Public Aid for Niagara Falls by Morris Bishop

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Tourist at Niagara Falls
Photo by used under Creative Commons Licence from PxHere

Upon the patch of earth that clings
‡‡Near the very brink of doom,
Where the frenzied water flings
‡‡Downward to a misty gloom,

Where the earth in terror quakes
‡‡And the water leaps in foam
Plunging, frantic from the Lakes,
‡‡Hurrying seaward, hurrying home,

Where Man’s little voice is vain,
‡‡And his heart chills in his breast
At the dreadful yell of pain
‡‡Of the waters seeking rest;

There I stood, and humbly scanned
‡‡The miracle that sense appalls,
And I watched the tourist stand
‡‡Spitting in Niagara Falls.


Source: Baker, Russell (ed.) The Norton Book of Light Verse. New York: Norton, 1986.

Originally published in Bishop, Morris. Spilt Milk. New York: Putnam, 1942

Read about Morris Bishop

Niagara by Naomi Shihab Nye

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Maid of the Mist Near the American Side of Niagara Falls.
Photo by Chris McIntosh on Unsplash

Arriving early, before the lovers
have climbed up from their seastruck beds,
she stands where mist can penetrate
the way 7 a. m. changes the world—
softening, quickening little
hopes. She thought the Falls

were out in the country, not in a town.
To be wrong so many times, like finding the pyramids
adjacent to the Cairo bus stop,
or even herself alone in upstate New York
in the middle of a summer when she can imagine
pitching so many things overboard,
not a body in a barrel, not that,
but stacks of manuscripts, yellow stick-um notes,
even what she said yesterday,

into the surging megatons,
the burst of fabulous power that could light our lights
from here to Cincinnati or whatever the loudspeaker shouts
when she rides the boat that dips a herd of slickers
into the blinding white roar, the baptismal boat
where Japanese and Puerto Rican come up equally
wet. Despite the blurred narrtive,
she won’t forget how she lifted her face into the spray.

Before leaving, she drives around
the Canadian side, entering the thrift mart,
dimestore, buying a jug of bilingual bubble bath—
then spins toward the bridge again, refreshed,
sparked by the electricity that accompanies
days marked by nothing but what we see,
as if after all our sober intentions and hard work,
the days that carry us could be these.


Source: Naomi Shihab Nye. Red Suitcase: Poems. Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, 1994


About Naomi Shihab Nye (from Red Suitcase):

Poet, teacher, essayist, anthologist, songwriter and singer, Naomi Shihab Nye is one of the country’s most acclaimed writers. Her voice is generous; her vision true; her subjects ordinary people, and ordinary situations which, when rendered through her language, become remarkable. In this, her fourth full collection of poetry, we see with new eyes-a grandmother’s scarf, an alarm clock, a man carrying his son on his shoulders.

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From the Sublime to the Ridiculous by Evan MacColl

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Evan MacColl
from the frontispiece


Lines suggested by a glance at the visitor’s Album, kept at the Museum, Niagara Falls.

Give up, ye would-be bards, your rhymes to tag here so,
In vain you rack your brains to paint Niagara.
A theme which even Milton’s muse might beggar, you
Had better let alone when at Niagara.
About Lodore right well could Southey swagger, tho’
‘Twould take ten thousand such to match Niagara.
To all who can stand boasting fit to stagger me,
I’d recommend a visit to Niagara.
Hear yon sleek slaver—not a bit in waggery—
Toasting the “Flag of Freedom” at Niagara!
“You Canucks,” quoth he, “need the starry flag o’er you
To make you worth your salt benorth Niagara!
You can’t too quickly have that British rag o’er you
To disappear entirely from Niagara!
He calculates some day to blast a crag or two
And drain Lake Erie all up from Niagara.
He speculates, just as myself I drag away,
How Ætna’s throat would like to gulp Niagara!
Oh, cousins, cousins! what a set for brag are you!
When will you learn mere froth is not Niagara?
But I must cease, lest they should lynch or dagger me;
Already they have fleeced me at Niagara.


