The Falls of the Chaudiere, Ottawa

We present this work in honor of Canada Day.

Charles Sangster
Canadian
1822 – 1893

 

I have laid my cheek to Nature’s, placed my puny hand in hers,
Felt a kindred spirit warming all the life-blood of my face,
Moved amid the very foremost of her truest worshippers,
Studying each curve of beauty, marking every minute grace;
Loved not less the mountain cedar than the flowers at its feet,
Looking skyward from the valley, open-lipped as if in prayer,
Felt a pleasure in the brooklet singing of its wild retreat,
But I knelt before the splendour of the thunderous Chaudiere.

All my manhood waked within me, every nerve had tenfold force,
And my soul stood up rejoicing, looking on with cheerful eyes,
Watching the resistless waters speeding on their downward course,
Titan strength and queenly beauty diademed with rainbow dyes.
Eye and ear, with spirit quickened, mingled with the lovely strife,
Saw the living Genius shrined within her sanctuary fair,
Heard her voice of sweetness singing, peered into her hidden life,
And discerned the tuneful secret of the jubilant Chaudiere:

‘Within my pearl-roofed shell,
Whose floor is woven with the iris bright,
Genius and Queen of the Chaudiere I dwell,
As in a world of immaterial light.

My throne, an ancient rock,
Marked by the foot of ages long-departed,
My joy, the cataract’s stupendous shock,
Whose roll is music to the grateful-hearted.

I’ve seen the eras glide
With muffled tread to their eternal dreams,
While I have lived in vale and mountain side,
With leaping torrents and sweet purling streams.

The Red-Man’s active life;
His love, pride, passions, courage, and great deeds;
His perfect freedom, and his thirst for strife;
His swift revenge, at which the memory bleeds:

The sanguinary years,
When sullen Terror, like a raging Fate,
Swept down the stately tribes like slaughtered deers,
And war and hatred joined to decimate

The remnants of the race,
And spread decay through centuries of pain-
No more I mark their sure, avenging pace,
And forests wave where war-whoops shook the plain.

Their deeds I envied not.
The royal tyrant on his purple throne,
I, in secluded grove or shady grot,
Had purer joys than he had ever known,

God made the ancient hills,
The valleys and the solemn wildernesses,
The merry-hearted and melodious rills,
And strung with diamond dews the pine-trees’ tresses;

But man’s hand built the palace,
And he that reigns therein is simply man;
Man turns God’s gifts to poison in the chalice
That brimmed with nectar in the primal plan.

Here I abide alone-
The wild Chaudiere’s eternal jubilee
Has such sweet divination in its tone,
And utters nature’s truest prophecy

In thunderings of zeal!
I’ve seen the Atheist in terror start,
Awed to contrition by the strong appeal
That waked conviction in his doubting heart:

‘Teachers speak throughout all nature,
From the womb of Silence born,
Heed ye not their words, O Scoffer?
Flinging back thy scorn with scorn!
To the desert spring that leapeth,
Pulsing, from the parched sod,
Points the famished trav’ler, saying-
‘Brothers, here, indeed, is God!’

From the patriarchal fountains,
Sending forth their tribes of rills,
From the cedar-shadowed lakelets
In the hearts of distant hills,
Whispers softer than the moonbeams
Wisdom’s gentle heart have awed,
Till its lips approved the cadence-
‘Surely here, indeed, is God!’

Lo! o’er all, the Torrent Prophet,
An inspired Demosthenes,
To the Doubter’s soul appealing,
Louder than the preacher-seas:
Dreamer! wouldst have nature spurn thee
For a dumb, insensate clod?
Dare to doubt! and these shall teach thee
Of a truth there lives a God!’

By day and night, for hours,
I watch the cataract’s impulsive leap,
Refreshed and gladdened by the cheering showers
Wrung from the passion of the seething deep.

Pleased when the buried waves
Emerge again, like incorporeal hosts
Rising, white-sheeted, from their gloomy graves,
As if the depths had yielded up their ghosts.

And when the midnight storm
Enfolds the welkin in its robe of clouds,
Through the dim vapours of the cauldron swarm
The sheeted spectres in their whitest shrouds,

By the lightning’s flash betrayed.
These gather from the insubstantial vapour
The lunar rainbows, which by them are made-
Woven with moonbeams by some starry taper,

To decorate the halls
Of my fair palace, whence I’m pained to see
Thy human brethren watch the waterfalls-
Not with such rev’rence as I’ve found in thee:

Too many with an eye
To speculation and the worldling’s dreams;
Others, who seek from nature no reply,
Nor read the oral language of the streams.

But of the few who loved
The beautiful with grateful heart and soul,
Who looked on nature fondly, and were moved
By one sweet glance, as by the mighty whole:

Of these, the thoughtful few,
Thou wert the first to seek the inner temple,
And stand before the Priestess. Thou wert true
To nature and thyself. Be thy example

The harbinger of times
When the Chaudiere’s imposing majesty
Will awe the spirits of the heartless mimes
To worship God in truth, with nature’s constancy.’

Still I heard the mellow sweetness of her voice at intervals,
Mingling with the fall of waters, rising with the snowy spray,
Ringing through the sportive current like the joy of waterfalls,
Sending up their hearty vespers at the calmy close of day.
Loath to leave the scene of beauty, lover-like I stayed, and stayed,
Folding to my eager bosom memories beyond compare;
Deeper, stronger, more enduring than my dreams of wood and glade,
Were the eloquent appeals of the magnificent Chaudiere.

E’en the solid bridge is trembling, whence I look my last farewell,
Dizzy with the roar and trampling of the mighty herd of waves,
Speeding past the rocky Island, steadfast as a sentinel,
Towards the loveliest bay that ever mirrored the Algonquin Braves.
Soul of Beauty! Genius! Spirit! Priestess of the lovely strife!
In my heart thy words are shrined, as in a sanctuary fair;
Echoes of thy voice of sweetness, rousing all my better life,
Ever haunt my wildest visions of the jubilant Chaudiere.

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