Rhymes of a Rolling Stone by Robert W. Service

Rhymes of a Rolling Stone by Robert W. Service I have no doubt at all the Devil grins, As seas of ink I spatter. Ye gods, forgive my “literary” sins — The other kind don’t matter. Rhymes of a Rolling Stone by Robert W. Service Author of “The Spell of the Yukon”, “Ballads of a
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  • 1912
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Rhymes of a Rolling Stone

by Robert W. Service [British-born Canadian Poet — 1874-1958.]

[Note on text: Italicized stanzas are indented 5 spaces. Stanzas that were italicized AND indented are indented 10 spaces. Italicized words and phrases are capitalized. Lines longer than 78 characters are broken according to metre, and the continuation is indented two spaces.]

[This etext is transcribed from the 1912 edition, 1917 printing. Some very minor changes have been made in spelling and punctuation after consulting another edition.]

I have no doubt at all the Devil grins, As seas of ink I spatter.
Ye gods, forgive my “literary” sins — The other kind don’t matter.

Rhymes of a Rolling Stone
by Robert W. Service

Author of “The Spell of the Yukon”, “Ballads of a Cheechako”, etc.


A Rolling Stone
The Soldier of Fortune
The Gramaphone at Fond-Du-Lac
The Land of Beyond
The Idealist
Athabaska Dick
The Return
The Junior God
The Nostomaniac
To Sunnydale
The Blind and the Dead
The Atavist
The Sceptic
The Rover
Barb-Wire Bill
Just Think!
The Lunger
The Mountain and the Lake
The Headliner and the Breadliner
Death in the Arctic
Dreams Are Best
The Quitter
The Cow-Juice Cure
While the Bannock Bakes
The Lost Master
Little Moccasins
The Wanderlust
The Trapper’s Christmas Eve
The World’s All Right
The Baldness of Chewed-Ear
The Mother
The Dreamer
At Thirty-Five
The Squaw Man
Home and Love
I’m Scared of it All
A Song of Success
The Song of the Camp-Fire
Her Letter
The Man Who Knew
The Logger
The Passing of the Year
The Ghosts
Good-Bye, Little Cabin
Heart o’ the North
The Scribe’s Prayer

Rhymes of a Rolling Stone


I sing no idle songs of dalliance days, No dreams Elysian inspire my rhyming; I have no Celia to enchant my lays,
No pipes of Pan have set my heart to chiming. I am no wordsmith dripping gems divine Into the golden chalice of a sonnet;
If love songs witch you, close this book of mine, Waste no time on it.

Yet bring I to my work an eager joy, A lusty love of life and all things human; Still in me leaps the wonder of the boy, A pride in man, a deathless faith in woman. Still red blood calls, still rings the valiant fray; Adventure beacons through the summer gloaming: Oh long and long and long will be the day Ere I come homing!

This earth is ours to love: lute, brush and pen, They are but tongues to tell of life sincerely; The thaumaturgic Day, the might of men, O God of Scribes, grant us to grave them clearly! Grant heart that homes in heart, then all is well. Honey is honey-sweet, howe’er the hiving. Each to his work, his wage at evening bell The strength of striving.

A Rolling Stone

There’s sunshine in the heart of me, My blood sings in the breeze;
The mountains are a part of me,
I’m fellow to the trees.
My golden youth I’m squandering, Sun-libertine am I;
A-wandering, a-wandering,
Until the day I die.

I was once, I declare, a Stone-Age man, And I roomed in the cool of a cave;
I have known, I will swear, in a new life-span, The fret and the sweat of a slave:
For far over all that folks hold worth, There lives and there leaps in me
A love of the lowly things of earth, And a passion to be free.

To pitch my tent with no prosy plan,
To range and to change at will;
To mock at the mastership of man,
To seek Adventure’s thrill.
Carefree to be, as a bird that sings; To go my own sweet way;
To reck not at all what may befall, But to live and to love each day.

To make my body a temple pure
Wherein I dwell serene;
To care for the things that shall endure, The simple, sweet and clean.
To oust out envy and hate and rage, To breathe with no alarm;
For Nature shall be my anchorage,
And none shall do me harm.

To shun all lures that debauch the soul, The orgied rites of the rich;
To eat my crust as a rover must
With the rough-neck down in the ditch. To trudge by his side whate’er betide;
To share his fire at night;
To call him friend to the long trail-end, And to read his heart aright.

To scorn all strife, and to view all life With the curious eyes of a child;
From the plangent sea to the prairie, From the slum to the heart of the Wild. From the red-rimmed star to the speck of sand, From the vast to the greatly small;
For I know that the whole for good is planned, And I want to see it all.

To see it all, the wide world-way,
From the fig-leaf belt to the Pole; With never a one to say me nay,
And none to cramp my soul.
In belly-pinch I will pay the price, But God! let me be free;
For once I know in the long ago,
They made a slave of me.

In a flannel shirt from earth’s clean dirt, Here, pal, is my calloused hand!
Oh, I love each day as a rover may, Nor seek to understand.
To ENJOY is good enough for me;
The gipsy of God am I;
Then here’s a hail to each flaring dawn! And here’s a cheer to the night that’s gone! And may I go a-roaming on
Until the day I die!

Then every star shall sing to me
Its song of liberty;
And every morn shall bring to me Its mandate to be free.
In every throbbing vein of me
I’ll feel the vast Earth-call;
O body, heart and brain of me
Praise Him who made it all!

The Soldier of Fortune

“Deny your God!” they ringed me with their spears; Blood-crazed were they, and reeking from the strife; Hell-hot their hate, and venom-fanged their sneers, And one man spat on me and nursed a knife. And there was I, sore wounded and alone, I, the last living of my slaughtered band. Oh sinister the sky, and cold as stone!
In one red laugh of horror reeled the land. And dazed and desperate I faced their spears, And like a flame out-leaped that naked knife, And like a serpent stung their bitter jeers: “Deny your God, and we will give you life.”

Deny my God! Oh life was very sweet!
And it is hard in youth and hope to die; And there my comrades dear lay at my feet, And in that blear of blood soon must I lie. And yet . . . I almost laughed — it seemed so odd, For long and long had I not vainly tried To reason out and body forth my God,
And prayed for light, and doubted — and DENIED: Denied the Being I could not conceive,
Denied a life-to-be beyond the grave. . . . And now they ask me, who do not believe, Just to deny, to voice my doubt, to save This life of mine that sings so in the sun, The bloom of youth yet red upon my cheek, My only life! — O fools! ’tis easy done, I will deny . . . and yet I do not speak.

“Deny your God!” their spears are all agleam, And I can see their eyes with blood-lust shine; Their snarling voices shrill into a scream, And, mad to slay, they quiver for the sign. Deny my God! yes, I could do it well;
Yet if I did, what of my race, my name? How they would spit on me, these dogs of hell! Spurn me, and put on me the brand of shame. A white man’s honour! what of that, I say? Shall these black curs cry “Coward” in my face? They who would perish for their gods of clay — Shall I defile my country and my race?
My country! what’s my country to me now? Soldier of Fortune, free and far I roam; All men are brothers in my heart, I vow; The wide and wondrous world is all my home. My country! reverent of her splendid Dead, Her heroes proud, her martyrs pierced with pain: For me her puissant blood was vainly shed; For me her drums of battle beat in vain, And free I fare, half-heedless of her fate: No faith, no flag I owe — then why not seek This last loop-hole of life? Why hesitate? I will deny . . . and yet I do not speak.

