The Cremation of Sam McGee

Original Text: 
Robert W. Service, The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses (New York: Barse & Hopkins, 1907): 50-54. PS 8537 E72S6 1907a Robarts Library
1There are strange things done in the midnight sun
2    By the men who moil for gold;
3The Arctic trails have their secret tales
4    That would make your blood run cold;
5The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
6    But the queerest they ever did see
7Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
8    I cremated Sam McGee.
9Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.
10Why he left his home in the South to roam 'round the Pole, God only knows.
11He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;
12Though he'd often say in his homely way that "he'd sooner live in hell".
13On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail.
14Talk of your cold! through the parka's fold it stabbed like a driven nail.
15If our eyes we'd close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn't see;
16It wasn't much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee.
17And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow,
18And the dogs were fed, and the stars o'erhead were dancing heel and toe,
19He turned to me, and "Cap," says he, "I'll cash in this trip, I guess;
20And if I do, I'm asking that you won't refuse my last request."
21Well, he seemed so low that I couldn't say no; then he says with a sort of moan:
22"It's the cursèd cold, and it's got right hold till I'm chilled clean through to the bone.
23Yet 'taint being dead -- it's my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;
24So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you'll cremate my last remains."
25A pal's last need is a thing to heed, so I swore I would not fail;
26And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.
27He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;
28And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.
29There wasn't a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven,
30With a corpse half hid that I couldn't get rid, because of a promise given;
31It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: "You may tax your brawn and brains,
32But you promised true, and it's up to you to cremate those last remains."
33Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code.
34In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load.
35In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, while the huskies, round in a ring,
36Howled out their woes to the homeless snows -- O God! how I loathed the thing.
37And every day that quiet clay seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
38And on I went, though the dogs were spent and the grub was getting low;
39The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;
40And I'd often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.
41Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay;
42It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice it was called the "Alice May."
43And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum;
44Then "Here," said I, with a sudden cry, "is my cre-ma-tor-eum."
45Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;
46Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher;
47The flames just soared, and the furnace roared -- such a blaze you seldom see;
48And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.
49Then I made a hike, for I did'nt like to hear him sizzle so;
50And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, and the wind began to blow.
51It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don't know why;
52And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky.
53I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;
54But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;
55I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: "I'll just take a peep inside.
56I guess he's cooked, and it's time I looked;" ... then the door I opened wide.
57And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;
58And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: "Please close that door.
59It's fine in here, but I greatly fear you'll let in the cold and storm --
60Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it's the first time I've been warm."
61There are strange things done in the midnight sun
62    By the men who moil for gold;
63The Arctic trails have their secret tales
64    That would make your blood run cold;
65The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
66    But the queerest they ever did see
67Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
68    I cremated Sam McGee.
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1996-2000.