An essay by Rachelle Zipper
For Prof. Bryan Sentes’ class, The Green Fuse
Analysis of “A Description of the Great Falls, of the River Saint John, in the Province of New Brunswick” by Adam Allan
In Adam Allan’s “A Description of the Great Falls, of the River Saint John, in the Province of New Brunswick”, the author reflects on the Great Falls that he encounters, noting the terror that they evoke. This terror is evident as Allan imagines another version of the Falls, marking the differences that this version has with the old one with the use of the word “now” (27, 31, 33, 34). However, this attempt at domesticating the Falls fails, as is evident by the multiple ironies that are associated with the word “now”. Allan’s failure is first seen as he tries to parallel the power of God by ironically using a word with which he loses all power—the word “now”. Secondly, the Falls are simply not “now”—not in the sense that they are imagined, and therefore not in a present time, and not in the sense that his domesticated Falls exist in the wintertime, when his observation of the Falls is actually during the summer. With the continuous use of the word “now”, Allan demonstrates the fear that is evoked by the Great Falls in New Brunswick by imagining a domesticated version of the Falls, though he fails at his attempt to do so through the many ironies that the word encompasses.
Allan’s fear is demonstrated in his attempt at domesticating the Falls, which is seen as he uses the word “now” to indicate a changed, better version of the original Falls. In the first stanza, Allan solely describes the real Falls, even indicating that “Truth, here alone, has governed [his] description” (26), marking that this version contains no imagined aspects. In this version of the Falls, any beauty that the author sees is overwhelmed by terror. This idea is best expressed as the author describes the Falls as combining “elegance with scenes of horror” (11), and “delight, and wonder, with most awful terror” (12). Here, we can see how the few words that Allan uses to describe the beauty that the Falls do hold are paralleled with frightful descriptions, showing that in this real version of the Falls, beauty alone cannot exist. This overwhelmed beauty contrasts greatly with the second stanza, where Allan sets out “To paint the Falls” (28), giving himself full creative liberty as he sets out to create a new version of the Falls. The first use of the word “now”, “Now on wings of fancy” (27), introduces Allan’s domesticated version of the Falls, clearly noting that the description of the Falls from this point on is a product of his imagination. In his new version of the Falls, Allan duly notes “How chang’d the scene” (31) is as he proudly announces that “each horror now is fled” (31) from the Falls that he had first encountered, leaving only beauty behind. The word “now” appears twice more in the second stanza of the poem as Allan describes the changes in the scene:
And frost’s chill hand enchanting prospects made;
Now ev’ry tree is crystall’d on the shore:
The Fall, too, now most gorgeously appear,
Since purer waters aid its bold career (32-35)
Here, the word “now” is used twice in order to mark a difference in the scene of Allan’s utopian Falls in comparison to the original. The first “now” describes “crystall’d [trees] on the shore”, which are contrasted by the “huge trees” (5) that were brought by “annual freshes” (5), described in the first stanza. The second “now” illustrates a change in the nature of the water, having first been compared to “lava from the pits/ Of fam’d Vesuvius and Mount Etna’s lips” (15-16) in the first stanza, to “now [appearing] most gorgeously” in the second stanza (34), through the help of “purer waters” (35). The enhancements of the Falls, as described by Allan, demonstrate the need to domesticate the real Falls due to his fear of them.
Though Allan tries to domesticate the Great Falls, as is demonstrated by the word “now”, his efforts are in vain due to the ironies that the word encompasses. The use of the word “now” is ironic due to its ubiquity and corresponding lack of power, as well as the fact that his imagined Falls are simply not now—they are not current both in the sense that they are not real, and in that the description occurs in the wintertime, while he observes the Falls in a warmer season. Allan first uses the word “now” in a forceful manner, as is seen by its recurring presence in the second stanza. However, his efforts to force this new version of the falls into a reality ironically fail by the very use of the word. More than any other word used to describe the Falls, the word “now” holds the most power in that it is this word that Allan uses to demonstrate his ability to form a new reality. Nonetheless, it is precisely the word “now” that shows his failure to do so. Moreover, Allan’s use of the word “now” in his description of his imagined version of the Falls is doubly ironic in itself. The ironies lie in the fact that the imagined Falls are simply not, though Allan indicates otherwise, now. Firstly, the word “now” implies a current time. However, it is easily understood that the scene that Allan describes does not occur in the present, as the illustration is a product of the author’s imagination. In addition, it can be further seen that the scene that Allan describes does not take place in the present as the new Falls are described as being located “In [the] depth of winter” (29). In Allan’s imagined Falls, “Strong banks of ice contract its former bounds” (36), and the sounds of running water can be heard “under ice” (37). This description contrasts with the waters in the “placid river, gliding eas[il]y” (1) that are described in the first stanza. From the initial depiction of the water’s flow, it can be understood that Allan was first visiting the Falls during a warm season, denoting that even if his imagined Falls did in fact become real, the season in which they are described would not coincide with the real, current season, in which case the imagined Falls could not be “now”. In using the word “now”, Allan’s success in domesticating the Falls is lost as the very word he uses ironically lacks as much control as Allan hopes it contains, and by the fact that his imagined Falls are actually not “now”, though the word announces otherwise.
Adam Allan’s attempt at domesticating the Great Falls of New Brunswick fails to satisfy his wish, but successfully illustrates the fear that is evoked by the Falls that Allan encounters. Allan’s fear of the Falls is noted as he imagines a version of the Falls in which “each horror now is fled” (31), as opposed to the real Falls, in which any beauty was accompanied with “scenes of horror” (11). Furthermore, Allan demonstrates his attempts at domesticating the Falls by using the word “now” to indicate aspects of the Falls that change for the better. By contrasting scenes of “most awful terror” (12) described using “Truth […] alone” (26) with a utopian version of the Falls, Allan tries to domesticate the Falls, alluding to the fear that he feels the need to repress. The author’s failed attempts at domesticating the Falls, however, are evident by the ironic use of the very word that he uses to tame the Falls – “now”. This irony is first seen as Allan tries to enforce his own reality with a single word, just as God would create entities with a single utterance, by using a word that lacked any of the control that Allan so strongly desired. Finally, the choice of word to establish his version of the Falls ironically does not accurately depict the time at which his illustration takes place. To put it simply, his version of the Falls is a product of his imagination, and takes place in the winter, which is not in real time, nor is it during the time at which Allan is observing the real Falls. In other words, Allan’s Falls are not “now”.
Holmes, Nancy (editor). Open Wide a Wilderness: Canadian Nature Poems. Wilfrid Laurier University Press, April 6 2009. Print.