Bard of the Yukon
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 The Bard of the Yukon


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Robert William Service who became known as the bard of the Yukon was born in England in 1874. At the age of five he arrived in Kilwinning, Ayrshire to live with his three maiden aunts and his paternal grandfather who was the postmaster there. Robert Service is said to have composed his first poem there on his sixth birthday.

When Robertís family moved from Preston to Glasgow he left Kilwinning to join them, he was then nine. He completed his education at Glasgow University and became a bank clerk. Always interested in North America Robert resigned from the bank and headed for Montreal from Glasgow.

He arrived during the Klondike era, amidst the height of the Gold Rush and while there, published his most notable piece "The Cremation of Sam McGee" The following is from his autobiography and tells what inspired him to write it:

One evening I was at a loose end, so I thought Iíd call on a girl friend. When I arrived at the house I found a party in progress. I would have backed out, but was pressed to join the festive band. As an uninvited guest I consented to nibble a nut. Peeved at my position, I was staring gloomily at a fat fellow across the table. He was a big mining man from Dawson and he scarcely acknowledged his introduction to a little bank clerk. Portly and important, he was smoking a big cigar with gilt band. Suddenly he said: I'll tell you a story Jack London never got." Then he spun a yarn of a man who cremated his pal. It had a surprise climax which occasioned much laughter. I did not join, for remember how a great excitement usurped me. Here was a perfect ballad subject. The fat man who ignored me went his way to bankruptcy, but he had pointed me the road to fortune.

A prey to feverish impatience, I excused myself and took my leave. It was one of those nights of brilliant moonlight that almost goad me to madness. I took the woodland trail, my mind seething with excitement and a strange ecstasy. As I started in: There are strange things done in the midnight sun, verse after verse developed with scarce a check. As I clinched my rhymes I tucked the finished stanza away in my head and tackled; the next. For six hours I tramped those silver glades, and when I rolled happily into bed my ballad was cinched. Next day, with scarcely any effort of memory I put it on paper. Word and rhyme came eagerly to heel. My moonlight improvisation was secure and, though I did not know it, "McGee was to be the keystone of my success. 

The Cremation of Sam McGee

The Shooting of Dan McGrew