“Deny your God!” their spears are poised on high, And tense and terrible they wait the word; And dark and darker glooms the dreary sky, And in that hush of horror no thing stirred. Then, through the ringing terror and sheer hate Leaped there a vision to me — Oh, how far! A face, Her face . . . through all my stormy fate A joy, a strength, a glory and a star.
Beneath the pines, where lonely camp-fires gleam, In seas forlorn, amid the deserts drear, How I had gladdened to that face of dream! And never, never had it seemed so dear.
O silken hair that veils the sunny brow! O eyes of grey, so tender and so true!
O lips of smiling sweetness! must I now For ever and for ever go from you?
Ah, yes, I must . . . for if I do this thing, How can I look into your face again?
Knowing you think me more than half a king, I with my craven heart, my honour slain.

No! no! my mind’s made up. I gaze above, Into that sky insensate as a stone;
Not for my creed, my country, but my Love Will I stand up and meet my death alone. Then though it be to utter dark I sink,
The God that dwells in me is not denied; “Best” triumphs over “Beast”, — and so I think Humanity itself is glorified. . . .

“And now, my butchers, I embrace my fate. Come! let my heart’s blood slake the thirsty sod. Curst be the life you offer! Glut your hate! Strike! Strike, you dogs! I’ll NOT deny my God.”

I saw the spears that seemed a-leap to slay, All quiver earthward at the headman’s nod; And in a daze of dream I heard him say:
“Go, set him free who serves so well his God!”

The Gramaphone at Fond-Du-Lac

Now Eddie Malone got a swell grammyfone to draw all the trade to his store; An’ sez he: “Come along for a season of song, which the like ye had niver before.”
Then Dogrib, an’ Slave, an’ Yellow-knife brave, an’ Cree in his dinky canoe, Confluated near, to see an’ to hear Ed’s grammyfone make its dayboo.

Then Ed turned the crank, an’ there on the bank they squatted like bumps on a log.
For acres around there wasn’t a sound, not even the howl of a dog. When out of the horn there sudden was born such a marvellous elegant tone; An’ then like a spell on that auddyence fell the voice of its first grammyfone.

“BAD MEDICINE!” cried Old Tom, the One-eyed, an’ made for to jump in the lake;
But no one gave heed to his little stampede, so he guessed he had made a mistake.
Then Roll-in-the-Mud, a chief of the blood, observed in choice Chippewayan: “You’ve brought us canned beef, an’ it’s now my belief that this here’s a case of `CANNED MAN’.”

Well, though I’m not strong on the Dago in song, that sure got me goin’ for fair.
There was Crusoe an’ Scotty, an’ Ma’am Shoeman Hank, an’ Melber an’ Bonchy was there.
‘Twas silver an’ gold, an’ sweetness untold to hear all them big guinneys sing;
An’ thick all around an’ inhalin’ the sound, them Indians formed in a ring.

So solemn they sat, an’ they smoked an’ they spat, but their eyes sort o’ glistened an’ shone; Yet niver a word of approvin’ occurred till that guy Harry Lauder came on. Then hunter of moose, an’ squaw an’ papoose jest laughed till their stummicks was sore; Six times Eddie set back that record an’ yet they hollered an’ hollered for more.

I’ll never forget that frame-up, you bet; them caverns of sunset agleam; Them still peaks aglow, them shadders below, an’ the lake like a petrified dream;
The teepees that stood by the edge of the wood; the evenin’ star blinkin’ alone;
The peace an’ the rest, an’ final an’ best, the music of Ed’s grammyfone.

Then sudden an’ clear there rang on my ear a song mighty simple an’ old; Heart-hungry an’ high it thrilled to the sky, all about “silver threads in the gold”. ‘Twas tender to tears, an’ it brung back the years, the mem’ries that hallow an’ yearn;
‘Twas home-love an’ joy, ’twas the thought of my boy . . . an’ right there I vowed I’d return.

Big Four-finger Jack was right at my back, an’ I saw with a kind o’ surprise, He gazed at the lake with a heartful of ache, an’ the tears irrigated his eyes.
An’ sez he: “Cuss me, pard! but that there hits me hard; I’ve a mother does nuthin’ but wait.
She’s turned eighty-three, an’ she’s only got me, an’ I’m scared it’ll soon be too late.”

* * * * *

On Fond-du-lac’s shore I’m hearin’ once more that blessed old grammyfone play.
The summer’s all gone, an’ I’m still livin’ on in the same old haphazardous way.
Oh, I cut out the booze, an’ with muscles an’ thews I corralled all the coin to go back;
But it wasn’t to be: he’d a mother, you see, so I — SLIPPED IT TO FOUR-FINGER JACK.

The Land of Beyond

Have ever you heard of the Land of Beyond, That dreams at the gates of the day?
Alluring it lies at the skirts of the skies, And ever so far away;
Alluring it calls: O ye the yoke galls, And ye of the trail overfond,
With saddle and pack, by paddle and track, Let’s go to the Land of Beyond!

Have ever you stood where the silences brood, And vast the horizons begin,
At the dawn of the day to behold far away The goal you would strive for and win?
Yet ah! in the night when you gain to the height, With the vast pool of heaven star-spawned, Afar and agleam, like a valley of dream, Still mocks you a Land of Beyond.

Thank God! there is always a Land of Beyond For us who are true to the trail;
A vision to seek, a beckoning peak, A farness that never will fail;
A pride in our soul that mocks at a goal, A manhood that irks at a bond,
And try how we will, unattainable still, Behold it, our Land of Beyond!



Flat as a drum-head stretch the haggard snows; The mighty skies are palisades of light; The stars are blurred; the silence grows and grows; Vaster and vaster vaults the icy night.
Here in my sleeping-bag I cower and pray: “Silence and night, have pity! stoop and slay.”

I have not slept for many, many days. I close my eyes with weariness — that’s all. I still have strength to feed the drift-wood blaze, That flickers weirdly on the icy wall.
I still have strength to pray: “God rest her soul, Here in the awful shadow of the Pole.”

There in the cabin’s alcove low she lies, Still candles gleaming at her head and feet; All snow-drop white, ash-cold, with closed eyes, Lips smiling, hands at rest — O God, how sweet! How all unutterably sweet she seems. . . . Not dead, not dead indeed — she dreams, she dreams.


“Sunshine”, I called her, and she brought, I vow, God’s blessed sunshine to this life of mine. I was a rover, of the breed who plough
Life’s furrow in a far-flung, lonely line; The wilderness my home, my fortune cast
In a wild land of dearth, barbaric, vast.

When did I see her first? Long had I lain Groping my way to life through fevered gloom. Sudden the cloud of darkness left my brain; A velvet bar of sunshine pierced the room, And in that mellow glory aureoled
She stood, she stood, all golden in its gold.

Sunshine! O miracle! the earth grew glad; Radiant each blade of grass, each living thing. What a huge strength, high hope, proud will I had! All the wide world with rapture seemed to ring. Would she but wed me? YES: then fared we forth Into the vast, unvintageable North.


In Muskrat Land the conies leap,
The wavies linger in their flight; The jewelled, snakelike rivers creep; The sun, sad rogue, is out all night; The great wood bison paws the sand,
In Muskrat Land, in Muskrat Land.

In Muskrat Land dim streams divide The tundras belted by the sky.
How sweet in slim canoe to glide, And dream, and let the world go by!
Build gay camp-fires on greening strand! In Muskrat Land, in Muskrat Land.


And so we dreamed and drifted, she and I; And how she loved that free, unfathomed life! There in the peach-bloom of the midnight sky, The silence welded us, true man and wife. Then North and North invincibly we pressed Beyond the Circle, to the world’s white crest.

And on the wind-flailed Arctic waste we stayed, Dwelt with the Huskies by the Polar sea. Fur had they, white fox, marten, mink to trade, And we had food-stuff, bacon, flour and tea. So we made snug, chummed up with all the band: Sudden the Winter swooped on Husky Land.


