Robert William Service

(16 January 1874 - 11 September 1958 / Preston)

The Cremation Of Sam Mcgee

Poem by Robert William Service

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.

Comments about The Cremation Of Sam Mcgee by Robert William Service

  • Eugenia Clement (5/15/2020 1:18:00 PM)

    I too had to memorize this poem for English class many years ago. I think of it every time I Chanel surf and Bering sea gold is on. My kids were never exposed to it. It makes me smile with memories of times passed. 😊(Report)Reply

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  • Tom Hanify (3/31/2020 8:33:00 PM)

    I remember this poem well. What I don't remember is whether I memorized it in elementary or high school. In any case, I learned it in the late 1950's. It has remained with me ever since.(Report)Reply

    1 person liked.
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  • Linda B. Rodenberg (2/18/2020 10:33:00 AM)

    I learned this Poem when I was in grade school, here in Springfield, Illinois. My teacher was a far-sighted and
    inspirational woman who introduced my class to Robert Service - for which I remain grateful.(Report)Reply

    2 person liked.
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  • Brad Burt (12/31/2019 3:19:00 PM)

    When a verse you find that seizes your mind
    And won’t leave you again,
    With rhythm and rhyme dramatic, sublime,
    It’s Robert Service’s pen!(Report)Reply

    2 person liked.
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  • Dale Shirer (12/18/2019 2:45:00 PM)

    Tonight I will read this poem to a bunch of folk while looking for the Northen Lights 60 miles east of Fairbanks. We are at the Chena Hot Springs and will be driven further out into the wild to a couple of yurts on top of Charley's Dome. And will stay there from 10pm till 2 Am. Forecast of -18 farenheit. Wish us good viewing.18Dec 2019(Report)Reply

    3 person liked.
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  • Carl Munson (11/18/2019 11:07:00 AM)

    Laud this? What do I know? It took me until the age of 73 to finally memorize it. At the age of 74, my wife and I flew from Seattle to Whitehorse where I saw Lake Leberge (Labarge in the poem) and drove a dog sled team solo. I have a life, which is why I would get worked up enough over a poem to fly to Whitehorse etc. Poetry? What works? I love the genius of Poe but I've never had the urge to buy a raven.(Report)Reply

    1 person liked.
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  • ROSCOE Tarwater Beaumont (8/9/2019 7:02:00 AM)

    My uncle was shot down early in World War II and spent the war in a German POW camp. He and his fellow POWs had only what they brought in their brains - and this poem, memorized at the direction of his high school English teacher, was one of the things that helped them pass the time - and endure the privations of POW life. After four years of captivity, he weighed 79 pounds when General Patton's forces liberated the camp.(Report)Reply

    9 person liked.
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  • Robin Amelia Millheim (4/29/2019 9:04:00 PM)

    It was likely sixth grade when a classmate, Bill Lloyd stood and recited from memory this poem. Well written, well recited, it made a mark.(Report)Reply

    5 person liked.
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  • Lance Bradley (4/1/2019 3:18:00 AM)

    I like this pome so much, my dad found it in app easy book
    In like Sam I like the cold.(Report)Reply

    3 person liked.
    3 person did not like.
  • Virgil Tracy (1/30/2019 8:19:00 AM)

    I had to read this poem in literature and for some reason, every day after that, I had a yen to read it. I soon memorized certain parts of it and I would recite them. I love the rhyme and rhythm of it.(Report)Reply

    5 person liked.
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  • Rob Bulbrook (12/13/2018 6:15:00 PM)

    I so enjoyed listening to my dad reciting this from memory. Each performance was great.(Report)Reply

    6 person liked.
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  • SteveStrowbridge (10/7/2018 3:43:00 PM)

    My first introduction to Sam was a surprise in the children's book section at University of Alaska Museum gift shop. Well worth the discovery.(Report)Reply

    9 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • Jay Owens (9/2/2018 8:21:00 PM)

    This poem is a delight to read, to imagine and a favorite of Senator John Mc Cain.(Report)Reply

    Byron Shoffner(12/21/2019 11:23:00 AM)

    I am not much for poetry, but there is something about this one that grabbed me, Maybe because I hate cold weather. Put me on the Southwest desert at 120 degrees and I'm fine. Below 40 above and I freeze.

    8 person liked.
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  • Judy Smith (9/1/2018 2:18:00 PM)

    This was my favorite poem when I was a child. I found it in a magazine called Argosy. It was a man's magazine of which my father subscribed. I was 8 years old at the time. I kept the magazine for many years and read the poem many, many times. I became a fan of the writings of Robert Service and read many of his ballads. I am now seventy-seven, and still love this poem.(Report)Reply

    Arthur Webb(10/25/2018 2:44:00 PM)

    Judy, Same here but I`m 79

    8 person liked.
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  • Shirley (8/5/2018 9:52:00 PM)

    I loved this poem, as an 8th grader; now a really senior citizen, I can recite by memory the opening lines, but forgot the rest; Found it again, and hope to someday get to Alaska. Love the multiple rhymes within the rhyme; whatever the technical term, it satisfies as a great tale told well. And I love a warm fire, too!

    7 person liked.
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  • youmans (4/28/2018 8:06:00 PM)

    I agree with all above.(Report)Reply

    7 person liked.
    2 person did not like.
  • Robert BartlettRobert Bartlett (2/22/2018 7:53:00 PM)

    Every time I read this ballad my voice reaches back to my teenage years when I delivered this oratorical masterpiece in a high school variety show performance. I love it today, as much as I did back then.
    A few years ago I was fortunate to be able to visit Dawson City in the Yukon and see the cabin (with its moss covered roof) where Robert Service wrote much of his poetry.(Report)Reply

    8 person liked.
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  • Janice Kirkeby (1/6/2018 2:23:00 PM)

    We had to memorize this in grade 7 or 8.Always loved it and can see still recite most of it from memory. :)(Report)Reply

    10 person liked.
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  • Lois Lambert (7/2/2017 3:52:00 PM)

    Great use of foreshadowing... sooner live in hell
    A delightful read!(Report)Reply

    8 person liked.
    1 person did not like.
  • Tom Allport (1/7/2017 4:47:00 PM)

    fantastic tale of keeping a promise.(Report)Reply

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

Poem Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003