The Cremation of Sam McGee




There are strange things done in the midnight sun


By the men who moil for gold,


And 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 the night on the marge of Lake LaBarge


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,


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", 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 I couldn't say no,


And 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 'ta'int 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,


And I swore that I would not fail.


We started on at 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


As 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 the load.


In the long, long night by the lone firelight


While the huskies 'round in a ring


Howled out their woes to the homeless snows


Oh, 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 often I'd sing to the hateful thing,


And it hearkened with a grin.





'Till I came to the marge of Lake LaBarge,


And a derelict there lay.


It was jammed in the ice, and I saw in a trice


It was called the "Alice May".


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 crematorium."





Some planks I tore from the cabin floor


And lit the boiler fire.


Some coal I found that was lying around


And heaped the fuel higher.


The flames just soared, and the furnace roared,


Such a blaze you seldom see.


Then 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 cheek, 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 gristly 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",


And the door I opened wide.





And there sat Sam, looking calm and cool


In the heart of the furnace roar.


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 Plumbtree 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,


And 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 the night on the marge of Lake LaBarge


I cremated Sam McGee.





ROBERT SERVICE


--


Thanks to Bill Gascoyne






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