The Cremation of Sam McGee

by Robert W. Service 1907

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><> There are strange things done 'neath 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 When 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 poles, 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 fold it stabbed like a driven nail. If our eyes we'd close, then the lashes froze 'til sometimes we couldn't see. It wasn't much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee. And that very night while we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow, And the dogs were fed, and the stars o'er head were dancing heel and toe, He turns 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 looked so low that I couldn't say no; then he says with a sort of a moan, "It's the cursed cold, it's got right hold 'til I'm chilled clean through to the bone. Yet tain't being dead--it's my awful dread of an icy grave that pains. So I want you to swear that foul or fair, you'll cremate my last remains." Well, a friend's last need is a thing to heed, so I swore 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, and I hurried on, horror-driven. With a corpse half hid that I couldn't get rid, because of a promise I'd given. It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: "You may tax your brawn and your brains, But you promised true, and it's up to you to cremate these last remains." And every day that quiet clay seemed to heavy and heavier grow; But 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 choked with ice, but I saw in a trice it was named the "Alice May". I looked at it, and I thought a bit, then I turned to my frozen chum, The "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 furnace roared and the flames they soared, 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 cheeks, 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 were 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. He's probably cooked, it's time I looked." Then the door I opened wide. And there sat Sam, looking cold and calm 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 warm in here, but I greatly fear you'll let in the cold and storm. Since I left Plumtree, down in Tenessee, it's the first time I've been warm." There are strange things done 'neath 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 When I cremated Sam McGee.