What was that ill so sinister and dread, Smiting the tribe with sickness to the bone? So that we waked one morn to find them fled; So that we stood and stared, alone, alone. Bravely she smiled and looked into my eyes; Laughed at their troubled, stern, foreboding pain; Gaily she mocked the menace of the skies, Turned to our cheery cabin once again,
Saying: “‘Twill soon be over, dearest one, The long, long night: then O the sun, the sun!”


God made a heart of gold, of gold, Shining and sweet and true;
Gave it a home of fairest mould, Blest it, and called it — You.

God gave the rose its grace of glow, And the lark its radiant glee;
But, better than all, I know, I know God gave you, Heart, to me.


She was all sunshine in those dubious days; Our cabin beaconed with defiant light;
We chattered by the friendly drift-wood blaze; Closer and closer cowered the hag-like night. A wolf-howl would have been a welcome sound, And there was none in all that stricken land; Yet with such silence, darkness, death around, Learned we to love as few can understand. Spirit with spirit fused, and soul with soul, There in the sullen shadow of the Pole.


What was that haunting horror of the night? Brave was she; buoyant, full of sunny cheer. Why was her face so small, so strangely white? Then did I turn from her, heart-sick with fear; Sought in my agony the outcast snows;
Prayed in my pain to that insensate sky; Grovelled and sobbed and cursed, and then arose: “Sunshine! O heart of gold! to die! to die!”


She died on Christmas day — it seems so sad That one you love should die on Christmas day. Head-bowed I knelt by her; O God! I had
No tears to shed, no moan, no prayer to pray. I heard her whisper: “Call me, will you, dear? They say Death parts, but I won’t go away. I will be with you in the cabin here;
Oh I will plead with God to let me stay! Stay till the Night is gone, till Spring is nigh, Till sunshine comes . . . be brave . . . I’m tired . . . good-bye. . . .”


For weeks, for months I have not seen the sun; The minatory dawns are leprous pale;
The felon days malinger one by one; How like a dream Life is! how vain! how stale! I, too, am faint; that vampire-like disease Has fallen on me; weak and cold am I,
Hugging a tiny fire in fear I freeze: The cabin must be cold, and so I try
To bear the frost, the frost that fights decay, The frost that keeps her beautiful alway.


She lies within an icy vault;
It glitters like a cave of salt. All marble-pure and angel-sweet
With candles at her head and feet, Under an ermine robe she lies.
I kiss her hands, I kiss her eyes: “Come back, come back, O Love, I pray, Into this house, this house of clay!
Answer my kisses soft and warm;
Nestle again within my arm.
Come! for I know that you are near; Open your eyes and look, my dear.
Just for a moment break the mesh; Back from the spirit leap to flesh.
Weary I wait; the night is black; Love of my life, come back, come back!”


Last night maybe I was a little mad,
For as I prayed despairful by her side, Such a strange, antic visioning I had:
Lo! it did seem HER EYES WERE OPEN WIDE. Surely I must have dreamed! I stared once more. . . . No, ’twas a candle’s trick, a shadow cast. There were her lashes locking as before. (Oh, but it filled me with a joy so vast!) No, ’twas a freak, a fancy of the brain, (Oh, but to-night I’ll try again, again!)


It was no dream; now do I know that Love Leapt from the starry battlements of Death; For in my vigil as I bent above,
Calling her name with eager, burning breath, Sudden there came a change: again I saw
The radiance of the rose-leaf stain her cheek; Rivers of rapture thrilled in sunny thaw; Cleft were her coral lips as if to speak; Curved were her tender arms as if to cling; Open the flower-like eyes of lucent blue, Looking at me with love so pitying
That I could fancy Heaven shining through. “Sunshine,” I faltered, “stay with me, oh, stay!” Yet ere I finished, in a moment’s flight, There in her angel purity she lay —


Even as this line I write,
Do I know that she is near;
Happy am I, every night
Comes she back to bid me cheer;
Kissing her, I hold her fast;
Win her into life at last.

Did I dream that yesterday
On yon mountain ridge a glow
Soft as moonstone paled away,
Leaving less forlorn the snow?
Could it be the sun? Oh, fain
Would I see the sun again!

Oh, to see a coral dawn
Gladden to a crocus glow!
Day’s a spectre dim and wan,
Dancing on the furtive snow;
Night’s a cloud upon my brain:
Oh, to see the sun again!

You who find us in this place,
Have you pity in your breast;
Let us in our last embrace,
Under earth sun-hallowed rest.
Night’s a claw upon my brain:
Oh, to see the sun again!


The Sun! at last the Sun! I write these lines, Here on my knees, with feeble, fumbling hand. Look! in yon mountain cleft a radiance shines, Gleam of a primrose — see it thrill, expand, Grow glorious. Dear God be praised! it streams Into the cabin in a gush of gold.
Look! there she stands, the angel of my dreams, All in the radiant shimmer aureoled;
First as I saw her from my bed of pain; First as I loved her when the darkness passed. Now do I know that Life is not in vain;
Now do I know God cares, at last, at last! Light outlives dark, joy grief, and Love’s the sum: Heart of my heart! Sunshine! I come . . . I come. . . .

The Idealist

Oh you who have daring deeds to tell! And you who have felt Ambition’s spell! Have you heard of the louse who longed to dwell In the golden hair of a queen?
He sighed all day and he sighed all night, And no one could understand it quite,
For the head of a slut is a louse’s delight, But he pined for the head of a queen.

So he left his kinsfolk in merry play, And off by his lonesome he stole away,
From the home of his youth so bright and gay, And gloriously unclean.
And at last he came to the palace gate, And he made his way in a manner straight (For a louse may go where a man must wait) To the tiring-room of the queen.

The queen she spake to her tiring-maid: “There’s something the matter, I’m afraid. To-night ere for sleep my hair ye braid, Just see what may be seen.”
And lo, when they combed that shining hair They found him alone in his glory there, And he cried: “I die, but I do not care, For I’ve lived in the head of a queen!”

Athabaska Dick

When the boys come out from Lac Labiche in the lure of the early Spring, To take the pay of the “Hudson’s Bay”, as their fathers did before, They are all a-glee for the jamboree, and they make the Landing ring With a whoop and a whirl, and a “Grab your girl”, and a rip and a skip and a roar.
For the spree of Spring is a sacred thing, and the boys must have their fun; Packer and tracker and half-breed Cree, from the boat to the bar they leap; And then when the long flotilla goes, and the last of their pay is done, The boys from the banks of Lac Labiche swing to the heavy sweep. And oh, how they sigh! and their throats are dry, and sorry are they and sick:
Yet there’s none so cursed with a lime-kiln thirst as that Athabaska Dick.

He was long and slim and lean of limb, but strong as a stripling bear; And by the right of his skill and might he guided the Long Brigade. All water-wise were his laughing eyes, and he steered with a careless care, And he shunned the shock of foam and rock, till they came to the Big Cascade. And here they must make the long portage, and the boys sweat in the sun; And they heft and pack, and they haul and track, and each must do his trick; But their thoughts are far in the Landing bar, where the founts of nectar run:
And no man thinks of such gorgeous drinks as that Athabaska Dick.

‘Twas the close of day and his long boat lay just over the Big Cascade, When there came to him one Jack-pot Jim, with a wild light in his eye; And he softly laughed, and he led Dick aft, all eager, yet half afraid, And snugly stowed in his coat he showed a pilfered flask of “rye”. And in haste he slipped, or in fear he tripped, but — Dick in warning roared —
And there rang a yell, and it befell that Jim was overboard.

