The Cremation of Sam McGee – Robert Service

This is a poem I learned as a child growing up in Canada. It is by one of Canada’s great poets, often unfairly characterised as being mostly for children. In fact Service’s poetry had great depth and character, and spoke with an authentic voice of long and hard experience of the Canadian wilderness as well as in many aspects of life in both Europe and North America. His poems are often witty and sometimes lighthearted, but always with an edge of iron at their heart, and in this case one hollow eyed and leaning on a bar, grizzled and old, and telling an unbelievable tale to another such… but yet with a dark centre of pure truth, of the loneliness and madness that a person can endure in extremis. I am currently in Canada, helping pack my mother’s belongings at her lakeside house surrounded by big Canadian trees, after 43 years living in various parts of this great land. It is a hard task, and brings back many memories… and this is one.

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