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(16 January 1874 - 11 September 1958 / Preston)

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The Cremation Of Sam McGee

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.
Why he left his home in the South to roam 'round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;
Though he'd often say in his homely way that he'd "sooner live in hell".

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail.
Talk of your cold! through the parka's fold it stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we'd close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn't see;
It wasn't much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee.

And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow,
And the dogs were fed, and the stars o'erhead were dancing heel and toe,
He turned to me, and "Cap," says he, "I'll cash in this trip, I guess;
And if I do, I'm asking that you won't refuse my last request."

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn't say no; then he says with a sort of moan:
"It's the cursed cold, and it's got right hold till I'm chilled clean through to the bone.
Yet 'tain't being dead -- it's my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you'll cremate my last remains."

A pal's last need is a thing to heed, so I swore I would not fail;
And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.
He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;
And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.

There wasn't a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven,
With a corpse half hid that I couldn't get rid, because of a promise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say:
"You may tax your brawn and brains,
But you promised true, and it's up to you to cremate those last remains."

Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code.
In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load.
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, while the huskies, round in a ring,
Howled out their woes to the homeless snows -- O God! how I loathed the thing.

And every day that quiet clay seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
And on I went, though the dogs were spent and the grub was getting low;
The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;
And I'd often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.

Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay;
It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice it was called the "Alice May".
And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum;
Then "Here," said I, with a sudden cry, "is my cre-ma-tor-eum."

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;
Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared, and the furnace roared -- such a blaze you seldom see;
And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

Then I made a hike, for I didn't like to hear him sizzle so;
And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, and the wind began to blow.
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don't know why;
And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky.

I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;
But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: "I'll just take a peep inside.
I guess he's cooked, and it's time I looked"; . . . then the door I opened wide.

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: "Please close that door.
It's fine in here, but I greatly fear you'll let in the cold and storm --
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it's the first time I've been warm."

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003


Read poems about / on: snow, fear, home, night, sick, god, sun, sometimes, smile, fire, wind, sky, death, howl, dance, dog, running, star

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Comments about this poem (A Lyric Day by Robert William Service )

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  • Emily Straney (6/18/2013 7:25:00 PM)

    very creative and describtive. you have a talent.

    7 person liked.
    3 person did not like.
  • Alan Morriss (6/18/2013 2:37:00 PM)

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  • Alan Morriss (6/18/2013 2:34:00 PM)

    what Billy said I'm impressed that a stay at home mom able to make $4308 in 1 month on the internet. have you seen this website

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  • Udiah Witness to YAH (1/15/2013 5:18:00 AM)

    I have always been a Poe fan. And yes this style of writing does follow Poe's type of drama. It is written in a somewhat classic style, but one is captivated by its rythmic changing rhyming beat and how easily it flows off ones tongue as they read along. Some say it's like The Raven, I say it's Poe's story of the Red Death that it best personifies although one may argue that it's not a complete tragedy. To me what Robert William Service has done is to take a piece of History and place it in a most memorable verse allowing it to be passed on for generations. Is not that what the poets of the ancient times did? They where the messengers, the news carriers and the story tellers at a time when not everyone had daily access to newspapers and books. These ancient news carriers thus put things in verse not only for their memory, but it also helped others to remember and relay as many of the facts as they could.

  • Allison Helman (6/19/2012 10:00:00 PM)

    I do appreciate the naturalness of the rhyme and, it is quite a tale but,
    I realize more than anything else, that I was fairly rapt because there was something familiar to it beyond the Jack London circumstances. The whole feel of the poem and poetic devises used would seem to be rather suggestive of Edgar Allen Poe and more is the pity because, Mr. Service appears gifted enough to stand distinct. I don't wish to imply that the poem is not a professional work, I wish to simply pose the question of whether as artists we should laud this.

  • Vincent Onyeche (6/19/2012 1:45:00 AM)

    A lovely Poem with rhymes that is unbeatable! !

  • Carlos Echeverria (6/18/2012 10:56:00 AM)

    I WRESTLED WITH GRISLY FEAR...pluperfect imagery.

  • Robert Bartlett (10/5/2011 9:03:00 PM)

    As a high school student in 1953, I memorized this poem and delivered it in a school variety show. Following immediately after a lively song and dance routine, the audience was jazzed up when I began the recitation, but after a few moments the audience settled under the spell of the dramatic lines which this ballad delivers and by the end of the rendition that audience of over three hundred fellow students was spellbound.

  • David Larson (11/25/2010 11:18:00 PM)

    I remember hearing this from my Creative Writing teacher, with salt and pepper hair and beard.Patrick Mealy was his name and the way he read it (in memorization) was more dramatic than any movie could have presented!

  • Kevin Straw (6/18/2010 4:48:00 AM)

    This is a brilliant poem in every way. I have no doubt that Service was a true genius. His metre and rhyming are absolutely natural – the story grips – and it is in everyway the equal to a narrative poem such as Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner”. The sustaining of half rhymes in every line is wonderful. And the characterisation by verse of the narrator is perfect. I can find not a single flaw in this poem.

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