Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX. 1876–79.

Middle States: Niagara, the River


By José María Heredia (1803–1839)

Anonymous translation

TREMENDOUS torrent! for an instant hush

The terrors of thy voice, and cast aside

Those wide-involving shadows, that my eyes

May see the fearful beauty of thy face!

I am not all unworthy of thy sight;

For from my very boyhood have I loved,

Shunning the meaner track of common minds,

To look on Nature in her loftier moods.

At the fierce rushing of the hurricane,

At the near bursting of the thunderbolt,

I have been touched with joy; and when the sea,

Lashed by the wind, hath rocked my bark, and showed

Its yawning caves beneath me, I have loved

Its dangers and the wrath of elements.

But never yet the madness of the sea

Hath moved me as thy grandeur moves me now.

Thou flowest on in quiet, till thy waves

Grow broken midst the rocks; thy current then

Shoots onward like the irresistible course

Of Destiny. Ah, terribly they rage,—

The hoarse and rapid whirlpools there! My brain

Grows wild, my senses wander, as I gaze

Upon the hurrying waters; and my sight

Vainly would follow, as toward the verge

Sweeps the wide torrent. Waves innumerable

Meet there and madden,—waves innumerable

Urge on and overtake the waves before,

And disappear in thunder and in foam.

They reach, they leap the barrier,—the abyss

Swallows insatiable the sinking waves.

A thousand rainbows arch them, and the woods

Are deafened with the roar. The violent shock

Shatters to vapor the descending sheets.

A cloudy whirlwind fills the gulf, and heaves

The mighty pyramid of circling mist

To heaven. The solitary hunter near

Pauses with terror in the forest shades.

What seeks my restless eye? Why are not here,

About the jaws of this abyss, the palms,—

Ah, the delicious palms,—that on the plains

Of my own native Cuba spring and spread

Their thickly foliaged summits to the sun,

And, in the breathings of the ocean air,

Wave soft beneath the heaven’s unspotted blue?

But no, Niagara,—thy forest pines

Are fitter coronal for thee. The palm,

The effeminate myrtle, and frail rose may grow

In gardens, and give out their fragrance there,

Unmanning him who breathes it. Thine it is

To do a nobler office. Generous minds

Behold thee, and are moved, and learn to rise

Above earth’s frivolous pleasures; they partake

Thy grandeur, at the utterance of thy name.