Life in the Slow Lane

October 31, 2008

Abe Lincoln waxes poetic about Niagara Falls

Filed under: Life — pauljlane @ 11:26 am

As promised in Sunday Lifestyle, here’s the text of Abraham Lincoln’s poem “Niagara Falls.” To see the original article about Western New York’s ties to the White House, click on the Lifestyle link to the right.

Niagara Falls! By what mysterious power is it that millions and
millions are drawn from all parts of the world to gaze upon Niagara Falls?
There is no mystery about the thing itself. Every effect is just as any
intelligent man, knowing the causes, would anticipate without seeing it.
If the water moving onward in a great river reaches a point where there is
a perpendicular jog of a hundred feet in descent in the bottom of the river,
it is plain the water will have a violent and continuous plunge at that point.
It is also plain, the water, thus plunging, will foam and roar, and send up
a mist continuously, in which last, during sunshine, there will be perpetual
rainbows. The mere physical of Niagara Falls is only this. Yet this is really
a very small part of that world’s wonder. Its power to excite reflection
and emotion is its great charm. The geologist will demonstrate that the
plunge, or fall, was once at Lake Ontario, and has worn its way back to its
present position; he will ascertain how fast it is wearing now, and so get
a basis for determining how long it has been wearing back from Lake
Ontario, and finally demonstrate by it that this world is at least fourteen
thousand years old. A philosopher of a slightly different turn will say, ‘
Niagara Falls is only the lip of the basin out of which pours all the surplus
water which rains down on two or three hundred thousand square miles of
the earth’s surface.’ He will estimate with approximate accuracy that five
hundred thousand tons of water fall with their full weight a distance of a
hundred feet each minute — thus exerting a force equal to the lifting of the
same weight, through the same space, in the same time. . . .
But still there is more. It calls up the indefinite past. When Columbus
first sought this continent — when Christ suffered on the cross — when Moses
led Israel through the Red Sea — nay, even when Adam first came from
the hand of his Maker; then, as now, Niagara was roaring here. The eyes
of that species of extinct giants whose bones fill the mounds of America have
gazed on Niagara, as ours do now. Contemporary with the first race of
men, and older than the first man, Niagara is strong and fresh to-day as ten
thousand years ago. The Mammoth and Mastodon, so long dead that fragments
of their monstrous bones alone testify that they ever lived, have
gazed on Niagara — in that long, long time never still for a single moment (
never dried), never froze, never slept, never rested.”

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