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

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.

Poem by A. S. Ridgely

American and Horseshoe Falls
From Niagara, Its History, Incidents and Poetry by Richard L. Johnson

“Man lays his scepter on the ocean waste,
His footprints stiffen in the Alpine snows,
But only God moves visibly in Thee,
O King of Floods! that with resistless fate
Down plungest in thy mighty width and depth.
*    *    *   *   *  Amazement, terror, fill,
Impress and overcome the gazer’s soul.

Man’s schemes and dreams and petty littleness
Lie open and revealed.     Himself far less—
Kneeling before thy great confessional—
Than are the bubbles of the passing tides.
Words may not picture thee, nor pencil paint
Thy might of waters, volumed vast and deep;
Thy many-toned and all-pervading voice;
Thy wood-crown’d Isle, fast anchor’d on the brink
Of the dread precipice; thy double stream,
Divided, yet in beauty unimpaired;
Thy wat’ry caverns and thy crystal walls;
Thy crest of sunlight and thy depths of shade,
Boiling and seething like a Phlegethon
Amid the wind-swept and convolving spray,
Steady as Faith and beautiful as Hope.
There, of beam and cloud the fair creation,
The rainbow arches its ethereal hues.
From flint and granite in compacture strong;
Not with steel thrice harden’d—but with the wave
Soft and translucent—did the new-born Time
Chisel thy altars.     Here hast thou ever poured
Earth’s grand libation to Eternity,
Thy misty incense rising unto God—
The God that was and is and is to be.”

Source:  Johnson, Richard L. (ed).  Niagara: Its History, Incidents and Poetry. Washington, Walter Neale General Book Publisher, 1898
Also published in Holley, George W., ed.  The Falls of Niagara.  Baltimore: A.C. Armstrong & Son, 1883  (N.B. Holley mentions this poem by Ridgely is an excerpt from a larger work.)
Also published in Dow, Charles Mason. Anthology and Bibliography of Niagara Falls. Albany: State of New York, 1921.


Apostrophe to Niagara by R. L. Johnson

Niagara Falls From Prospect Point, c1900
Image courtesy of Library of Congress



Cyclopean torrent, this thy throne,
Which man but yesterday hath known,
Through all thy countless ages flown,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Creation’s masterpiece.

How wonderful and vast thou art!
Grand Pantheon of Omniscient art!
Thy flood-gates demonstrate thou art
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡“Without a parallel!”

Awe-struck I hear the passing crowd
Of heaving storm waves thundering loud,
And see them writing here the proud
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Grand Autograph of God.

A thousand waves on dress parade
Urge on the crowding cavalcade,
Which pauses on the brink, afraid
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡The awful plunge to take.

See yon gigantic wave command
The myriad troopers, as they stand
Erect, with flashing sword in hand,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡To charge the host below!

Adown they charge, that mighty force,
Resistless in its downward course;
The rider and the foaming horse —
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Brigade Victorious!


Thy grand façade, with curtains down,
Presents no monster’s ugly frown,
But, like a maiden’s bridal gown,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡A robe of beauty is.

Its elevation reaches high,
And fain would touch the changing sky,
Its falling waters ever cry,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Rejoicing as they leap:

“Majestic fleets that float their flags,
And brave Old Ocean’s rocky crags,
Dare not approach our rugged snags,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Nor Titan-fashioned front.

“Some noble bards have done their best
To praise Mt. Etna’s blazing crest,
Yet, we could flood the monarch’s nest
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And crop his golden curls,

“And challenge heaven’s bright sentry stars
To find beneath his lavic bars
A spark, to light their gilded cars,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Before the blaze of morn.”

Primeval tribes no more shall roam
Thy banks to pitch their tented home,
Whose fairest daughters made thy foam
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Their willing sepulchre.

For here they gathered once a year,
With festive dance and savage cheer,
And sacrificed, without a tear,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡The fairest of the tribe.


Thy organ notes with thunderous roar,
Sound the Creator’s lofty score
Of Love and Mercy evermore,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡In grand diapason.

Beyond this temple vast and dim,
Methinks thy anthem, psalm, or hymn,
Floods in sweet melody to Him
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Who waits the grand Amen!

