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December 19, 2012

The Cremation of Sam McGee, poem by Robert W. Service

Robert Willilam Service
Robert Willilam Service
The Cremation Of Sam McGee
The Cremation Of Sam McGee
Best Tales Of The Yukon
Best Tales Of The Yukon
click on picture to enlarge

Robert W. Service

Robert W. Service Best Tales Yukon Publication Date: 10 Mar 1988 | ISBN-10: 0894712012 | ISBN-13: 978-0894712012 | ASIN: B0094ZBBXW

(1/16/1874 - 9/11/1958)

Robert W. Service was born in 1874 in Lancashire, England and as a youth dreamt of adventure and going to sea. Robert trained as a bank cashier, attended the University of Glasgow in Scotland and studied English Language and Literature and dreamt of being a cowboy in Western Canada.

In 1895, at the age of 21, he set sail for Montreal, travelled across Canada to Vancouver Island where he learned to milk cows, weed gardens, make hay, work an axe and cross cut saw, pick apples and ride horseback.

The next few years saw a lot of travel and odd jobs throughout Western Canada and the Yukon. He met a lot of interesting people and heard a lot of interesting stories. The lyrical version of the story of a prospector who cremated his partner ended up in a collection that he intended the collection to be published for friends & family; however, the publisher offered him a check along with terms for publication rights - and his career as a writer was launched.

In 1904, the Canadian Bank of Commerce transferred teller Robert W. Service to their branch in Whitehorse, Yukon territory. Less than five years later, Service was famous as the poet who had chronicled the Klondike gold rush and the savage beauty of the frozen north. During his lifetime, Robert published six novels, two autobiographical works, over 45 verse collections and 1,000 poems. After World War I, he married Germaine Bougeoin and they spent the remainder of their lives together, mainly on the French Riviera.

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.
Reported by,

Brother Gene "Bean Counter" Breeland

Additional Reading:

Poems by Robert W. Service

A Rolling Stone The Ballad of Blasphemous Bill
The Cremation of Sam McGee Dreams Are Best
Each Day a Life Equality
Fallen Leaves Growing Old
Home and Love I Have Some Friends
If You Had a Friend It Is Later Than You Think
The Joy of Little Things The Living Dead
Lost Men of the High North
The Men that Don't Fit In Moon Song
The Mother My Library
My Madonna Nature's Touch
No Sunday Chicken Old Sweethearts
Prelude, Carols of an Old Codger The Quitter
The Sewing-Girl The Shooting of Dan McGraw
Spartan Mother The Spell of the Yukon
The Sunshine Seeks My Little Room The Telegraph Operator
The Three Bares To the Man of the High North
The Twins Why Do Birds Sing?
Yellow Young Mother

The Robert W. Service Resource Page
- full e-text of several Robert Service Books, links to many other Robert Service sites.

The Original Home Page of Robert W. Service
- biography, life chronology, poetry archive, discussion forum & trivia - a well-rounded site celebrating the life & works of Robert Service.

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