An Ode to the Falls of Dionondawa: A Poem by Jonathan Elihu Hoag
I have decided to dedicate my blog posts this month to local poets & poetry because April is National Poetry Month!
I first learned about Jonathan Elihu Hoag (1831-1927) and his (third) wife Lydia Martin Dwelle Hoag (1935-1906) while reading about & researching the Easton Political Equality Club during my tenure as Greenwich Town Historian. Husband & wife joined the local suffrage club in 1892, just one year after its founding by Lucy Allen & Chloe Sisson. Lydia even kept a journal in which she mentions going to suffrage meetings and attending local lectures by Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1895) and Harriet May Mills (1896).
Jonathan, according to his obituary in the New York Times dated, October 18, 1927, "was a descendant of Ethan Allen, was a lawyer, poet, newspaper correspondent, scientist and scholar." He was also friends with science fiction author H.P. Lovecraft who helped Jonathan publish a book of poetry at 92 years old. The Poetical Works of Jonathan E. Hoag even features an introduction by Lovecraft excerpted below.
Should a critic attempt to decide which of the several fields of Mr. Hoag's work best suits the author's talents, he would find himself involved in much delicate comparison. There are odes to Nature's primal forces which sometime reach impressive depths, as where in speaking of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado he refers to black caverns where "[v]ast nameless satyrs dance with noiseless feet."
Apparently Jonathan was fond of writing poems for family members to commemorate milestones, like his cousin's 80th birthday. There are some such poems in his book, including a few for his mother, and one for his sister Hannah Hoag Balch.
But I thought I would share one of his poems about a local waterfall on the Battenkill.
An Ode to the Falls of Dionondawa [sic]
by Jonathan Elihu Hoag (1917)
Ye towering rocks o’er which the waters fly,
Pray tell me whence ye came and when and why;
Your revered age reveal, your purpose show,
Unseal those mysteries of long ago!
Was it at Nature’s noon that first your height
Rose to the fulgent rays of solar light?
Or was it at the dawn, when nascent earth
Glowed like the nebula that gave it birth?
Speak, hoary torrent of the primal scene,
And trace the course of ages that have been;
Reflect once more that ancient sky, whose rays
Lit the first drops with mist-enshrouded blaze;
Recall each memory, and display the whole
On revelation’s all enlightening scroll!
Tell the long story to yon clinging vine,
On that proud sentinel, the wind-swayed pine;
In whispers tell the tinted flowers that spring
Close to the banks where your swift waters sing;
Tell the green groves by balmy winds caressed,
Where twittering wrens and chirping robins nest;
Why be so loath your secrets to unfold,
Ere time shall leave your gorges dry and old?
Some fateful day the sage will seek in vain,
Where now your ripples run, a numerous train;
And many a weed and thorn will lift its head
O’er the mute pebbles of the arid bed.
So speak, thou cataract, while time remains,
And I will spread thy fame in Doric strains;
Thy wondrous tale to millions shall be dear,
And generations yet unborn shall hear!
When glacial cohorts on the heights arrayed,
In icy wonder watched thy tall cascade;
With deadly purpose scanned thy gorge below,
And stalked with hypoborean skill the foe;
Didst chant a warning, and the glaciers greet
With prophecies of peril and defeat?
On sunny plains to Phoebus wont to yield,
They left their rocky bones strewn o’er the field!
And when the Red Man in primeval pride
In admiration sought they pine-clad side;
In each white spray a Manitou to trace,
And bow before the spirit of the place;
Didst thou to him thy secret then relate,
And tell the copper visitor thy fate!
See Cossayuna, stately, gray and tall.
With question grave, address the waterfall;
“You tell me some,” he grunt, “Me tell you more,”
But naught is heard above the mighty roar.
Then lovely Minnewawa, she whose eyes
Gleam brighter that the stars of midnight skies;
“You tell,” she says, “the many things you know;
“Me tell you Indian lore of long ago.
“Your rocks and torrents, I’ll preserve to fame,
“And your proud falls, Dionaondawa name!”
Then spake the rocks, whose ancient lips so long
Had lain in silence, dumb to speech and song;
With thunderous accents they the records read,
Kept through uncounted years of varied dead;
“Behold our sides, by time’s sharp chisel rent
“When Nature rocked the rising continent,
“Dark were the thick veiled skies, no sound was heard
“Save the black Vulcan’s subterranean word.
“The sooty Cyclops, with gigantic might,
“Heaved up the rocks from realms of Stygian night,
“Plutonian silence and Cimmerian pall
“In hideous mantle shroud and cover all;
“In sunless, moonless, starless, soundless space,
“A new world joins the planetary race,
“Then falls the fiat as the Almighty speaks,
“A rift of light through the deep vapor breaks—
“Sun, moon, and stars their wonted paths assume,
“And ordered heaven supplants the primal gloom.
“We gaze above, where circling seraphim
“Induct a foaming torrent o’er our brim;
“With sprightly grace the crystal waters flow,
“And loud reverberate in the gulf below;
“Through the deep gorge with rushing force to rage,
“And serve the mill-wheels for a future age.
“In days to come a million souls shall reap
“The blessings our tumultuous waters keep,
“And industry, with all her copious store,
“Shall feed the mendicant and clothe the poor.
“Its work complete, the useful stream shall glide
“To where the river meets the salty tide;
“And there the laboring flood at least shall rest,
“Safe sleeping on Old Ocean’s ample breast!”
Hoag, Jonathan E. The Poetical Works of Jonathan E. Hoag. 1st ed. New York, NY: Privately printed, 1923.
A portion of this post was originally published as Jonathan E. Hoag on Dionondahowa Falls on May 2, 2019.
Tisha Dolton is Librarian/Historian at The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls, NY. Her areas of interest are suffrage music, suffragists of Warren and Washington Counties, local women and minority populations, and embroidery.