Poems (1898)/By the Conemaugh

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(MAY 31, 1889)

Foreboding sudden of untoward change,
A tight'ning clasp on everything held dear,
A moan of waters wild and strange,
A whelming horror near;
And, midst the thund’rous din a voice of doom,—
"Make way for me, O Life, for Death make room!

"I come like the whirlwind rude,
'Gainst all thou hast cherished warring;
I come like the flaming flood
From a crater's mouth outpouring;
I come like the avalanche gliding free;

And the Power that sent thee forth, sends me!

"Where thou hast builded with strength secure
My hand shall spread disaster;
Where thou hast barr'd me, with forethought sure,
Shall ruin flow the faster;
I come to gather where thou hast sowed,—
But I claim of thee nothing thou hast not owed!

"On my mission of mercy forth I go
Where the Lord of Being sends me;
His will is the only will I know,
And my strength is the strength He lends me;
Thy loved ones I hide 'neath my waters dim,

But I cannot hide them away from Him!"


  1. Also published in Poems of American History (1908, 1922) by Burton Egbert Stevenson, where it is written: "On May 31, 1889, western Pennsylvania was visited by one of the worst catastrophes in the history of the country. A flood from a broken reservoir overwhelmed Johnstown, Conemaugh, and a number of smaller towns, destroying over two thousand lives and property to the value of ten million dollars." (p. 599)
  2. A fourth stanza is present in the 1889 American version, but omitted from the 1898 and subsequent versions:

    "O Life, from the fire-swept mould
    Arise new forms of beauty;
    Out of the waters cold
    Diviner thoughts of duty;
    The sunlight gleams where hath swept the tide,
    And flowers blossom as flames subside!