Sheets of sunfire blaze and quiver
On thy waves, O boist’rous river,
As they leap to foam and shiver,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Adown this gulf of death!

Deep undercurrents night and day,
An everlasting power display,
Exhaustless, unconfined, they play,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Unfathomed, unrestrained.

Take in the sight around—about,
And know, Vain Man ! beyond a doubt,
God’s power is here past finding out —
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Eternal mystery.

Oft have I sat, in quiet hour,
Beside this emblem of God’s power,
And fancied Eden’s sacred bower
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡No symbol had like this.

Emotionful our souls should know
He placed that graceful radiant bow
To span the hurricane below,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡In token of His love.

Thou Sacrilegious Man—go hence!
How futile is thy vain pretence
To scoff and doubt Omnipotence,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Arrayed in glory here!

Ere Cheops’ Pyramidal pile
Stood reared upon the classic Nile,
Was cut thy rough, rock-ribbed defile
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡By ante-glacial flood!

From yonder tower view Queenston’s height,
Hennepin was denied the sight,
From whence thou struggled in the night
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Of the primeval dawn.

The windings of thy crystal shoe,
Church faithfully portrayed, ’tis true,
The canvas shows a bygone view.
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Pride of the ” Corcoran.”


When Winter steps upon the stage.
White-cowled and solemn as a sage,
Thou dost display an ample page
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Of glistening ice-moss bright;   

Ice Apples
From the book Niagara, Its History, Incidents ad Poetry

Then icy apples moonlit shine
On evergreens at midnight time,
And then thou seemest most sublime,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡In snowy satin robed.

Translucent columns, purest white,
Glisten in the morning light;
Prismatic scene of rare delight,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Of hues Elysian;

Here snow-capped mountains block thy flow,
While crystal diamonds crown the show,
And icy bridges form below,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡To span a Paradise.


The flower is pledged unto the bee,
The tidal wave unto the sea;
Our northern floods are pledged to thee,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Thou thundering watersheet!

And yet, O Thunderer, what art thou
To Him with iridescent brow,
Who guides thy grand retreating prow,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡That whispers of His might;

And notches on these walls of stone
His hieroglyphics, yet thine own,
To make thy soundless ages known,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Through glyptic monographs.

Who wrote his name, “The Unseen God,”
In burning letters, fiery shod,
On Terrapin Tower, once trod
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡By bold adventurers;

When lo! ’twas hurled from heaven to hell,
The tottering, grand old sentinel,
Where oft I went to view the well,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Above thy plunging floods.


God gave thee queenly sisters three,
Faith, Hope and glorious Charity,
And placed the Iris Isle to be
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡A brooch to pin thy veil.

He sent the morn with rustling wings,
And filled the vales with babbling springs,
And gave the birds their color’d wings
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And sweetly charming notes.

To praise thy cascades most sublime,
Thro’ every land, thro’ every clime,
Whose opalescent rainbows shine
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡To prove His promise true.

He heaved the snow-clad mountains up.
To fill old Erie’s vine-clad cup,
With waters sweet for thee to sup.
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Majestic Orator!

He listeth in thy cave sublime,
And speaketh in that voice of thine,
And rideth on the storms of Time,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Which lash the Island’s home.

A spectacle personified,
May here be seen at midnight tide;
And lovers with the greatest pride
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡May view a modest beau.

He courts the Queen of Night by day,
At Ev’n song he tints the spray;
At peep of dawn he fades away—
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡The opal lunar bow.

For the lost Eden, search no more,
In myth or prehistoric lore;
That question’s settled, evermore,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡On this, the Sacred Isle,

Whose ferns and mosses scent the breeze,
Where east and west each soul agrees,
The Tigris and the Euphrates
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Flow swiftly, gladly on.


How bright and grand to thee did seem
This world arrayed in living green,
While Luna, robed in silvery sheen,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Her nightly vigils kept,

With gleaming light and lunar bow,
Thy phantom flood of joy and woe,
A milky stream of ceaseless flow,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡A phosphorescent dream;

‘Till paler man, with selfish soul,
Held in his hand a parchment scroll,
And taxed his neighbors, ev’ry soul—
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Infinite Oracle!

Who came to list thy voice so true,
And view thy waters, green and blue,
And marvel at thy emerald shoe
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Whose hoof an empire is!

