Image: Installation view of Felix Gonzalez Torres, "Untitled" (North), 1993, 15 watt light bulbs, porcelain light sockets, and extension cords, 12 parts, as installed in Turn on the bright lights at the Hessel Museum of Art at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College in 2014. Marieluise Hessel Collection, Hessel Museum of Art, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

Niagara

My Iyre! give me my Iyre! My bosom feels
The glow of inspiration. O how long
Have I been left in darkness since this light
Last visited my brow, Niagara!
Thou with thy rushing waters dost restore
The heavenly gift that sorrow took away.
Tremendous torrent! for an instant hush
The terrors of thy voice and cast aside
Those wide involving shadows, that my eyes
May see the fearful beauty of thy face!
I am not all unworthy of thy sight,
For from my very boyhood have I loved,
Shunning the meaner track of common minds,
To look on nature in her loftier moods.

At the fierce rushing of the hurricane,
At the near bursting of the thunderbolt,
I have been touched with joy; and when the sea
Lashed by the wind, hath rocked my bark and showed
Its yawning caves beneath me, I have loved
Its dangers and the wrath of elements.
But never yet the madness of the sea
Hath moved me as thy grandeur moves me now.

Thou flowest on in quiet, till thy waves
Grow broken 'midst the rocks; thy current then
Shoots onward like the irresistable course
Of destiny. Ah, terribly they rage—
The hoarse and rapid whirIpools there!
My brain grows wild, my senses wander, as I gaze
Upon the hurrying waters, and my sight
Vainly would follow, as toward the verge
Sweeps the wide torrent—waves innumerable
Meet there and madden—waves innumerable
Urge on and overtake the waves before,
And disappear in thunder and foam.

They reach—they leap the barrier—the abyss.
Swallows insatiable the sinking waves.      
A thousand rainbows arch them, and woods      
Are deafened with the roar. The violent shock      
Shatters to vapor the descending sheets—
A cloudy whirlwind fills the gulf, and heaves      
The mighty pyramid of circling mist      
To heaven. The solitary hunter near      
Pauses with terror in the forest shades.      
What seeks thy restless eye? Why are not here,
About the jaws of this abyss the palms      
Ah, the delicious palms that on the plains      
of my own native Cuba spring and spread      
Their thickly foliaged summits to the sun,      
And, in the breathings of the ocean air,
Wave soft beneath the heaven's unspotted blue?      

But no, Niagara, —thy forest pines
Are fitter coronal for thee. The palm,      
The effeminate myrtle and frail rose may grow      
In gardens, arid give out their fragrance there,      
Unmanning him who breathes it. Thine it is
To do a nobler office. Generous minds      
Behold thee, and are moved, and learn to rise      
Above earth's frivolous pleasures; they partake      
Thy grandeur, at the utterance of thy name.      
God of all truth! in other lands I've seen
Lying philosophers, blaspheming Men,      
Questioners of thy mysteries, that draw      
Their fellows deep into impiety;      
And therefore doth my spirit seek thy face      
In earth's majestic solitudes. Even here
My heart doth open all itself to thee.      
In this immensity of loneliness      
I feel thy hand upon me. To my ear      
The eternal thunder of the cataract brings      
They voice, and I am humbled as I hear.

Dread torrent! that with wonder and with fear
Dost overwhelm the soul of him that looks      
Upon thee, and dost bear it from itself,      
Whence hast though thy beginning? Who supplies,      
Age after age, thy unexhausted springs?
What power hath ordered, that, when all thy weight      
Descends into the deep, the swollen waves      
Rise not, and roll to overwhelm the earth?      
The Lord hath opened his omnipotent hand,      
Covered thy face with clouds, and given his voice
To thy down-rushing waters; he hath girt      
Thy terrible forehead with his radiant bow.      
I see thy never-resting waters run      
And I bethink me how the tide of time      
Sweeps to eternity. So pass of man—
Pass, like a noon-day dream—the blossoming days,      
And he awakes to sorrow. I, alas!      
Feel that my youth is withered, and my brow      
Plowed early with the lines of grief and care.      

Never have I so deeply felt as now 
the hopeless solitude, the abandonment,      
the anguish of a loveless life. Alas!      
How can the impassioned, the unfrozen heart      
Be happy without love? I would that one 
Beautiful,—worthy to be loved and joined      
In love with me,—now shared my lonely walk      
On this tremendous brink. 'Twere sweet to see      
Her sweet face touched with paleness, and become      
More beautiful from fear, and overspread
With a faint smile, while clinging to my side!      
Dreams—dreams! I am an exile, and for me      
There is no country and there is no love.      

Hear, dread Niagara, my latest voice!
Yet a few years, and the cold earth shall close      
Over the bones of him who sings thee now      
Thus feelingly. Would that this, my humble verse,      
Might be like thee, immortal! I, meanwhile, 
Cheerfully passing to the appointed rest,      
Might raise my radiant forehead in the clouds      
To listen to the echoes of my fame.

      

-José María Heredia

Original Source: José María Heredia, "Niagara" in The Odes of Bello, Olmedo, and Heredia, ed. Elijah Clarence Hills (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1920), 130-136.

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