emotions in thy presence, none could tell—
Fashion, though dumb with awe, still plied her arts,
‡‡Expecting thee to lay thy sceptre down,
To fill her fickle throne in human hearts—
‡‡And for the crown God gave thee, wear her crown.


Companion of the seas, thou couldst not bear,
‡‡To stoop from such companionship, to leer,
Ogle and strut, and by a gait and air,
‡‡That would seem more than nature less appear :
Incapable of folly, thy reply
‡‡Unuttered, she divined, and begged of thee,
To let her train admire, pass on, and sigh
‡‡For grace she never had, and purity.


Year after year thy levees thou hast held—
‡‡Thronged by the wise and valiant, learned and gay ;
Yet few of all the thousands who beheld
‡‡Thy presence, saw thee ere they turned away :
For thou art more than nature, and to see
‡‡Thy cataract, were less than to descry
A thousand symbols, God has couched in thee,
‡‡Of things above, and things below the sky.


How thou hast shuddered, leaped, rejoiced, or bled,
‡‡As drama after drama swept along,
When such as trod the skies, have fallen or fled
‡‡To God-forsaken holds, before the strong ? 
When Sheba came for gold and ne’er returned ?
‡‡When Greece developed freedom by thy side ?
Polite—barbaric—savage, as each burned
‡‡With an ascendant, wept an humbled pride ?


Ennobled by a patent from the skies—
‡‡Thou dost not play the courtier for high place ;
And when a king regards thee with his eyes,
‡‡Thou dost not feel a blush steal o’er thy face—
As if he were thy patron. Thou hast seen
‡‡A Brunswick, and applauded—not his state,
His manhood—for all power were vile and mean,
‡‡Throned by thy side, but Power Immaculate.


What torrent thundering down the mountain side,
‡‡With molten glaciers onward to the sea,
Bears half the volume of that frightful tide,
‡‡Leaping thy crest, Niagara ?–Of thee,
There is no symbol in the realms of art,
‡‡And nature holds no mirror to thy face,
Nor yet from canvass shall a shadow start,
‡‡Girt with thy strength, and radiant with thy grace.


Leap down forever—and as lilies grow,
‡‡And ravens feed before their Maker’s eye,
So thou shalt fling into the gulph below,
‡‡But half thine inexhaustible supply.
God hath commanded, and it shall stand fast,
‡‡He paints the lily—hears the raven cry ;
Fills thee with anthems never overpast,
‡‡And feeds thee from the ocean and the sky.


Thou hast no looks of sadness—yet a curse
‡‡Fell on thy head for other guilt than thine,
And by each fall, thy leaping tides rehearse,
‡‡How human nature strove with the divine—
Foiled in the onset, shrank into a worm,
‡‡And for immortal life—dies—and thou too
Dost in thy living waters hide the germ
‡‡Of dissolution, and our steps pursue.


Thou hast no doubts to crucify. Thy faith
‡‡Cavils at nothing, sure that all is well ;
Asking alone for what thy Maker saith,
‡‡Without a heaven to lure thee, or a hell
To shake its penal terrors o’er thy head—
‡‡Believer, without promise of reward,
The bliss of being kindles thee instead,
‡‡And fills thee with the presence of thy Lord.


Man hath a resurrection, and shall rise
‡‡Above the perilous height from which he fell,
Revisit, like a God, his native skies,
‡‡Or, failing heaven, accept the pains of hell ;
But thou shalt never from thy winding sheet
‡‡Leap with a burst of thunder, and begin,
God full in view, that anthem to repeat,
‡‡Born to the soul triumphant over sin.


Accursed for man—no Saviour died for thee ;
‡‡And yet there is a promise darkly read
In the good word of life, that seems to be
‡‡A pledge of future blessings on thy head :
When the earth melts with heat, and the heavens wrap
‡‡Their skies together, as a scribe his scroll, 
The world to come shall nourish in her lap
‡‡Recovered nature, and a ransomed soul.


Clothed with eternal verdure every hill,
‡‡Waving celestial harvests every plain,
The glory of our God is come, and will
‡‡Abide, and never be withdrawn again :
No ante-state to purify our dust,
‡‡No hope of heaven to lure us home to God,
The vision of our God rewards our trust,
‡‡And all are sons confessed who kissed the rod.


Conception of a God—that kingdom still,
‡‡Shall widen, strengthen, cover every land—
Sit upon thrones, or topple them, until
‡‡Conscience, no longer bleeding, shall demand,
Receive, and hold in every human breast,
‡‡Unrivalled empire. Age of ages, come,
Divide with men the fortunes of the blest—
‡‡Give us a glimpse of heaven to lure us home !


Who clothed thee with such grace ? Who made thy power
‡‡A symbol for infinitude of might—
Saw nature struggle in thy natal hour—
‡‡Thy future annals as thy past shall write ?
Sees universal nature at a glance—
‡‡Scoffs at thy power as thou dost scoff at men—
In whom all things retire, from whom advance ?
‡‡Look up and see Him, for thou canst, and then,


Roll on, perpetual cadence, to the skies,
‡‡Confess the God who made thee, with a voice
Louder than thousand thunders—higher rise
‡‡With thy hoarse chaunt, as when all seas rejoice,
To Him, whose eye thy waters first surveyed,
‡‡Who still regards thee with unchanging smile,
Before whose whisper, all thy thunders fade,
‡‡And who forbears to fire thy funeral pile.

Source: Howell, John Edward. Poems, vol. 1. New York: John Edward Howell, 1867