Top positive review
14 people found this helpful
A new version of the classic poem for the next generation
on March 20, 2005
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.
Talk about a blast from the past, I have to think that Robert W. Service's poem "The Cremation fo Sam McGee" is one of those poems that every school child of my generation had to read. Service was a Canadian poet and novelist, known for his ballads of the Yukon. This would be his best-known narrative poem, with "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" coming in second. Check out "The Face On The Barroom Floor," "My Maddona" or "The Men That Don't Fit In" for excellent examples of his non-narrative verse. Service was not a classical poet, but rather a poet of the people. You certainly cannot imagine the likes of Keats, Shelley or even Frost pulling off a punch line like Service provides with this poem.
The story being told in "The Cremation of Sam McGee" is certainly captivating for a young audience, who should be hooked just by the subject revealed in the poem's title. Sam McGee hailed from Tennessee and when he faces death in the frozen north he makes a single request of the narrator:
"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."
If there is one thing young people appreciate about life on the frontier, or life in elementary school, it is that friends have to stick by each other. So when he comes to the marge of Lake Lebarge and the derelict of the "Alice May," he keeps his promise to Sam McGee.
Like Robert Service, artist Ted Harrison was also born in England and when he arrived in the Yukon in 1968 his art underwent a major transformation. Instead of working in a representational manner Harrison simplified his forms, adding rhythms and colors to create the style seen in the illustrations he provides for Service's classic poem. Most of these illustrations are full-page in this oversized volume, which will allow young students in the back row to see them (assuming students are gathered around the teacher in a semi-circle and still not tied to their desks). Like the poet, the artist is committed to communicating the spell of the Yukon so that others thousands of miles away can appreciate how it continues to be one of the "few places on this earth that still satisfy the imagination and nourish the soul."