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The Cremation of Sam McGee Analysis

Author: Poetry of Robert W. Service Type: Poetry Views: 752

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1There are strange things done in the midnight sun

2By the men who moil for gold;

3The Arctic trails have their secret tales

4That would make your blood run cold;

5The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

6But the queerest they ever did see

7Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge

8I cremated Sam McGee.

9Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.

10 Why he left his home in the South to roam 'round the Pole, God only knows.

11 He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;

12 Though he'd often say in his homely way that "he'd sooner live in hell".

13 On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail.

14 Talk of your cold! through the parka's fold it stabbed like a driven nail.

15 If our eyes we'd close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn't see;

16 It wasn't much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee.

17 And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow,

18 And the dogs were fed, and the stars o'erhead were dancing heel and toe,

19 He turned to me, and "Cap," says he, "I'll cash in this trip, I guess;

20 And if I do, I'm asking that you won't refuse my last request."

21 Well, he seemed so low that I couldn't say no; then he says with a sort of moan:

22 "It's the cursèe cold, and it's got right hold till I'm chilled clean through to the bone.

23 Yet 'taint being dead -- it's my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;

24 So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you'll cremate my last remains."

25 A pal's last need is a thing to heed, so I swore I would not fail;

26 And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.

27 He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;

28 And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.

29 There wasn't a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven,

30 With a corpse half hid that I couldn't get rid, because of a promise given;

31 It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: "You may tax your brawn and brains,

32 But you promised true, and it's up to you to cremate those last remains."

33 Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code.

34 In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load.

35 In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, while the huskies, round in a ring,

36 Howled out their woes to the homeless snows -- O God! how I loathed the thing.

37 And every day that quiet clay seemed to heavy and heavier grow;

38 And on I went, though the dogs were spent and the grub was getting low;

39 The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;

40 And I'd often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.

41 Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay;

42 It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice it was called the "Alice May."

43 And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum;

44 Then "Here," said I, with a sudden cry, "is my cre-ma-tor-eum."

45 Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;

46 Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher;

47 The flames just soared, and the furnace roared -- such a blaze you seldom see;

48 And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

49 Then I made a hike, for I did'nt like to hear him sizzle so;

50 And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, and the wind began to blow.

51 It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don't know why;

52 And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky.

53 I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;

54 But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;

55 I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: "I'll just take a peep inside.

56 I guess he's cooked, and it's time I looked;" ... then the door I opened wide.

57 And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;

58 And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: "Please close that door.

59 It's fine in here, but I greatly fear you'll let in the cold and storm --

60 Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it's the first time I've been warm."

61 There are strange things done in the midnight sun

62By the men who moil for gold;

63 The Arctic trails have their secret tales

64That would make your blood run cold;

65 The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

66But the queerest they ever did see

67 Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge

68I cremated Sam McGee.


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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||

.: :.

I thought he actually lived again for a moment, did he not? The setting takes place at a really creepy place and you can alrady tell that their is already some death in there. In fact, everything is dead and nothing but dead.

| Posted on 2014-03-26 | by a guest

.: :.

does the stanza end after each line or in the poem ofr after the sentence I cremated Sam Mcgee in the first box thing?

| Posted on 2013-04-24 | by a guest

.: :.

I think there is a few things that I\'m noticing and my interpretation of it.
#1 the juxtaposition is very heavy in this poem. Sam in Tennessee, Sam in the Arctic. Cap in the Arctic, Cap at the boat. Sam loves the heat and abandoned it for the promises of gold. His true love shines through his madness. Cap doesn\'t like the cold, but doesn\'t complain about it. The cold and wind and everything horrible about it is preferable to hearing and smelling the burning of human flesh.
#2 \"Smiling\" Sam\'s skull is smiling as most of the flesh has burned off at this point. Sam speaking is Cap\'s interpretation of it. Cap knows that Sam is in hell due to his greed, and abandonment of everything he loves for gold. Cap has forgotten gold is now hell bent on fulfilling his promise, to what is right for a wrong man. When he opens the door Cap is afraid that the fire will go out and puts that on Sam.
#3 An derelict boat on a frozen lake is something that is to be feared. The boat didn\'t just appear, it got there somehow. The boat is a tomb for people who had been searching for gold before and all died.
#4 The white snow and dancing stars are the sweet embrace of death. The scowling heavens as the black and nasty smoke rose over the boat signifies the embrace of death for greed is not sweet.
I might be wrong. I\'m just an IT guy.

| Posted on 2013-01-08 | by a guest

.: :.

I have read this poem many, many times. I always knew there were some heavy and dark themes. I had a student suggest there are a few survival/cannibalism undertones to the main struggle as well as Cap\'s diminishing sanity. I found quite a few pieces of evidence to support this...

| Posted on 2012-02-24 | by a guest

.: :.