Oh, I heard a splash, and quick as a flash I knew he could not swim. I saw him whirl in the river swirl, and thresh his arms about. In a queer, strained way I heard Dick say: “I’m going after him,” Throw off his coat, leap down the boat — and then I gave a shout: “Boys, grab him, quick! You’re crazy, Dick! Far better one than two! Hell, man! You know you’ve got no show! It’s sure and certain death. . . .” And there we hung, and there we clung, with beef and brawn and thew, And sinews cracked and joints were racked, and panting came our breath; And there we swayed and there we prayed, till strength and hope were spent — Then Dick, he threw us off like rats, and after Jim he went.

With mighty urge amid the surge of river-rage he leapt, And gripped his mate and desperate he fought to gain the shore; With teeth a-gleam he bucked the stream, yet swift and sure he swept To meet the mighty cataract that waited all a-roar. And there we stood like carven wood, our faces sickly white, And watched him as he beat the foam, and inch by inch he lost; And nearer, nearer drew the fall, and fiercer grew the fight, Till on the very cascade crest a last farewell he tossed. Then down and down and down they plunged into that pit of dread; And mad we tore along the shore to claim our bitter dead.

And from that hell of frenzied foam, that crashed and fumed and boiled, Two little bodies bubbled up, and they were heedless then; And oh, they lay like senseless clay! and bitter hard we toiled, Yet never, never gleam of hope, and we were weary men. And moments mounted into hours, and black was our despair; And faint were we, and we were fain to give them up as dead, When suddenly I thrilled with hope: “Back, boys! and give him air; I feel the flutter of his heart. . . .” And, as the word I said, Dick gave a sigh, and gazed around, and saw our breathless band; And saw the sky’s blue floor above, all strewn with golden fleece; And saw his comrade Jack-pot Jim, and touched him with his hand: And then there came into his eyes a look of perfect peace. And as there, at his very feet, the thwarted river raved, I heard him murmur low and deep:
“Thank God! the WHISKEY’s saved.”


It’s a mighty good world, so it is, dear lass, When even the worst is said.
There’s a smile and a tear, a sigh and a cheer, But better be living than dead;
A joy and a pain, a loss and a gain; There’s honey and may be some gall:
Yet still I declare, foul weather or fair, It’s a mighty good world after all.

For look, lass! at night when I break from the fight, My Kingdom’s awaiting for me;
There’s comfort and rest, and the warmth of your breast, And little ones climbing my knee.
There’s fire-light and song — Oh, the world may be wrong! Its empires may topple and fall:
My home is my care — if gladness be there, It’s a mighty good world after all.

O heart of pure gold! I have made you a fold, It’s sheltered, sun-fondled and warm.
O little ones, rest! I have fashioned a nest; Sleep on! you are safe from the storm.
For there’s no foe like fear, and there’s no friend like cheer, And sunshine will flash at our call;
So crown Love as King, and let us all sing — “It’s a mighty good world after all.”

The Return

They turned him loose; he bowed his head, A felon, bent and grey.
His face was even as the Dead,
He had no word to say.

He sought the home of his old love,
To look on her once more;
And where her roses breathed above, He cowered beside the door.

She sat there in the shining room;
Her hair was silver grey.
He stared and stared from out the gloom; He turned to go away.

Her roses rustled overhead.
She saw, with sudden start.
“I knew that you would come,” she said, And held him to her heart.

Her face was rapt and angel-sweet;
She touched his hair of grey;
. . . . .

The Junior God

The Junior God looked from his place
In the conning towers of heaven,
And he saw the world through the span of space Like a giant golf-ball driven.
And because he was bored, as some gods are, With high celestial mirth,
He clutched the reins of a shooting star, And he steered it down to earth.

The Junior God, ‘mid leaf and bud,
Passed on with a weary air,
Till lo! he came to a pool of mud,
And some hogs were rolling there.
Then in he plunged with gleeful cries, And down he lay supine;
For they had no mud in paradise,
And they likewise had no swine.

The Junior God forgot himself;
He squelched mud through his toes; With the careless joy of a wanton boy
His reckless laughter rose.
Till, tired at last, in a brook close by, He washed off every stain;
Then softly up to the radiant sky
He rose, a god again.

The Junior God now heads the roll
In the list of heaven’s peers;
He sits in the House of High Control, And he regulates the spheres.
Yet does he wonder, do you suppose, If, even in gods divine,
The best and wisest may not be those Who have wallowed awhile with the swine?

The Nostomaniac

On the ragged edge of the world I’ll roam, And the home of the wolf shall be my home, And a bunch of bones on the boundless snows The end of my trail . . . who knows, who knows!

I’m dreaming to-night in the fire-glow, alone in my study tower, My books battalioned around me, my Kipling flat on my knee; But I’m not in the mood for reading, I haven’t moved for an hour; Body and brain I’m weary, weary the heart of me; Weary of crushing a longing it’s little I understand, For I thought that my trail was ended, I thought I had earned my rest; But oh, it’s stronger than life is, the call of the hearthless land! And I turn to the North in my trouble, as a child to the mother-breast.

Here in my den it’s quiet; the sea-wind taps on the pane; There’s comfort and ease and plenty, the smile of the South is sweet. All that a man might long for, fight for and seek in vain, Pictures and books and music, pleasure my last retreat. Peace! I thought I had gained it, I swore that my tale was told; By my hair that is grey I swore it, by my eyes that are slow to see; Yet what does it all avail me? to-night, to-night as of old, Out of the dark I hear it — the Northland calling to me.

And I’m daring a rampageous river that runs the devil knows where; My hand is athrill on the paddle, the birch-bark bounds like a bird. Hark to the rumble of rapids! Here in my morris chair Eager and tense I’m straining — isn’t it most absurd? Now in the churn and the lather, foam that hisses and stings, Leap I, keyed for the struggle, fury and fume and roar; Rocks are spitting like hell-cats — Oh, it’s a sport for kings, Life on a twist of the paddle . . . there’s my “Kim” on the floor.

How I thrill and I vision! Then my camp of a night; Red and gold of the fire-glow, net afloat in the stream; Scent of the pines and silence, little “pal” pipe alight, Body a-purr with pleasure, sleep untroubled of dream: Banquet of paystreak bacon! moment of joy divine, When the bannock is hot and gluey, and the teapot’s nearing the boil! Never was wolf so hungry, stomach cleaving to spine. . . . Ha! there’s my servant calling, says that dinner will spoil.

What do I want with dinner? Can I eat any more? Can I sleep as I used to? . . . Oh, I abhor this life! Give me the Great Uncertain, the Barren Land for a floor, The Milky Way for a roof-beam, splendour and space and strife: Something to fight and die for — the limpid Lake of the Bear, The Empire of Empty Bellies, the dunes where the Dogribs dwell; Big things, real things, live things . . . here on my morris chair How I ache for the Northland! “Dinner and servants” — Hell!!

Am I too old, I wonder? Can I take one trip more? Go to the granite-ribbed valleys, flooded with sunset wine, Peaks that pierce the aurora, rivers I must explore, Lakes of a thousand islands, millioning hordes of the Pine? Do they not miss me, I wonder, valley and peak and plain? Whispering each to the other: “Many a moon has passed . . . Where has he gone, our lover? Will he come back again? Star with his fires our tundra, leave us his bones at last?”

Yes, I’ll go back to the Northland, back to the way of the bear, Back to the muskeg and mountain, back to the ice-leaguered sea. Old am I! what does it matter? Nothing I would not dare; Give me a trail to conquer — Oh, it is “meat” to me! I will go back to the Northland, feeble and blind and lame; Sup with the sunny-eyed Husky, eat moose-nose with the Cree; Play with the Yellow-knife bastards, boasting my blood and my name: I will go back to the Northland, for the Northland is calling to me.

