On the Canadian side, we’re standing far enough away
the Falls look like photography, the roar a radio.
In the real rain, so vertical it fuses with the air,
the boat below us is starting for the caves.
Everyone on deck is dressed in black, braced for weather
and crossing against the current of the river.
They seem lost in the gorge dimensions of the place,
then, in fog, in a moment, gone.
In the Chekhov story,
the lovers live in a cloud, above the sheer witness of a valley.
They call it circumstance. They look up at the open wing
of the sky, or they look down into the future.
Death is a power like any other pull of the earth.
The people in the raingear with the cameras want to see it
from the inside, from behind, from the dark looking into the light.
They want to take its picture, give it size—
how much easier to get lost in the gradations of a large
and yellow leaf drifting its good-bye down one side of the gorge.
There is almost nothing that does not signal loneliness,
then loveliness, then something connecting all we will become.
All around us the luminous passage of the air,
the flat, wet gold of the leaves. I will never love you
more than at this moment, here in October,
the new rain rising slowly from the river.
Stanley Plumly (1939 – 2019)
Stanley Plumly was an American academic who taught creative writing and died at the age of 79 in April this year. John Keats was his spiritual guide in writing poetry. Also he is a poet who wrote about polio which affected his classmates when he was growing up.
The above poem appears to be from a visit to Niagara Falls and viewing the water from a distance on the Canadian side. There are two aspects of this passing encounter which feature in his words. A boat below the Falls which is crossing the fast flowing water, and a leaf drifting down one side of the gorge.
The boat appears a speck in the gorge and it disappears in fog. He is reminded of lovers on a cloud above a valley in a Chekov story. The lovers in this story can look up and be taken away in the open wing of the sky or can look down into their future, perhaps coming down to earth. The downside appropriate to Chekov.
This brings his thought to death as gravity. The people in the boat want to approach the Falls for photographs from many directions, but in doing so they tempt death by the swamping of the boat from the power of gravity in bringing the water over the falls.
But Stanley Plumly now turns attention to his second subject that of the leaf and the natural death of the leaf as it falls. It is much easier for him to get lost in this subject. At first this leaf is lonely by itself as it descends, then watching it further loveliness unfolds. It is representative or connects to what we will become. Death being natural.
He becomes absorbed by the beauty of wet gold leaves and the luminous passage of air penetrating the spray. And this moment becomes a love highpoint. I will never love you more. It is left to the reader to define the you whether nature, life or a person.
In summary, this is a poem about an intense emotional experience generated when visiting Niagara Falls; those moments in life that are held precious to the memory. However, like coming down out of the clouds of love they fall away in passing.