Falls of the Ohio

Madison Cawein

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 rest.
Behold th' Ohio Falls: see how it seethes!
Though hardly heard from this high, wooded point,
Yet how it still confuses tongue and ear
With its subdued and low monotonous roar!
Not as it did, however, when we stood
And marked it from the spanning of the bridge
Rushing beneath, impetuous as a herd,—
A tameless herd, with manes of flying spray,—
Between the pillars towering above.
No more does it confound us and confuse;
Its clamor here is softened to a sound,
Incessant and subdued, like that which haunts
The groves of spring, when, like some dim surprise,
A wind, precursor of the rain, rides down
From a gray cloud and sets the leafy tongues
Cool-gossiping of the approaching shower.
There runs the dam; and where its dark line cuts
The river's sheen, already you may see
The ripples glancing to the summer sun,
As if a host had couched a thousand spears
And tossed a thousand plumes of fleecy foam,
In answer to the challenge of the Falls,
Blown from his limestone battlements, and cried
From his wave-builded city's roaring walls.
And there, you see, the waves like champions charge;
Crowding, wild form on form, their foam-hoofs beat
The ragged rocks that roll them on their way:
Billowing they come; knight-like, to ringing lists,
With shout on shout, tossing a thousand plumes,
A thousand spears in sparkling tournament;
Lifting, opposing each, a silvery shield
Or shining pennon, now that sinks or soars,
And many a glittering sword of twinkling foam,
And many a helmet, shattered in flakes of froth,
That, to the trumpeting wind, hisses away:
While, o'er it all, swell out the rush and roar
Of onset, as of battle borne afar.—
On, on they come, a beautiful, mad troop
On, on, along the sandy banks that fling
Red pebble-freckled arms far out to stay
Their ruinous rush, the knightly strife of waves,
Warring, and winding wild their watery horns.
Look, where a thousand oily eddies whirl,
And turn and turn like wheels of liquid steel
Below this headland! 'T is a place that none
Has bottomed yet with sounding lead and line.
Like some huge kraken, coiling vast its length,
The Eddy sleeps; and, bending from the shores,
The spotted sycamores have gazed and gazed,
Watching its slumber as gray giants might
A dragon in the hollow of gaunt hills,
Its serpent bulk wound round some magic hoard.
So long they've watched, their ancient backs have grown
Humped, gnarled, and bent, but still they gaze and gaze,
Leaning above; and from the glassy waves
Their images stare back their wonderment.

Haply they see the guardian Genius lie
At the dark bottom in an oozy cave
Of coral; webbed, recumbent on his mace
Of mineral; his locks of dripping green
Circling a crown of ore; his fishy eyes
Dull with the aqueous dullness of his realms.
But when the storm 's abroad and whips 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 foundation of the stream
Rises, a monarch, crowned with iron crown,
And hurls his challenge upward at the storm,
And rages through the waters; heaves and breaks
Through the wild waves, whose round and murky bulks,
Ribbed white with foam, wallow their monster way,
Like giant herds, along yon edge of rock
O'erstrewn with petrifactions of far time;
Mollusk and trilobite and honeycomb
Of whitest coral; and with mass on mass
Of root-like reptiles; writhings turned to rock;
Huge saurian bulks that, haply, sported there,
Convolved; and, in a moment, when the change,—
Which made and unmade continents and seas,
That teemed and groaned with mammoth and plesiosaur,—
Came, with upheaval of the universe…