Then give to me paddle and whiplash, and give to me tumpline and gun; Give to me salt and tobacco, flour and a gunny of tea; Take me up over the Circle, under the flamboyant sun; Turn me foot-loose like a savage — that is the finish of me. I know the trail I am seeking, it’s up by the Lake of the Bear; It’s down by the Arctic Barrens, it’s over to Hudson’s Bay; Maybe I’ll get there, — maybe: death is set by a hair. . . . Hark! it’s the Northland calling! now must I go away. . . .

Go to the Wild that waits for me;
Go where the moose and the musk-ox be; Go to the wolf and the secret snows;
Go to my fate . . . who knows, who knows!


They brought the mighty chief to town; They showed him strange, unwonted sights; Yet as he wandered up and down,
He seemed to scorn their vain delights. His face was grim, his eye lacked fire,
As one who mourns a glory dead;
And when they sought his heart’s desire: “Me like’um tooth same gold,” he said.

A dental place they quickly found.
He neither moaned nor moved his head. They pulled his teeth so white and sound; They put in teeth of gold instead.
Oh, never saw I man so gay!
His very being seemed to swell:
“Ha! ha!” he cried, “Now Injun say
Me heap big chief, ME LOOK LIKE HELL.”

To Sunnydale

There lies the trail to Sunnydale,
Amid the lure of laughter.
Oh, how can we unhappy be
Beneath its leafy rafter!
Each perfect hour is like a flower, Each day is like a posy.
How can you say the skies are grey? You’re wrong, my friend, they’re rosy.

With right good will let’s climb the hill, And leave behind all sorrow.
Oh, we’ll be gay! a bright to-day
Will make a bright to-morrow.
Oh, we’ll be strong! the way is long That never has a turning;
The hill is high, but there’s the sky, And how the West is burning!

And if through chance of circumstance We have to go bare-foot, sir,
We’ll not repine — a friend of mine Has got no feet to boot, sir.
This Happiness a habit is,
And Life is what we make it:
See! there’s the trail to Sunnydale! Up, friend! and let us take it.

The Blind and the Dead

She lay like a saint on her copper couch; Like an angel asleep she lay,
In the stare of the ghoulish folks that slouch Past the Dead and sneak away.

Then came old Jules of the sightless gaze, Who begged in the streets for bread.
Each day he had come for a year of days, And groped his way to the Dead.

“What’s the Devil’s Harvest to-day?” he cried; “A wanton with eyes of blue!
I’ve known too many a such,” he sighed; “Maybe I know this . . . mon Dieu!”

He raised the head of the heedless Dead; He fingered the frozen face. . . .
Then a deathly spell on the watchers fell — God! it was still, that place!

He raised the head of the careless Dead; He fumbled a vagrant curl;
And then with his sightless smile he said: “It’s only my little girl.”

“Dear, my dear, did they hurt you so! Come to your daddy’s heart. . . .”
Aye, and he held so tight, you know, They were hard to force apart.

No! Paris isn’t always gay;
And the morgue has its stories too: You are a writer of tales, you say —
Then there is a tale for you.

The Atavist

What are you doing here, Tom Thorne, on the white top-knot o’ the world, Where the wind has the cut of a naked knife and the stars are rapier keen? Hugging a smudgy willow fire, deep in a lynx robe curled, You that’s a lord’s own son, Tom Thorne — what does your madness mean?

Go home, go home to your clubs, Tom Thorne! home to your evening dress! Home to your place of power and pride, and the feast that waits for you! Why do you linger all alone in the splendid emptiness, Scouring the Land of the Little Sticks on the trail of the caribou?

Why did you fall off the Earth, Tom Thorne, out of our social ken? What did your deep damnation prove? What was your dark despair? Oh with the width of a world between, and years to the count of ten, If they cut out your heart to-night, Tom Thorne, HER name would be graven there!

And you fled afar for the thing called Peace, and you thought you would find it here, In the purple tundras vastly spread, and the mountains whitely piled; It’s a weary quest and a dreary quest, but I think that the end is near; For they say that the Lord has hidden it in the secret heart of the Wild.

And you know that heart as few men know, and your eyes are fey and deep, With a “something lost” come welling back from the raw, red dawn of life: With woe and pain have you greatly lain, till out of abysmal sleep The soul of the Stone Age leaps in you, alert for the ancient strife.

And if you came to our feast again, with its pomp and glee and glow, I think you would sit stone-still, Tom Thorne, and see in a daze of dream, A mad sun goading to frenzied flame the glittering gems of the snow, And a monster musk-ox bulking black against the blood-red gleam.

I think you would see berg-battling shores, and stammer and halt and stare, With a sudden sense of the frozen void, serene and vast and still; And the aching gleam and the hush of dream, and the track of a great white bear,
And the primal lust that surged in you as you sprang to make your kill.

I think you would hear the bull-moose call, and the glutted river roar; And spy the hosts of the caribou shadow the shining plain; And feel the pulse of the Silences, and stand elate once more On the verge of the yawning vastitudes that call to you in vain.

For I think you are one with the stars and the sun, and the wind and the wave and the dew;
And the peaks untrod that yearn to God, and the valleys undefiled; Men soar with wings, and they bridle kings, but what is it all to you, Wise in the ways of the wilderness, and strong with the strength of the Wild?

You have spent your life, you have waged your strife where never we play a part;
You have held the throne of the Great Unknown, you have ruled a kingdom vast: . . . . .

The Sceptic

My Father Christmas passed away
When I was barely seven.
At twenty-one, alack-a-day,
I lost my hope of heaven.

Yet not in either lies the curse:
The hell of it’s because
I don’t know which loss hurt the worse — My God or Santa Claus.

The Rover


Oh, how good it is to be
Foot-loose and heart-free!
Just my dog and pipe and I, underneath the vast sky; Trail to try and goal to win, white road and cool inn; Fields to lure a lad afar, clear spring and still star; Lilting feet that never tire, green dingle, fagot fire; None to hurry, none to hold, heather hill and hushed fold; Nature like a picture book, laughing leaf and bright brook; Every day a jewel bright, set serenely in the night; Every night a holy shrine, radiant for a day divine.

Weathered cheek and kindly eye, let the wanderer go by. Woman-love and wistful heart, let the gipsy one depart. For the farness and the road are his glory and his goad. Oh, the lilt of youth and Spring! Eyes laugh and lips sing. Yea, but it is good to be
Foot-loose and heart-free!


Yet how good it is to come
Home at last, home, home!
On the clover swings the bee, overhead’s the hale tree; Sky of turquoise gleams through, yonder glints the lake’s blue. In a hammock let’s swing, weary of wandering; Tired of wild, uncertain lands, strange faces, faint hands.

Has the wondrous world gone cold? Am I growing old, old? Grey and weary . . . let me dream, glide on the tranquil stream. Oh, what joyous days I’ve had, full, fervid, gay, glad! Yet there comes a subtile change, let the stripling rove, range. From sweet roving comes sweet rest, after all, home’s best. And if there’s a little bit of woman-love with it, I will count my life content, God-blest and well spent. . . . Oh but it is good to be
Foot-loose and heart-free!
Yet how good it is to come
Home at last, home, home!

Barb-Wire Bill

At dawn of day the white land lay all gruesome-like and grim, When Bill Mc’Gee he says to me: “We’ve GOT to do it, Jim. We’ve got to make Fort Liard quick. I know the river’s bad, But, oh! the little woman’s sick . . . why! don’t you savvy, lad?” And me! Well, yes, I must confess it wasn’t hard to see Their little family group of two would soon be one of three. And so I answered, careless-like: “Why, Bill! you don’t suppose I’m scared of that there `babbling brook’? Whatever you say — goes.”