Just so everyone knows, this poem is seriously weird. I like the rhyming but thats about all!

| Posted on 2011-04-06 | by a guest

.: :.

Just so everyone knows, this poem is seriously weird. I like the rhyming but thats about all!

| Posted on 2011-04-06 | by a guest

.: :.

i don\'t know what the poem is tellin me bout the gold?

| Posted on 2010-12-14 | by a guest

.: :.

What is the imagery and symbolism in this poem?
I need at least 5

| Posted on 2010-11-30 | by a guest

.: :.

Oops, sorry! In fact, the Yukon Territory is in Canada, though it was often approached via Alaska, which had its own Gold Rush in the 1870's.

| Posted on 2010-05-17 | by a guest

.: :.

'The Cremation of Sam McGee' is a poem in the venerable American tradition of humorously-exaggerated 'tall tales', associated with the lore of the American frontier (in this case, the Gold Rush to the Yukon Territory in Alaska: i.e, 'the men who moil for gold.') "The tall tale is essentially an oral form of entertainment; the audience appreciates the imaginative invention rather than the literal meaning of the tales." Other examples can be found in the writings of Mark Twain, and in folk stories about Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill and Brer Rabbit. "Tall-tale heroes solve problems in funny ways that are hard to believe..."
This poem is also a literary version of a 'shaggy dog story': "a long, rambling, pointless story or joke, especially one with an absurd punchline." "Shaggy dog stories play upon the audience's preconceptions of the art of joke telling. The audience listens to the story with certain expectations, which are either simply not met or met in some entirely unexpected manner." "These stories are a special case of yarns [a tale, esp. a long story of adventure or incredible happenings], coming from the long tradition of campfire yarns."
Such stories typically have 'unbelievable' elements, for which there is no logical explanation, and thus are not meant to be taken literally.
(See )

| Posted on 2010-05-17 | by a guest

.: :.

When Sam McGee came back from his cremation, I think that there are two or three explanations as to what could have happened. One explanation of Sam McGee was that he became a ghost that Cap just happened to see when he went in to see if Sam had burnt yet. Another explanation is that Sam was in a coma, and when he was shoved into the fire, he came out of it and kind of went insane. I say this because when Cap went in, they didn't mention any scorch marks and Sam was pretty calm. This explanation is highly unlikely.

| Posted on 2010-03-07 | by a guest

.: :.

I have memorized this poem and recited it on a few occasions at Halloween events. As I tell it, when Cap says "the trail was bad and I felt half mad" I actually try to work in a state of mental duress based on having to tote Sam's corpse around because how many sane men sing to a corpse. When he says Sam's corpse "hearkened with a grin." I imply indignation and anger that Sam's corpse is taunting him with his "promise made" that Cap cannot reneg on. I recite the creation of the fire with excitement that Caps trials are about to be at an end and when he "burrowed a hole in the glowing coal and I stuffed in Sam McGee." it is said with a ha-ha, I got the last laugh sentiment and gets some laughs. Then, I turn it around with the very serious change of climate as Sam sizzles, the wind picks up and the Heavens scowled because in my version Heaven is none too happy about this event. When Cap opens the furnace and I recite Sam's comments, I deepen his voice from a Wally Cox style to a deep rumbling voice of a demon. Then when I recite the closing stanza, I do it with somber reverence and accent the fact that "I cremated Sam McGee".

| Posted on 2010-02-04 | by a guest

.: :.

what was the narator really thinking when he saw sam mcgee.

| Posted on 2010-01-24 | by a guest

.: :.

I cannot find the differences on Sam McGee and the Narrator. I am doing Homework on this poem. Can you tell me the Key Differences on the two men?

| Posted on 2009-10-20 | by a guest

.: :.