Source: Evan MacColl.  The English Poetical Works of Evan MacColl.  2nd Canadian edition.  Toronto: Hunter, Rose & Co., 1885

Click here to see a biography of Evan MacColl

Niagara by Julia Older

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The Cave of the Winds.
Image courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

What I remember most is not the barrage,
the beating, the thunderous surge
in my plugged ears. Or the faces
drenched in rivulets of tears. Not the rubber
ducky shoes, or hooked yellow slickers and hats
lined up in a row like Gloucester ghosts
in the fog of the women’s undressing room.
But how, being shy and thirteen, I crouched
in a private cubby and slipping off my panties,
revived the child who once threw off her clothes
and ran through summer storms
open-mouthed in sheets of rain—
a bare-back rider with streaming hair
and tall grass between my toes
—wild and ecstatic.

Drowned in the deafening roar,
my parents’ incessant arguing dissolved to silence
as they held on for dear life to the railing.
Single file we climbed to The Cave of Winds
through the relentless crash of water.
An old man ahead of me stopped. Laughing,
I leapt around and raced up the winding steps, free
to look beyond their fear and shouting.
My uplifted face glowed with the stinging tattoo
and poured down my legs. Beyond belief,
on the top platform I looked through a quicksilver veil
hurling rainbows and spray into my eyes.
Though the scaffold rotted long ago
I’m still there, naked with the angel
behind the falls.


Source: Deus Loci, 2010/2011  vol 12, p. 92-93

About Julia Older

Life at Niagara: An Epistle From the Falls By James Thomas Fields

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James Thomas Fields


Dear N.
: While the rainbows are spanning the Falls,
And a lusty Scotch infant next door raises squalls, —
While the frantic young mother shouts madly for milk,
In tones not so soft, quite, as satin or silk, —
Your friend, grown poetic, has snatched up his pen,
To dash off a line to “the best of young men.”

You’ve been at the Falls, and they can’t be described,
Though Coleridge himself from the tomb should be bribed ;
Pile mountains of paper, and flood them with ink,
And Niagara is dry, though the reader should sink.
But there’s life here, my friend, — closely packed to be sure, —
For fashion condenses what man must endure :
Not a bed to be had, not a chair, or a block,
And the only spare table is old Table Rock.
How glorious a visit, were taverns and gongs
But banished a week to where Fashion belongs,
To tramp through the forest, with no charge of fares,
In a pair of brogans, such as Audubon wears;
To meet a lithe Indian, all stately and stark,
And “put up” a few days in his wigwam of bark; —
Gods! a walk through the woods, by the light of the stars,
Would outweigh all the lamps, and the Lewiston cars!

But here’s life at the Falls — from a year to fourscore —
(And I think by the sound there’s a day at next door ; )
Here are members of Congress, away from their seats,
Though sure to be there when the dinner-gong beats ;
Here are waiters, so eager your viands to snatch,
That they leap down the stairs like a multiplied Patch ;
To the sound of sweet music they nimbly appear,
And whisk off your corn while they tickle your ear.
Here are pensive young preachers, dressed quite comme il faut,
In coats black as night, and cravats pure as snow ;
Rich East India governors, heavy as gold,
Hanging round like weak sun-flowers, yellow and old ;
Artistical talent, with sketch-book displayed,
Drawing very bad water in very poor shade ;
Fat cockneys from Charing-Cross ; belles from Madrid,
Whose long jewelled fingers outrival Jamschid ;
Superb English maidens, with swan-swimming gait,
Who float round the Rapids like Junos in state ; —
But the brightest-eyed daughters, the best string of pearls,
Represent in their beauty our own Yankee Girls.

Here cluster the fair, and the plain, and the prim,
Round the gallant and gay, whiskered up to the brim ;
Here’s a biped in boots, a most exquisite ass,
Who looks at the Falls through a golden-rimmed glass ;
And to-day such a waist, N., I saw on the Rock,
That to furnish the brains seemed a slight waste of stock.
Here’s a lively old lady, all feathers and fans,
Who trots about peddling her Susans and Anns ;
And a drab-colored Quaker, I’ve seen more than twice
Take a sly glass of something in water and ice.
But brief let me be, while the dull curfew tolls ;
Niagara still lives! still it rushes, and rolls ; —
There is no spot on earth where I’d sooner meet you,
And the friends we both love, N., the choice and the true,
Though a Downeastern editor published the lie
That this glorious old cataract’s “all in my eye!”


Source:  James Thomas Fields. Poems by James T. Fields.  Boston: William D. Ticknor & Company, 1849

Read about Fields here