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

Middle States: Niagara, the River

The Cataract Isle

By Christopher Pearse Cranch (1813–1892)

I WANDERED through the ancient wood

That crowns the cataract isle.

I heard the roaring of the flood

And saw its wild, fierce smile.

Through tall tree-tops the sunshine flecked

The huge trunks and the ground,

And the pomp of fullest summer decked

The island all around.

And winding paths led all along

Where friends and lovers strayed,

And voices rose with laugh and song

From sheltered nooks of shade.

Through opening forest vistas whirled

The rapids’ foamy flash,

As they boiled along and plunged and swirled,

And neared the last long dash.

I crept to the island’s outer verge,

Where the grand, broad river fell,—

Fell sheer down mid foam and surge

In a white and blinding hell.

The steady rainbow gayly shone

Above the precipice,

And the deep low tone of a thunder groan

Rolled up from the drear abyss.

And all the day sprang up the spray

Where the broad white sheets were poured,

And fell around in showery play,

Or upward curled and soared.

And all the night those sheets of white

Gleamed through the spectral mist,

When o’er the isle the broad moonlight

The wintry foam-flakes kissed.

Mirrored within my dreamy thought,

I see it, feel it all,—

That island with sweet visions fraught,

That awful waterfall.

With sunflecked trees, and birds and flowers,

The Isle of Life is fair;

But one deep voice thrills through its hours,

One spectral form is there,—

A power no mortal can resist,

Rolling forever on,—

A floating cloud, a shadowy mist,

Eternal undertone.

And through the sunny vistas gleam

The fate, the solemn smile.

Life is Niagara’s rushing stream;

Its dreams—that peaceful isle!