Robert William Service

(16 January 1874 - 11 September 1958 / Preston)

The Ballad Of Soulful Sam


You want me to tell you a story, a yarn of the firin' line,
Of our thin red kharki 'eroes, out there where the bullets whine;
Out there where the bombs are bustin',
and the cannons like 'ell-doors slam --
Just order another drink, boys, and I'll tell you of Soulful Sam.

Oh, Sam, he was never 'ilarious, though I've 'ad some mates as was wus;
He 'adn't C. B. on his programme, he never was known to cuss.
For a card or a skirt or a beer-mug he 'adn't a friendly word;
But when it came down to Scriptures, say! Wasn't he just a bird!

He always 'ad tracts in his pocket, the which he would haste to present,
And though the fellers would use them in ways that they never was meant,
I used to read 'em religious, and frequent I've been impressed
By some of them bundles of 'oly dope he carried around in his vest.

For I -- and oh, 'ow I shudder at the 'orror the word conveys!
'Ave been -- let me whisper it 'oarsely -- a gambler 'alf of me days;
A gambler, you 'ear -- a gambler. It makes me wishful to weep,
And yet 'ow it's true, my brethren! -- I'd rather gamble than sleep.

I've gambled the 'ole world over, from Monte Carlo to Maine;
From Dawson City to Dover, from San Francisco to Spain.
Cards! They 'ave been me ruin. They've taken me pride and me pelf,
And when I'd no one to play with -- why, I'd go and I'd play by meself.

And Sam 'e would sit and watch me, as I shuffled a greasy deck,
And 'e'd say: "You're bound to Perdition,"
And I'd answer: "Git off me neck!"
And that's 'ow we came to get friendly, though built on a different plan,
Me wot's a desprite gambler, 'im sich a good young man.

But on to me tale. Just imagine . . . Darkness! The battle-front!
The furious 'Uns attackin'! Us ones a-bearin' the brunt!
Me crouchin' be'ind a sandbag, tryin' 'ard to keep calm,
When I 'ears someone singin' a 'ymn toon; be'old! it is Soulful Sam.

Yes; right in the crash of the combat, in the fury of flash and flame,
'E was shootin' and singin' serenely as if 'e enjoyed the same.
And there in the 'eat of the battle, as the 'ordes of demons attacked,
He dipped down into 'is tunic, and 'e 'anded me out a tract.

Then a star-shell flared, and I read it: Oh, Flee From the Wrath to Come!
Nice cheerful subject, I tell yer, when you're 'earin' the bullets 'um.
And before I 'ad time to thank 'im, just one of them bits of lead
Comes slingin' along in a 'urry, and it 'its my partner. . . . Dead?

No, siree! not by a long sight! For it plugged 'im 'ard on the chest,
Just where 'e'd tracts for a army corps stowed away in 'is vest.
On its mission of death that bullet 'ustled along, and it caved
A 'ole in them tracts to 'is 'ide, boys -- but the life o' me pal was saved.

And there as 'e showed me in triumph, and 'orror was chokin' me breath,
On came another bullet on its 'orrible mission of death;
On through the night it cavorted, seekin' its 'aven of rest,
And it zipped through a crack in the sandbags, and it wolloped me bang on the breast.

Was I killed, do you ask? Oh no, boys. Why am I sittin' 'ere
Gazin' with mournful vision at a mug long empty of beer?
With a throat as dry as a -- oh, thanky! I don't much mind if I do.
Beer with a dash of 'ollands, that's my particular brew.

Yes, that was a terrible moment. It 'ammered me 'ard o'er the 'eart;
It bowled me down like a nine-pin, and I looked for the gore to start;
And I saw in the flash of a moment, in that thunder of hate and strife,
Me wretched past like a pitchur -- the sins of a gambler's life.

For I 'ad no tracts to save me, to thwart that mad missile's doom;
I 'ad no pious pamphlets to 'elp me to cheat the tomb;
I 'ad no 'oly leaflets to baffle a bullet's aim;
I'd only -- a deck of cards, boys, but . . . it seemed to do just the same.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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  • Rookie Ian Fraser (7/15/2010 10:21:00 AM)

    The poem is not as long-winded as it first seems - there is enough material in it for a short story - and the ending is neat and unexpected. (Report) Reply

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