The Shooting Of Dan Mcgrew Poem by Robert William Service

The Shooting Of Dan Mcgrew

Rating: 4.6

A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon;
The kid that handles the music-box was hitting a jag-time tune;
Back of the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew,
And watching his luck was his light-o'-love, the lady that's known as Lou.

When out of the night, which was fifty below, and into the din and the glare,
There stumbled a miner fresh from the creeks, dog-dirty, and loaded for bear.
He looked like a man with a foot in the grave and scarcely the strength of a louse,
Yet he tilted a poke of dust on the bar, and he called for drinks for the house.
There was none could place the stranger's face, though we searched ourselves for a clue;
But we drank his health, and the last to drink was Dangerous Dan McGrew.

There's men that somehow just grip your eyes, and hold them hard like a spell;
And such was he, and he looked to me like a man who had lived in hell;
With a face most hair, and the dreary stare of a dog whose day is done,
As he watered the green stuff in his glass, and the drops fell one by one.
Then I got to figgering who he was, and wondering what he'd do,
And I turned my head - and there watching him was the lady that's known as Lou.

His eyes went rubbering round the room, and he seemed in a kind of daze,
Till at last that old piano fell in the way of his wandering gaze.
The rag-time kid was having a drink; there was no one else on the stool,
So the stranger stumbles across the room, and flops down there like a fool.
In a buckskin shirt that was glazed with dirt he sat, and I saw him sway;
Then he clutched the keys with his talon hands - my God! but that man could play.

Were you ever out in the Great Alone, when the moon was awful clear,
And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you most could HEAR;
With only the howl of a timber wolf, and you camped there in the cold,
A half-dead thing in a stark, dead world, clean mad for the muck called gold;
While high overhead, green, yellow and red, the North Lights swept in bars? -
Then you've a haunch what the music meant... hunger and night and the stars.

And hunger not of the belly kind, that's banished with bacon and beans,
But the gnawing hunger of lonely men for a home and all that it means;
For a fireside far from the cares that are, four walls and a roof above;
But oh! so cramful of cosy joy, and crowned with a woman's love -
A woman dearer than all the world, and true as Heaven is true -
(God! how ghastly she looks through her rouge, - the lady that's known as Lou.)

Then on a sudden the music changed, so soft that you scarce could hear;
But you felt that your life had been looted clean of all that it once held dear;
That someone had stolen the woman you loved; that her love was a devil's lie;
That your guts were gone, and the best for you was to crawl away and die.
'Twas the crowning cry of a heart's despair, and it thrilled you through and through -
'I guess I'll make it a spread misere,' said Dangerous Dan McGrew.

The music almost died away... then it burst like a pent-up flood;
And it seemed to say, 'Repay, repay,' and my eyes were blind with blood.
The thought came back of an ancient wrong, and it stung like a frozen lash,
And the lust awoke to kill, to kill... then the music stopped with a crash,
And the stranger turned, and his eyes they burned in a most peculiar way;

In a buckskin shirt that was glazed with dirt he sat, and I saw him sway;
Then his lips went in in a kind of grin, and he spoke, and his voice was calm,
And 'Boys,' says he, 'you don't know me, and none of you care a damn;
But I want to state, and my words are straight, and I'll bet my poke they're true,
That one of you is a hound of hell... and that one is Dan McGrew.'

Then I ducked my head, and the lights went out, and two guns blazed in the dark,
And a woman screamed, and the lights went up, and two men lay stiff and stark.
Pitched on his head, and pumped full of lead, was Dangerous Dan McGrew,
While the man from the creeks lay clutched to the breast of the lady that's known as Lou.

These are the simple facts of the case, and I guess I ought to know.
They say that the stranger was crazed with 'hooch', and I'm not denying it's so.
I'm not so wise as the lawyer guys, but strictly between us two -
The woman that kissed him and - pinched his poke - was the lady that's known as Lou.

The Shooting Of Dan Mcgrew
Michael Brill 15 February 2016

I have imagined this to be the testimony of one who was there at the Malamute Saloon and witnessed, first hand, the events that unfolded that night. In the pioneer days when a gunfight took place, there was at least one corpse to be properly dealt with and in this case there were two. There was money needed for the different professionals, who were in charge of corpse disposition. Possibly the saloon owner had some money coming to clear up the bar tab or maybe some property damages from the gun fight. The funds for all these expenses were generally taken from rifling the deadman's pockets and the sheriff or Mountie would gather all the assets and disperse the cash or gold to the claimants. I think, this story could very well be Robert Service's rendering of an event that actually happened. The lady that's known as Lou was obviously a prostitute who was playing both men for what she could get from them, to abscond with one or the other's money after one had killed the other. As luck would have it she got more than she thought she would get. I can picture her scarfing up Dan Mcgrew's money when the gunfight broke out, then, rushing to the dead body of the miner, who, by the way, loved her, and with crocodile tears flowing, she grabbed all the pokes of dust from him also. When the local mountie checked the pockets and found nothing, there were accusations made and and an inquisition of some sort was held at the local courthouse...after all, somebody knew where the money went and that person was the observer who told the story...maybe it was Robert Service himself. The figures mentioned in the story were a bunch of the boys , the ragtime kid, Dan, The Miner, the lady that's known as Lou and the one who told the story..The one who ought to Know. I know there is some sort of animated video of this poem but, this story, as almost all of Robert Service's poems, could be made into a feature length movie or serial, using Robert's vivid descriptions of life as he saw it. I am waiting anxiously for Netflix to produce such a serial production.

5 3 Reply
Kim Barney 09 February 2015

I've loved this poem for years, but it has a misprint here. Fifth verse, last line should have HUNCH instead of HAUNCH.

4 0 Reply
John Richter 09 February 2015

Immaculate..... each word begged the next - each line a metered masterpiece!

2 0 Reply
Kim Barney 13 November 2014

Shouldn't that be then you've a HUNCH what the music meant instead of haunch?

1 0 Reply
bri edwards 24 September 2022

Yes, I agree.

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Pepi Pwakana 01 June 2023

'Hooch' 'Lou' & Drew....are nice combinations as the poem travels.

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Mohamed Mustapha 01 June 2023

This poem is very witty. I enjoy reading it

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Bri Edwards 24 September 2022

'Robert William Service (January 16,1874 - September 11,1958) was a British-Canadian poet and writer, often called 'the Bard of the Yukon'.'

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Bri Edwards 24 September 2022

I think PH 'caused' me to lose all the comments I'd submitted. Damn. I agree with Kim Barney, below. Nice flow, story, and rhyming. 4-5 stars, a little reluctantly for this

0 0 Reply
Bri Edwards 24 September 2022

Reluctantly,4 stars for flow, the story, and rhyming. : ) bri

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