The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service

cremation

 “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.”

Robert Service was a mild-mannered bank clerk in real life, but the way this poem makes the Arctic come alive, you’d think the man was a veteran of the Klondike. It’s funny; the version of Sam McGee I remember from my childhood conjures up images of grinning corpses, lonely cold, and complete silence, save for the sound of a lone sled’s runners slicing eerily through the snow. Bleak, strange, wildness…all surrounded by devastating, enveloping cold. When I pulled it off the shelves today and gave it a quick re-read, I was surprised (and delighted) to find that not only does it still have all that wildness, it’s funny, too. There is definite humour in these pages – the unnamed speaker of the poem lends some definite snark to the situation.

What a great tale. Each time I read this poem, I get chills. There are poems that have the ability to completely transport us to a specific time and place, and Robert Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee remains one of the best. Brrrrrrr!

P.S. Bonus Canadian points go to this edition because it’s illustrated by Ted Harrison. (Submitted by Veronica)

Borrow the book from Surrey Libraries now!

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