“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,”
– The Cremation of Sam McGee (Service).
Before I travelled to the Yukon I had wanted to read this collection as a preparation of sorts but eventually decided against it. Instead, I found a bookstore near my hotel in Whitehorse that had many collections of Songs of a Sourdough to choose from and that’s how I chose mine.
Robert W. Service was a famous Canadian poet probably best known for this collection of poems, Songs of a Sourdough. I enjoyed the collection, they’re good old classic poems that rhyme effortlessly, the type you’d read in school and be asked to answer comprehension questions on after. That doesn’t mean they’re bad or boring by any means, only that they’re old, some of the language dated, but easily bring reader’s back to Service’s time and draw reader’s into the north the way it called to him.
My one issue is the formatting of this edition, while it includes many great photos of Service during his time in the Yukon, they’re often put smack dab in the middle of a poem you’re reading so you have to flip through a page of pictures before returning to the poem you’re reading. I just don’t understand why the pictures were formatted that way, why whoever formatted it didn’t wait until the end of the poems to put the pictures.
I wish I had more to say but I guess that’s it. A good, classic collection of Canadian poetry, my favourite being “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” There’s a reason this collection is still being read and celebrated today!
Publication: November 2 2015
Publisher: Westphalia Press
Pages: 140 pages (Paperback)
Genre: Non-Fiction, Poetry
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤
Robert Service was born in 1874 and grew up in Scotland as the oldest of 10 siblings. Even as a child he craved excitement, but his energy was channeled into the quiet life of a bank clerk. He did enroll in the English Language and Literature program at the University of Glasgow, leaving after challenging a lecturer to a fistfight when the lecturer questioned Service’s ability despite his top grades. Bored, he departed for Canada. His family bought him a Buffalo Bill type outfit from an auction for the trip; not entirely practical but thoughtful! Once in Canada, Service traveled all the way across the country to Vancouver Island and ironically found himself working for the Canadian Bank of Commerce. The job allowed him to live his dreams of frontier life but without the hardships. It was in 1906 that he became a famous and well-paid poet with Songs of a Sourdough. Later, Service would write The Trail of Ninety-Eight, A Northland Romance, which would be produced as a movie in 1928 by MGM. He continued to write his whole life, penning Rhymes of a Red Cross Man (1912), Poisoned Paradise (1922), Why Not Grow Young? (1928) and Lyrics of a Lowbrow (1951). He died at his villa in France in 1958, the famous scribe of a frontier life that he profited enormously in describing but whose privations he avoided.