Seated on the “Rock of Ages,”
While musing o’er the sacred pages,
Indited by inspir’d sages,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡I heard a spirit say:

“Let lions roar and people sing,
And eagles flutter on the wing,
While all the bells in steeples ring
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡For thee, Niagara,

“A jubilation loud and grand,
From frigid zones to torrid strand,
For Dufferin ope’d, with lordly hand,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Thy flood-gates tribute free.

“Now may thy incense heavenward soar,
And thy tempestuous billows roar
Their solemn protests, o’er and o’er
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Thy crest, Niagara.

“‘Till Justice, with concordant wand.
And Liberty with outstretched hand,
Shall welcome pilgrims as they land
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡On Freedom’s happy shore.

“And guard with zealous care for aye,
Thy mighty organ, night and day,
That all the world may hear it play,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡With unvexed harmony.

“Until discordant war’s alarms,
And conflicts of contending arms.
Are silenced by thy mad’ning charms,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Plunge on, Niagara!

“Nor let thy eyelids ever close,
In Neptune’s arms in sweet repose,
‘Till all the nations shall disclose,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Like thee, Niagara,

“A charity as broad and deep
As is thine own encircling steep,
Or as thy vortex where we peep
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Thro’ azure mists to heaven.”


In thee alone, Niagara,
Whose vast foundations seamed and knit
And bound by adamantine bars;
Methinks the Grecian bard would find
Meet inspiration for his noblest song,
And not in Trojan wars;
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡For here dwells Liberty.

While myriad sunlit, liquid pearls
Obscure thy bubbling pools and whirls,
Our goddess stoops, with golden curls,
To sip thy hydromel.

Proud Bedloe’s Isle may sound her horn—
Bartholdi’s gift her coast adorn;
But till her birthday’s final morn,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Here dwelleth Liberty.

In search of gain and worldly pelf,
The robber here hath shown himself,
And like the ox amid the delf,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡He would this figure break.

Let press and voice at once condemn
The spoiler who would steal a gem
From off the glittering diadem
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Of this majestic stream.

Though “Hope’s bright star” is sometimes pale,
Let Hope, not Fear, in man prevail;
The misty Ghost within the veil
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Proves life’s resurrection.

Alas! Niagara, what are we
Frail creatures when compared to thee?
Yet, what art thou to Deity?—
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡But Insignificance.

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

Thy Bells Deveaux (a song) by Thomas Vincent Welch and J. Ernest Rieger


Their tender tone o’er field and wood,
On summer wind now borne along;
With beating heart and eyes bedewed,
I hear once more their ev’ning song.

In many lands my feet have strayed,
Since I obeyed their vesper call;
When night winds stirred, in dreams I heard,
Their plaintive notes at evening’s fall.

Ring, ring, ring thy bells Deveaux
Ring o’er the cliffs thy bells Deveaux
Ring o’er field and wood as long ago;
Niag’ra’s murm’ring flood below
Ring o’er the cliffs thy bells Deveaux,
thy bells, thy bells, Deveaux

Once more a boy in forest dim,
I hear with joy their twilight hymn;
The toils of life, the joys we weep,
Our cares and sorrows ring to sleep.

O God from whom all blessings flow,
Protect thine hallow’d walls Deveaux,
And bells of heav’n, when life is past,
Call all thy children home at last.

Ring, ring, ring thy bells Deveaux
Ring o’er the cliffs thy bells Deveaux
Ring o’er field and wood as long ago;
Niag’ra’s murm’ring flood below
Ring o’er the cliffs thy bells Deveaux,
thy bells, thy bells, Deveaux

Source: Welch, Thomas Vincent (words) and Rieger, J. Ernest (music). Thy Bells Deveaux: Song for Soprano or Tenor and Mixed Quintette or Chorus. Niagara Falls, NY: J.E. Rieger, 1894

Many thanks to Lewis Buttery for bringing this song by Welch and Rieger to the NFPP curator’s attention.

The site of DeVeaux College is now owned by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, and is now the DeVeaux Woods State Park.

See the poem Chimes of De Veaux by Ada Elizabeth Fuller, to commemorate the installation of the new bells in 1913

Read more about the DeVeaux College Chimes

Visit the Big Daddy Dave blog post about DeVeaux School