Goatview Farm - The Saint Report www.goatview.com

August 14

Poetry Appreciation for the Young and Ghoulish

Too many kids don't get exposed to poetry at an early enough age to guarantee a life-long appreciation, or if they are exposed to poetry, it is poetry without relevance to them. I attribute my interest in poetry, which now extends to the stuff of substance, to my father's early pandering to my lowest taste, dramatically reciting the following upon demand:

The Cremation of Sam McGee
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 th 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 cold 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 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 couln'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 these 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. I
n 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 heavier 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 harkened 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 that 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 peek 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 Tennesse, it's 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.

###

He followed this with "The Face Upon the Floor" and "Little Orphant Annie," then did some of the less violent James Whitcomb Riley, segued into Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, and I was hooked. I guess that now you start with "Where the Sidewalk Ends," but I'm not sure. I do know you shouldn't start with "Trees."

Saint of the day is Saint Maximillian Kolbe.
Celebrating birthdays today: Russell Baker (1925), David Crosby (1941)(I was positive he was dead but the best I could come up with when I orginally wrote this was that only his first liver is dead), Alice Ghostley (1926), Gary Larson (1950), Steve Martin (1945), Susan Saint James (1946), and Robyn Smith (1946)(jockey--one of or the first female pro, second wife of Fred Astaire!). In addition, my old friend Sarah was born on this day and so was Danielle Steele (1947).
Ernest Lawrence Thayer, the author of "Casey at the Bat," was born on this day in 1863. His story is interesting...hit the link to see the Saint Report with that plus the entire text of the poem.

 

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