A real live man was Barb-wire Bill, with insides copper-lined; For “barb-wire” was the brand of “hooch” to which he most inclined. They knew him far; his igloos are on Kittiegazuit strand. They knew him well, the tribes who dwell within the Barren Land. From Koyokuk to Kuskoquim his fame was everywhere; And he did love, all life above, that little Julie Claire, The lithe, white slave-girl he had bought for seven hundred skins, And taken to his wickiup to make his moccasins.

We crawled down to the river bank and feeble folk were we, That Julie Claire from God-knows-where, and Barb-wire Bill and me. From shore to shore we heard the roar the heaving ice-floes make, And loud we laughed, and launched our raft, and followed in their wake. The river swept and seethed and leapt, and caught us in its stride; And on we hurled amid a world that crashed on every side. With sullen din the banks caved in; the shore-ice lanced the stream; The naked floes like spooks arose, all jiggling and agleam. Black anchor-ice of strange device shot upward from its bed, As night and day we cleft our way, and arrow-like we sped.

But “Faster still!” cried Barb-wire Bill, and looked the live-long day In dull despair at Julie Claire, as white like death she lay. And sometimes he would seem to pray and sometimes seem to curse, And bent above, with eyes of love, yet ever she grew worse. And as we plunged and leapt and lunged, her face was plucked with pain, And I could feel his nerves of steel a-quiver at the strain. And in the night he gripped me tight as I lay fast asleep: “The river’s kicking like a steer . . . run out the forward sweep! That’s Hell-gate Canyon right ahead; I know of old its roar, And . . . I’ll be damned! THE ICE IS JAMMED! We’ve GOT to make the shore.”

With one wild leap I gripped the sweep. The night was black as sin. The float-ice crashed and ripped and smashed, and stunned us with its din. And near and near, and clear and clear I heard the canyon boom; And swift and strong we swept along to meet our awful doom. And as with dread I glimpsed ahead the death that waited there, My only thought was of the girl, the little Julie Claire; And so, like demon mad with fear, I panted at the oar, And foot by foot, and inch by inch, we worked the raft ashore.

The bank was staked with grinding ice, and as we scraped and crashed, I only knew one thing to do, and through my mind it flashed: Yet while I groped to find the rope, I heard Bill’s savage cry: “That’s my job, lad! It’s me that jumps. I’ll snub this raft or die!” I saw him leap, I saw him creep, I saw him gain the land; I saw him crawl, I saw him fall, then run with rope in hand. And then the darkness gulped him up, and down we dashed once more, And nearer, nearer drew the jam, and thunder-like its roar.

Oh God! all’s lost . . . from Julie Claire there came a wail of pain, And then — the rope grew sudden taut, and quivered at the strain; It slacked and slipped, it whined and gripped, and oh, I held my breath! And there we hung and there we swung right in the jaws of death.

A little strand of hempen rope, and how I watched it there, With all around a hell of sound, and darkness and despair; A little strand of hempen rope, I watched it all alone, And somewhere in the dark behind I heard a woman moan; And somewhere in the dark ahead I heard a man cry out, Then silence, silence, silence fell, and mocked my hollow shout. And yet once more from out the shore I heard that cry of pain, A moan of mortal agony, then all was still again.

That night was hell with all the frills, and when the dawn broke dim, I saw a lean and level land, but never sign of him. I saw a flat and frozen shore of hideous device, I saw a long-drawn strand of rope that vanished through the ice. And on that treeless, rockless shore I found my partner — dead. No place was there to snub the raft, so — HE HAD SERVED INSTEAD; And with the rope lashed round his waist, in last defiant fight, He’d thrown himself beneath the ice, that closed and gripped him tight; And there he’d held us back from death, as fast in death he lay. . . . Say, boys! I’m not the pious brand, but — I just tried to pray. And then I looked to Julie Claire, and sore abashed was I, For from the robes that covered her, I — HEARD — A — BABY — CRY. . . .

Thus was Love conqueror of death, and life for life was given; And though no saint on earth, d’ye think — Bill’s squared hisself with Heaven?


If you had the choice of two women to wed, (Though of course the idea is quite absurd) And the first from her heels to her dainty head Was charming in every sense of the word: And yet in the past (I grieve to state), She never had been exactly “straight”.

And the second — she was beyond all cavil, A model of virtue, I must confess;
And yet, alas! she was dull as the devil, And rather a dowd in the way of dress;
Though what she was lacking in wit and beauty, She more than made up for in “sense of duty”.

Now, suppose you must wed, and make no blunder, And either would love you, and let you win her — Which of the two would you choose, I wonder, The stolid saint or the sparkling sinner?

Just Think!

Just think! some night the stars will gleam Upon a cold, grey stone,
And trace a name with silver beam,
And lo! ’twill be your own.

That night is speeding on to greet
Your epitaphic rhyme.
Your life is but a little beat
Within the heart of Time.

A little gain, a little pain,
A laugh, lest you may moan;
A little blame, a little fame,
A star-gleam on a stone.

The Lunger

Jack would laugh an’ joke all day;
Never saw a lad so gay;
Singin’ like a medder lark,
Loaded to the Plimsoll mark
With God’s sunshine was that boy;
Had a strangle-holt on Joy.
Held his head ‘way up in air,
Left no callin’ cards on Care;
Breezy, buoyant, brave and true;
Sent his sunshine out to you;
Cheerfulest when clouds was black — Happy Jack! Oh, Happy Jack!

Sittin’ in my shack alone
I could hear him in his own,
Singin’ far into the night,
Till it didn’t seem just right
One man should corral the fun,
Live his life so in the sun;
Didn’t seem quite natural
Not to have a grouch at all;
Not a trouble, not a lack —
Happy Jack! Oh, Happy Jack!

He was plumbful of good cheer
Till he struck that low-down year;
Got so thin, so little to him,
You could most see day-light through him. Never was his eye so bright,
Never was his cheek so white.
Seemed as if somethin’ was wrong,
Sort o’ quaver in his song.
Same old smile, same hearty voice:
“Bless you, boys! let’s all rejoice!” But old Doctor shook his head:
“Half a lung,” was all he said.
Yet that half was surely right,
For I heard him every night,
Singin’, singin’ in his shack —
Happy Jack! Oh, Happy Jack!

Then one day a letter came
Endin’ with a female name;
Seemed to get him in the neck,
Sort o’ pile-driver effect;
Paled his lip and plucked his breath, Left him starin’ still as death.
Somethin’ had gone awful wrong,
Yet that night he sang his song.
Oh, but it was good to hear!
For there clutched my heart a fear, So that I quaked listenin’
Every night to hear him sing.
But each day he laughed with me,
An’ his smile was full of glee.
Nothin’ seemed to set him back —
Happy Jack! Oh, Happy Jack!

Then one night the singin’ stopped . . . Seemed as if my heart just flopped;
For I’d learned to love the boy
With his gilt-edged line of joy,
With his glorious gift of bluff,
With his splendid fightin’ stuff.
Sing on, lad, and play the game!
O dear God! . . . no singin’ came,
But there surged to me instead —
Silence, silence, deep and dread;
Till I shuddered, tried to pray,
Said: “He’s maybe gone away.”

Oh, yes, he had gone away,
Gone forever and a day.
But he’d left behind him there,
In his cabin, pinched and bare,
His poor body, skin and bone,
His sharp face, cold as a stone.
An’ his stiffened fingers pressed
Somethin’ bright upon his breast:
Locket with a silken curl,
Poor, sweet portrait of a girl.
Yet I reckon at the last
How defiant-like he passed;
For there sat upon his lips
Smile that death could not eclipse; An’ within his eyes lived still
Joy that dyin’ could not kill.

An’ now when the nights are long,
How I miss his cheery song!
How I sigh an’ wish him back!
Happy Jack! Oh, Happy Jack!

