Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE SECRET OF THE WATERFALL, by WILLIAM ROSE BENET

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE SECRET OF THE WATERFALL, by                 Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: Silver waters smoothly slip / in an overarching flood
Last Line: And few there are who understand.
Subject(s): Floods; Marriage; Sound; Water; Waterfalls; Weddings; Husbands; Wives

Silver waters smoothly slip
In an overarching flood
From the great crag's rough-hewn lip
Where deep wood to deeper wood
Thrusts across, so nearly wed
Save for the broad, deep river-bed
That bears its riotous torrent past,
Gambolling glad, to leap at last
Sheer from the rocks, where boughs of pine
And fir sweep low. Its raptured wave
Gleams with those nacreous tints that shine
In a wide shell's curved concave.
Far, far it falls. Its surface spray
In plumes and skeins is blown away
Evanescent, shimmering white,
Shifting, drifting, wreathing, trailing,
And perpetually veiling
The flexuous power of its delight.

'Twixt its arch and the rough cliff-face
Wet twilight fills the interspace,
As if the broad bejewelled pinion
Of some seraph, drooping deep,
Shaded so a dim dominion,
A crypt, a silver shrine for sleep,
Ever haunted, day and night,
With a curious emerald light.

So, where it plunges to th' abysm
With thunder-tones, and hissing seethes
In a vast pool, the torrent's prism
Shuts in a secret shrine, that breathes
Purer breaths of rarer beauty
Than fills our world of painful duty.

On either side the waterfall
The rock face spreads abrupt and tall
And rims the pool, that, at the base
Of the encirquing rocky face,
Through devious channels, worn crevasses,
Is freed upon the mountain passes.

Now on a day of dizzy heat
A young man, bronzed but city-bred,
Climbing through the clover sweet,
Saw crested waters glitter far,
Surged through thick trees, and stood o'erhead
Above that pool where wonders are.
Cliff-poised and opposite the fall
He stood, and heard its waters call,
And won with effort to the base
Of its perilous rocky face,
And found it difficult to trace
The circuit round; but in the end
On slippery stones, with gasping breath,
Stood where eternal waters pour,
Wet with their mist, and with their roar
Deafened, and within grasp of death;
Yet saw beneath their glimmering curve
That twilight space, that crypt green-lit,
That cloister of divine content;
And throbbed and thrilled through every nerve;
Leaped then, and burst the mist of it,
And stood enraptured, drenched, forespent,
Where but beneath the flowing fall
That spread its curtain closely round—
A splendid curtain, silver-sewn,
Spangled like hammochrysos stone—
Stood in a crypt that dripped delight,
His ear-drums pulsing with that sound
The sheeted waters in their might
Flung to the crags, to mock their thrall.

Ever the curving curtain of light
Flickered before him, swam on his sight.
Turning he saw how the cliff-face gleamed
With deep-cut niches, or,—Nay! Had he dreamed?

The dripping boulders, beaded with frost,
Crowded the twilight, heavily mossed.
High in the cliff-face, nigh to his head
Niches glimmered with—lamps for the dead?

There 'neath the silver cataract screen,
In the glimmering twilight eerily green,
Three niches shone with three statues bright,
Slender in silver,—each with a light!

Bronzed hands reached them, though blue eyes feared,
Eyes that were narrowed with fear as they peered.
The man's hands grasped them, and set them all
At his feet, 'mid the boulders, under the fall.

Worn were the features. Scarce could he trace
Christ's or the Virgin's or Joseph's face.
Yet on every image, gleaming and bright,
Phosphorous fungus glowed for a light.

Worn was the silver, scoured and scored.
(Steadily roaring the waterfall poured.)
Lost in wonder, his wide eyes ashine,
Stood the bronzed young man in that sea-green shrine.

"Now I remember! Before I was born
Were these waters, they say, from their channel torn.
Then the pool was a quarry. Here at the base
Italians hacked at the cliff's hard face.

"A loss—and abandoned—sunk out of mind,—
But their heartening faith they have left behind,
Here in this silver, here at my feet,—
Their leaven of love making labour sweet!

"Jesus and Mary and Joseph mild,
The same that my mother taught to her child!
Ah, now in the world you would grieve, you would grieve!
Here in your purity, live and believe!

"Here in your niches I set you in line,
In your dripping crypt, in your secret shrine.
The world's erosion wears you not here,—
Only white waters, pure and clear.

"Only the waters, seeping through clay,
For long years longer shall wear you away,—
Out of the world's light, here in the sweet
Emerald light of your pure retreat!"

Swiftly he set them shining on high;
Stood with bowed head; and turned with a sigh;
Burst to the light; clung the cliff's rough face,
With thew and sinew his path to retrace.

Still from the crag the water curves
And pours its sheets of glittering light
To the great pool from off the height,
Nor from its splendid purpose swerves.
And still the mountain valleys drink
The glory leaping from its brink
When, through a thousand streams distilled,
It finds the pastures men have tilled.
And its sweet legend travels still
From lip to lip and hill to hill
Through all that rugged mountain land.
In many a cabin mountaineers
Still hand it down through sons and daughters,
Told with rough mirth or told with tears.
They say it sweetens all the waters
That ever leaped the waterfall.
And some say, "Folly! That is all."
And few there are who understand.

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