Stanza 1
In this opening stanza, Service sets a mood of mystery and suspense. By using words like strange, midnight, and secret, and phrases like “make your blood run cold,” “queer sights,” and “the queerest I ever did see,” the reader anticipates that something unnerving will occur. The final line of the stanza (“I cremated Sam McGee.”) suggests a violent end to Sam McGee and the involvement of the speaker in that death. Even before Service uses the word “cold,” he chills the reader by introducing the “midnight sun,” “the Arctic trails,” and “the Northern Lights.” The inclusion of icy Lake LaBarge reinforces the feeling of coldness.
Stanzas 2-3
Service introduces Sam McGee. Hailing from the warm South, Sam is always cold in the Yukon. There appears to be some confusion as to why Sam left his warm Southern home. He says “he’d ‘sooner live in hell’,” but this land of gold holds him “like a spell.” Interestingly, it is “the land of gold,” not the gold itself, that has this strange hold on Sam McGee. The Christmas Day trip over the Dawson trail begins the action of the poem in a bitter, menacing cold. The speaker describes the cold in stark, uncompromising terms — it “stabbed like a driven nail” and froze eyelashes shut. “It wasn’t much fun,” adds the speaker, and the other mush-ers recognize the hazards of this way of life. They don’t complain, but Sam not only complains, he “whimpers.”
Stanzas 4-6
In these stanzas, Sam tells the speaker (“Cap”) about his fear of being buried in an icy grave and makes Cap promise to cremate his corpse when he dies. Service prepares the reader for Sam’s demise. First, Sam states that he will “cash in this trip,” adding, “I guess,” which suggests more finality than uncertainty. Sam seems depressed, moans, looks “ghastly pale,” and becomes incoherent (“rave[s] all day”). By nightfall, Sam is a frozen corpse.
The stunning visual beauty of the night sky (“the stars o’erhead were dancing heel and toe”) might be overlooked in these stanzas is. The word “dancing” should stand out as providing an under-current of joy and happiness to contrast with the bitter cold and the strangeness of Sam’s last request. It might offer an explanation of the spell of the land that holds men like Sam. Also, the dancing stars echo the Northern Lights of the opening stanza and foreshadow the flames of Sam’s “crematorium.”
Stanzas 7-9
These stanzas detail the speaker’s trials and tribulations with the frozen body of Sam McGee. Cap has lashed the frozen corpse to the sled as he continues on his journey across the frozen land. There is little description of the landscape, the weather, or anything else in this section unless it refers to the frozen body of Sam McGee. It appears that Cap makes the travels alone, with no other companions than the dogs. The speaker appears to be driven to the brink of madness. He is described as “horror-driven” in stanza 7; he curses “that load” in stanza 8; he talks of the “quiet clay” growing “heavy and heavier,” and that he “felt half mad.” He even refers to the corpse as a “hateful thing” at the end of stanza 9.
The mood of these stanzas is bleak. Long nights, lone firelight, and dogs howling indicate the gloom. The frozen corpse of Sam McGee “talks” to Cap and listens (“harkens”) when he sings to it. Additional elements, no breath in the land of death, tired dogs howling their woes, a low food supply, a bad trail, and the near-madness of Cap coupled with the grin of the frozen corpse all contribute to a dark picture of despair and misery.
Stanzas 10-11
Cap’s arrival at the shores of Lake Lebarge signals a shift in mood and action. This section begins by suggesting the oppressive bleakness of the previous nine stanzas will continue. But, the use of the verb “stuffed” in the last line of stanza 11 and the frenetic action of tearing out planks and lighting a fire begin the transition from the somber to the comic. The overplayed sudden cry of “Here is my cre-ma-tor-eum” lightens the mood. When Cap stuffs Sam into the fire, the questioning of whether the poet’s motives are comic or tragic begins.
Stanzas 12-13
Before the poem’s climax, Service takes a brief pause, a two-stanza caesura. The activities of stanza 12 echo the despair of stanzas 6,7 and 8, with scowling heavens, howling winds, and icy cold. The dancing stars, however, replace the death images with one of delight and amusement, cleverly anticipating the poem’s unforgettable ending.
Stanza 14
The unexpected sight of Sam McGee sitting in the middle of the fire presents a far more comic image than the scriptural portrayal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who come out of the furnance unscathed in the Book of Daniel. The smile that Sam wears is far warmer (pun intended) than the grin his frozen corpse displayed back in stanza 9. The admonition to close the door or the cold will get in contrasts with Sam’s earlier situation where he whimpered and slept beneath the snow. Sam’s earlier insistence for cremation is also transformed from a morbid request to a signal that nothing untoward will happen. The twist of the final line of stanza 14 elicits a nod of admiration to Service for evoking humor from a man “freezing to death.”
Stanzas 15
The cold and frightening images of the opening stanza have been completely transformed even though the words are repeated in the conclusion. The unnerving images of Lake Lebarge, and the secret tales of the Arctic have lost their power to chill. The bleak descriptions of death are replaced by the image of Sam McGee sitting in the middle of the fire, telling Cap to shut the door so as not to let in the cold.

| Posted on 2009-01-11 | by a guest

.: H.W. :.

I need help with homework on how to read the poem The Cremation of Sam McGee. Have to write the meaning of each stanza. Don't understand. Could you please try to post any links or info on each stanza. Only if you have time though.

| Posted on 2008-05-27 | by a guest

.: :.

The Cremation of Sam McGee Analysis Robert W. Service critical analysis of poem, review school overview. Analysis of the poem. literary terms. Definition terms. Why did he use? short summary describing. The Cremation of Sam McGee Analysis Robert W. Service Characters archetypes. Sparknotes bookrags the meaning summary overview critique of explanation meaning metaphors symbolism characterization itunes. Quick fast explanatory summary. pinkmonkey free cliffnotes cliffnotes ebook pdf doc file essay summary literary terms analysis professional definition summary synopsis sinopsis interpretation critique The Cremation of Sam McGee Analysis Robert W. Service itunes audio book mp4 mp3

| Posted on 2007-04-28 | by a guest

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