The Mountain and the Lake

I know a mountain thrilling to the stars, Peerless and pure, and pinnacled with snow; Glimpsing the golden dawn o’er coral bars, Flaunting the vanisht sunset’s garnet glow; Proudly patrician, passionless, serene;
Soaring in silvered steeps where cloud-surfs break; Virgin and vestal — Oh, a very Queen!
And at her feet there dreams a quiet lake.

My lake adores my mountain — well I know, For I have watched it from its dawn-dream start, Stilling its mirror to her splendid snow, Framing her image in its trembling heart; Glassing her graciousness of greening wood, Kissing her throne, melodiously mad,
Thrilling responsive to her every mood, Gloomed with her sadness, gay when she is glad.

My lake has dreamed and loved since time was born; Will love and dream till time shall cease to be; Gazing to Her in worship half forlorn,
Who looks towards the stars and will not see — My peerless mountain, splendid in her scorn. . . . Alas! poor little lake! Alas! poor me!

The Headliner and the Breadliner

Moko, the Educated Ape is here,
The pet of vaudeville, so the posters say, And every night the gaping people pay
To see him in his panoply appear;
To see him pad his paunch with dainty cheer, Puff his perfecto, swill champagne, and sway Just like a gentleman, yet all in play, Then bow himself off stage with brutish leer.

And as to-night, with noble knowledge crammed, I ‘mid this human compost take my place, I, once a poet, now so dead and damned,
The woeful tears half freezing on my face: “O God!” I cry, “let me but take his shape, Moko’s, the Blest, the Educated Ape.”

Death in the Arctic


I took the clock down from the shelf; “At eight,” said I, “I shoot myself.”
It lacked a MINUTE of the hour,
And as I waited all a-cower,
A skinful of black, boding pain,
Bits of my life came back again. . . .

“Mother, there’s nothing more to eat — Why don’t you go out on the street?
Always you sit and cry and cry;
Here at my play I wonder why.
Mother, when you dress up at night, Red are your cheeks, your eyes are bright; Twining a ribband in your hair,
Kissing good-bye you go down-stair. Then I’m as lonely as can be.
Oh, how I wish you were with me! Yet when you go out on the street,
Mother, there’s always lots to eat. . . .”


For days the igloo has been dark;
But now the rag wick sends a spark
That glitters in the icy air,
And wakes frost sapphires everywhere; Bright, bitter flames, that adder-like
Dart here and there, yet fear to strike The gruesome gloom wherein THEY lie,
My comrades, oh, so keen to die!
And I, the last — well, here I wait The clock to strike the hour of eight. . . .

“Boy, it is bitter to be hurled
Nameless and naked on the world; Frozen by night and starved by day,
Curses and kicks and clouts your pay. But you must fight! Boy, look on me!
Anarch of all earth-misery;
Beggar and tramp and shameless sot; Emblem of ill, in rags that rot.
Would you be foul and base as I? Oh, it is better far to die!
Swear to me now you’ll fight and fight, Boy, or I’ll kill you here to-night. . . .”


Curse this silence soft and black!
Sting, little light, the shadows back! Dance, little flame, with freakish glee! Twinkle with brilliant mockery!
Glitter on ice-robed roof and floor! Jewel the bear-skin of the door!
Gleam in my beard, illume my breath, Blanch the clock face that times my death! But do not pierce that murk so deep,
Where in their sleeping-bags they sleep! But do not linger where they lie,
They who had all the luck to die! . . .

“There is nothing more to say;
Let us part and go our way.
Since it seems we can’t agree,
I will go across the sea.
Proud of heart and strong am I;
Not for woman will I sigh;
Hold my head up gay and glad:
You can find another lad. . . .”


Above the igloo piteous flies
Our frayed flag to the frozen skies. Oh, would you know how earth can be
A hell — go north of Eighty-three! Go, scan the snows day after day,
And hope for help, and pray and pray; Have seal-hide and sea-lice to eat;
Melt water with your body’s heat;
Sleep all the fell, black winter through Beside the dear, dead men you knew.
(The walrus blubber flares and gleams — O God! how long a minute seems!) . . .

“Mary, many a day has passed,
Since that morn of hot-head youth. Come I back at last, at last,
Crushed with knowing of the truth; How through bitter, barren years
You loved me, and me alone;
Waited, wearied, wept your tears — Oh, could I atone, atone,
I would pay a million-fold!
Pay you for the love you gave.
Mary, look down as of old —
I am kneeling by your grave.” . . .


Olaf, the Blonde, was first to go;
Bitten his eyes were by the snow;
Sightless and sealed his eyes of blue, So that he died before I knew.
Here in those poor weak arms he died: “Wolves will not get you, lad,” I lied;
“For I will watch till Spring come round; Slumber you shall beneath the ground.”
Oh, how I lied! I scarce can wait:
Strike, little clock, the hour of eight! . . .

“Comrade, can you blame me quite?
The horror of the long, long night Is on me, and I’ve borne with pain
So long, and hoped for help in vain. So frail am I, and blind and dazed;
With scurvy sick, with silence crazed. Beneath the Arctic’s heel of hate,
Avid for Death I wait, I wait.
Oh if I falter, fail to fight,
Can you, dear comrade, blame me quite?” . . .


Big Eric gave up months ago.
But seldom do men suffer so.
His feet sloughed off, his fingers died, His hands shrunk up and mummified.
I had to feed him like a child;
Yet he was valiant, joked and smiled, Talked of his wife and little one
(Thanks be to God that I have none), Passed in the night without a moan,
Passed, and I’m here, alone, alone. . . .

“I’ve got to kill you, Dick.
Your life for mine, you know.
Better to do it quick,
A swift and sudden blow.
See! here’s my hand to lick;
A hug before you go —
God! but it makes me sick:
Old dog, I love you so.
Forgive, forgive me, Dick —
A swift and sudden blow. . . .”


Often I start up in the dark,
Thinking the sound of bells to hear. Often I wake from sleep: “Oh, hark!
Help . . . it is coming . . . near and near.” Blindly I reel toward the door;
There the snow billows bleak and bare; Blindly I seek my den once more,
Silence and darkness and despair.
Oh, it is all a dreadful dream!
Scurvy and cold and death and dearth; I will awake to warmth and gleam,
Silvery seas and greening earth.
Life is a dream, its wakening,
Death, gentle shadow of God’s wing. . . .

“Tick, little clock, my life away! Even a second seems a day.
Even a minute seems a year,
Peopled with ghosts, that press and peer Into my face so charnel white,
Lit by the devilish, dancing light. Tick, little clock! mete out my fate: Tortured and tense I wait, I wait. . . .”


Oh, I have sworn! the hour is nigh:
When it strikes eight, I die, I die. Raise up the gun — it stings my brow — When it strikes eight . . . all ready . . . NOW —

* * * * *

Down from my hand the weapon dropped; Wildly I stared. . . .


Phantoms and fears and ghosts have gone. Peace seems to nestle in my brain.
Lo! the clock stopped, I’m living on; Heart-sick I was, and less than sane.
Yet do I scorn the thing I planned, Hearing a voice: “O coward, fight!”
Then the clock stopped . . . whose was the hand? Maybe ’twas God’s — ah well, all’s right. Heap on me darkness, fold on fold!
Pain! wrench and rack me! What care I? Leap on me, hunger, thirst and cold!
I will await my time to die;
Looking to Heaven that shines above; Looking to God, and love . . . and love.


