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Poem by Madison Julius Cawein

The Ohio Falls

Here on this jutting headland, where the trees
Spread a dusk carpet for the sun to cast
And count his golden guineas on, we'll stay;
For hence is the best prospect of the Falls,
Whose roar no more astounds the startled ear,
As when we bent and marked it from the bridge
Seething beneath and bounding like a steed -
A tameless steed with mane of flying spray -
Between the pillars rising sheer above.
But mark how soft its clamor now is grown,
Incessant rush like that of vernal groves
When, like some sweet surprise, a wand'ring wind,
Precursor of the coming rain, rides down
From a gray cloud and sets their leafy tongues
A-gabbing of the fresh, impending shower.

There runs the dam, and where its dark line cuts
The river's sheen, already you may see
The ripples glancing to the fervid sun,
As if the waves had couched a hundred spears
And tossed a hundred plumes of fleecy foam
In answer to the challenge of the Falls,
Blown on his bugle from the battlements
Of his subaqueous city's rocky walls.
And now you see their maddened coursers charge,
Hear wavy hoof-strokes on the jagged stones,
That pave the pathway of the current, beat,
While billowing they ride to ringing lists,
With shout and yell, and toss their hundred plumes,
And shock their riply spears in tournament
Upon the opposing billows' shining shields.
Now sinks a pennon, but 'tis raised again;
There falls or breaks a spear or sparkling sword;
A shattered helmet flies in flakes of foam
And on the frightened wind hisses away:
And o'er it all you hear the sound, the roar
Of waves that fall in onset or that strive.

On, on they come, a beautiful, mad troop!
On, on, along the sandy banks that fling
Red pebble-freckled arms far out to stay
The riotous waves that ride and hurl along
In casque and shield and wind their wat'ry horns.

And there where thousand oily eddies whirl,
And turn and turn like busy wheels of steel,
Is the Big Eddy, whose deep bottom none
As yet have felt with sounding plummet-line.
Like a huge giant, wily in its strength,
The Eddy lies; and bending from the shore
The spotted sycamores have looked and looked,
Watching his motions as a school boy might
A sleeping serpent coiled upon his path.
So long they've watched that their old backs have grown
Hump'd, gnarl'd, and crooked, nor seem they this to heed,
But gaze and gaze, and from the glossy waves
Their images stare back their wonderment.
Mayhap they've seen the guardian Genius lie
At its dark bottom in an oozy cave
Of shattered rock, recumbent on his mace
Of mineral; his locks of dripping green
Circling a crown of ore; his fishy eyes
Dull with the monotony of his aqueous realms.

But when the storm's abroad and smites the waves
With stinging lashes of the myriad rain,
Or scars with thunder some ancestral oak,
Sire of a forest, then he wakes in wrath,
And on the dark foundations of the stream
Stands monarch of the flood in iron crown,
And murmurs till the tempest fiends above
Stand stark with awe, and all the eddy breaks
To waves like those whose round and murky bulks.
Ribbed white with foam, wallow like battened swine
Along yon ridge of ragged rock o'erstrewn
With petrifactions of Time's earliest dawn;
Mollusks and trilobites and honey-combs
Of coral white; and here and there a mass
Of what seems writhing reptiles there convolved,
And in one moment when the change did come,
Which made and unmade continents and seas,
That teemed and groaned with dire monstrosities,
Had froze their glossy spines to sable stones.

There where uprises a dun knoll o'erstrewn
With black and rotten stumps in the mid river,
Erst rose an island green and beautiful
With willows, beeches, dappled sycamores;
Corn Island, on whose rich and fertile soil
The early pioneers a colony
Attempted once to found, ere ever this
Fair "City of the Falls" - now echoing to
The tingling bustle of its busy trade -
Was dreamed of. Here the woodman built
His rude log cabin; here he sowed his maize;
Here saw it tassel 'neath the Summer's smile,
And glance like ranks of feathered Indians thro'
The misty vistas of the broken woods;
Here reaped and sheaved its wealth of ivory ears
When Autumn came like a brown Indian maid
Tripping from the pink sunset o'er the hills,
That blushed for love and cast beneath her feet
Untold of gold in leaves and yellow fruit.
Here lived the pioneer and here he died,
And mingled his rough dust with the raw earth
Of that long isle which now disparted stands,
And nothing save a bed of limestone rock, -
Where in the quarry you may see the blast
Spout heavenward the dust and dirt and stone,
And flap and pound its echoes 'round the hills
Like giant strokes of some huge airy hammer, -
And that lone mound of stumpy earth to show
That there once stood an isle as rich and fair
As any isle that rises up to kiss
The sun and dream in tropic seas of balm.

There lies the other half of what was once
Corn Island; a broad channel flows between.
And this low half, mantled with a dwarf growth
Of what was once high brakes and forest land,
Goose Island now is named. In the dim morn,
Ere yet the East assumes her faintest blush.
Here may you hear the melancholy snipe
Piping, or see her paddling in the pools
That splash the low bed of the rocky isle.

Once here the Indian stole in natural craft
From brush to brush, his head plumes like a bird
Flutt'ring and nodding 'mid the undergrowth;
In his brown hand the pliant, polished bow,
And at his back his gaudy quiver filled
With tufted arrows headed with blue flint.
And while the deep flamingo colored West
Flamed on his ruddy cheek its airy fire,
Strung his quick bow and thro' the gray wild goose,
That rose with clamor from the rushy pool,
Launched a fleet barb, crested with quills - perchance
Plucked yestere'en from its dead mate's gray wing
To decorate the painted shaft that should
Dabble to-day their white in its mate's blood; -
It falling, gasping at its moccasined feet,
Its wild life breathed away, while the glad brave
Whooped to the sunset, and yon faint blue hills
Answered his exultation with a whoop.

Madison Julius Cawein

Madison Julius Cawein's other poems:
  1. The Wood God
  2. Poe
  3. Dogtown
  4. Love's Calendar
  5. Fall

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