Knitting stuff and going on and on.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

A Silent Poetry Reading.

Because I am generally a day late and too often a dollar short, here is my contribution to St. Brigid's Poetry day. I thought it appropriate in light of how freakin' cold it is here these past few days and how cold they are predicting it will continue to be.

The Cremation of Sam McGee

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who toil for gold
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen strange 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;
Through 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," say he, "I'll cash her 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 'taint 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 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 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 clock 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 the 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 make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen strange sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

By Robert Service

4 Comments:

  • What an awesome poem! All through reading it I heard Bob Dylan in my mind singing it and blowing his whistle - would be perfect, wouldn't it?

    By Anonymous Dipsy, at 12:46 AM, February 05, 2007  

  • DOROTHY!! This is one of my all time favorite poems. For some sick and strange reason, this poem always made me want to visit the North Pole. To this day, whenever I read this poem...and many of Robert Service's, actually...it makes me long to visit Canada or Alaska or Greenland or any number of other really cold places. Are you completely snowed in now? Do you need me to send you some pictures of the sunshine?

    By Blogger Kristy, at 12:47 AM, February 05, 2007  

  • I have always loved this poem! I love reading it aloud!

    By Anonymous martina, at 7:31 AM, February 05, 2007  

  • I love this poem. It reminds me of Jack London and the Iditarod.
    My Uncles both quote it often - I had started to think only my family knew/enjoyed this one.
    I have had the good fortune to cruise through Alaska and it never fails to be used at some point during the itinerary.
    Thanks for sharing - it was fun to read again!

    By Blogger Miss Scarlett, at 1:56 AM, February 08, 2007  

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