Hark! what is that? Bells, dogs again! Is it a dream? I sob and cry.
See! the door opens, fur-clad men
Rush to my rescue; frail am I;
Feeble and dying, dazed and glad.
There is the pistol where it dropped. “Boys, it was hard — but I’m not mad. . . . Look at the clock — it stopped, it stopped. Carry me out. The heavens smile.
See! there’s an arch of gold above. Now, let me rest a little while —

Dreams Are Best

I just think that dreams are best,
Just to sit and fancy things;
Give your gold no acid test,
Try not how your silver rings;
Fancy women pure and good,
Fancy men upright and true:
Fortressed in your solitude,
Let Life be a dream to you.

For I think that Thought is all;
Truth’s a minion of the mind;
Love’s ideal comes at call;
As ye seek so shall ye find.
But ye must not seek too far;
Things are never what they seem:
Let a star be just a star,
And a woman — just a dream.

O you Dreamers, proud and pure,
You have gleaned the sweet of life! Golden truths that shall endure
Over pain and doubt and strife.
I would rather be a fool
Living in my Paradise,
Than the leader of a school,
Sadly sane and weary wise.

O you Cynics with your sneers,
Fallen brains and hearts of brass, Tweak me by my foolish ears,
Write me down a simple ass!
I’ll believe the real “you”
Is the “you” without a taint;
I’ll believe each woman too,
But a slightly damaged saint.

Yes, I’ll smoke my cigarette,
Vestured in my garb of dreams,
And I’ll borrow no regret;
All is gold that golden gleams.
So I’ll charm my solitude
With the faith that Life is blest, Brave and noble, bright and good, . . . Oh, I think that dreams are best!

The Quitter

When you’re lost in the Wild, and you’re scared as a child, And Death looks you bang in the eye,
And you’re sore as a boil, it’s according to Hoyle To cock your revolver and . . . die.
But the Code of a Man says: “Fight all you can,” And self-dissolution is barred.
In hunger and woe, oh, it’s easy to blow . . . It’s the hell-served-for-breakfast that’s hard.

“You’re sick of the game!” Well, now, that’s a shame. You’re young and you’re brave and you’re bright. “You’ve had a raw deal!” I know — but don’t squeal, Buck up, do your damnedest, and fight.
It’s the plugging away that will win you the day, So don’t be a piker, old pard!
Just draw on your grit; it’s so easy to quit: It’s the keeping-your-chin-up that’s hard.

It’s easy to cry that you’re beaten — and die; It’s easy to crawfish and crawl;
But to fight and to fight when hope’s out of sight — Why, that’s the best game of them all!
And though you come out of each gruelling bout, All broken and beaten and scarred,
Just have one more try — it’s dead easy to die, It’s the keeping-on-living that’s hard.

The Cow-Juice Cure

The clover was in blossom, an’ the year was at the June, When Flap-jack Billy hit the town, likewise O’Flynn’s saloon. The frost was on the fodder an’ the wind was growin’ keen, When Billy got to seein’ snakes in Sullivan’s shebeen.

Then in meandered Deep-hole Dan, once comrade of the cup: “Oh Billy, for the love of Mike, why don’t ye sober up? I’ve got the gorgus recipay, ’tis smooth an’ slick as silk — Jest quit yer strangle-holt on hooch, an’ irrigate with milk. Lackteeal flooid is the lubrication you require; Yer nervus frame-up’s like a bunch of snarled piano wire. You want to get it coated up with addypose tishoo, So’s it will work elastic-like, an’ milk’s the dope for you.”

Well, Billy was complyable, an’ in a month it’s strange, That cow-juice seemed to oppyrate a most amazin’ change. “Call up the water-wagon, Dan, an’ book my seat,” sez he. “‘Tis mighty queer,” sez Deep-hole Dan, “’twas just the same with me.” They shanghaied little Tim O’Shane, they cached him safe away, An’ though he objurgated some, they “cured” him night an’ day; An’ pretty soon there came the change amazin’ to explain: “I’ll never take another drink,” sez Timothy O’Shane. They tried it out on Spike Muldoon, that toper of renown; They put it over Grouch McGraw, the terror of the town. They roped in “tanks” from far and near, an’ every test was sure, An’ like a flame there ran the fame of Deep-hole’s Cow-juice Cure.

“It’s mighty queer,” sez Deep-hole Dan, “I’m puzzled through and through; It’s only milk from Riley’s ranch, no other milk will do.” An’ it jest happened on that night with no predictive plan, He left some milk from Riley’s ranch a-settin’ in a pan; An’ picture his amazement when he poured that milk next day — There in the bottom of the pan a dozen “colours” lay.

“Well, what d’ye know ’bout that,” sez Dan; “Gosh ding my dasted eyes, We’ve been an’ had the Gold Cure, Bill, an’ none of us was wise. The milk’s free-millin’ that’s a cinch; there’s colours everywhere. Now, let us figger this thing out — how does the dust git there? `Gold from the grass-roots down’, they say — why, Bill! we’ve got it cold — Them cows what nibbles up the grass, jest nibbles up the gold. We’re blasted, bloomin’ millionaires; dissemble an’ lie low: We’ll follow them gold-bearin’ cows, an’ prospect where they go.”

An’ so it came to pass, fer weeks them miners might be found A-sneakin’ round on Riley’s ranch, an’ snipin’ at the ground; Till even Riley stops an’ stares, an’ presently allows: “Them boys appear to take a mighty interest in cows.” An’ night an’ day they shadowed each auriferous bovine, An’ panned the grass-roots on their trail, yet nivver gold they seen. An’ all that season, secret-like, they worked an’ nothin’ found; An’ there was colours in the milk, but none was in the ground. An’ mighty desperate was they, an’ down upon their luck, When sudden, inspirationlike, the source of it they struck. An’ where d’ye think they traced it to? it grieves my heart to tell — In the black sand at the bottom of that wicked milkman’s WELL.

While the Bannock Bakes

Light up your pipe again, old chum, and sit awhile with me; I’ve got to watch the bannock bake — how restful is the air! You’d little think that we were somewhere north of Sixty-three, Though where I don’t exactly know, and don’t precisely care. The man-size mountains palisade us round on every side; The river is a-flop with fish, and ripples silver-clear; The midnight sunshine brims yon cleft — we think it’s the Divide; We’ll get there in a month, maybe, or maybe in a year.

It doesn’t matter, does it, pal? We’re of that breed of men With whom the world of wine and cards and women disagree; Your trouble was a roofless game of poker now and then, And “raising up my elbow”, that’s what got away with me. We’re merely “Undesirables”, artistic more or less; My horny hands are Chopin-wise; you quote your Browning well; And yet we’re fooling round for gold in this damned wilderness: The joke is, if we found it, we would both go straight to hell.

Well, maybe we won’t find it — and at least we’ve got the “life”. We’re both as brown as berries, and could wrestle with a bear: (That bannock’s raising nicely, pal; just jab it with your knife.) Fine specimens of manhood they would reckon us out there. It’s the tracking and the packing and the poling in the sun; It’s the sleeping in the open, it’s the rugged, unfaked food; It’s the snow-shoe and the paddle, and the campfire and the gun, And when I think of what I was, I know that it is good.

Just think of how we’ve poled all day up this strange little stream; Since life began no eye of man has seen this place before; How fearless all the wild things are! the banks with goose-grass gleam, And there’s a bronzy musk-rat sitting sniffing at his door. A mother duck with brood of ten comes squattering along; The tawny, white-winged ptarmigan are flying all about; And in that swirly, golden pool, a restless, gleaming throng, The trout are waiting till we condescend to take them out.

Ah, yes, it’s good! I’ll bet that there’s no doctor like the Wild: (Just turn that bannock over there; it’s getting nicely brown.) I might be in my grave by now, forgotten and reviled, Or rotting like a sickly cur in some far, foreign town. I might be that vile thing I was, — it all seems like a dream; I owed a man a grudge one time that only life could pay; And yet it’s half-forgotten now — how petty these things seem!