Friday, January 18, 2008

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.

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
that he'd "sooner live in hell".

on 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,
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 that I couldn't say no;
then he says with a sort of moan:
"it's this cursed cold, it's got right hold
till I'm chilled clean through to the bone.
yet 'tain't 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,
so I swore I would not fail;
and 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, 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 my last remains...."

for details of sam's cremation see my favourite poem ever, written by robert service. the guy who was director at sparrow lake camp my first few years used to recite it for us at final campfire. he waited till the sun had set and the only lights for miles came from the fire and the stars, and it scared the nine-year-old pants off me. then I came home talking about canoes and crematoreums and my mom began to wonder. anywho, I like to look at this picture and think of sam mcgee's pal dragging a frozen corpse around the arctic tundra.

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