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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."
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on November 5, 1997
The Cremation of Sam Magee is definatley Robert Services funniest poems ever, it shows a master genius at work and I shall always remember the words "Strange things are done in the midnight sun by the men who mole for gold" This book is a definate buy!!! I shall keep this book till the day I die
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on March 6, 2006
As a kid growing up in Ontario I heard this poem a million times. Now that I have a daughter of my own, I absolutely love sharing it with her. This is Service's masterpiece and it is beautifully accompanied by Ted Harrison's inspired paintings. We enjoy looking at the pictures as much as rolling through the perfectly paced tale of the gold rush. Anthony Yanow
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on January 27, 2014
Every since a friend of my father did a dramatic recitation of the Cremation of Sam McGee one winter day in the mid-1950's, I have always thrilled to this wonderful poem of the Yukon ca. 1900 - delightfully improbable tail with great language and lines - moil was suddenly a wonderful discovery. With all the gore and guts of kids movies today, this is a clean fun narrative poem for the younger set. Fabulously colorful illustrations.
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on December 31, 2012
I sought this out because, as a kid,I remember my great grandfather reciting poem after poem of Robert Service and many others. The whole family would gather around and listen as he recited one author after another. The Cremation of Sam McGee and the Shooting of Dan McGrew stuck with me all these years. Even though I couldn't remember their names,I had mental images of a man putting another man into a furnace after trekking through the cold and snow and another of a man playing the piano and another man getting shot. (I was quite young the last time I heard these poems.) Finding and reading them as an adult has brought back many memories. I love the flow and rhythm of Service's writing and I can still hear my great grandpa's voice when I read these. I look forward to sharing them with my children.
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on January 29, 2001
I think just about anyone who has taken a literature class has been ENCOURAGED...[required] to memorize this poem.
And it's a darn good poem; tells a story that sounds, [especially to a younger person, very real].
Robert Service has always been like...the 'other' Jack London. These two authors should be, [if not already], required reading in any English/Literature class taught.
This particular poem was always a good one to have memorized--- in order to recite it around the campfire at a Boy Scout camping trip. Just seeing the title in print brings back fond memories.
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Robert Service, if anyone, could be called "the grandfather of cowboy poets." This has been a popular genre over the past few years and much of the work done by these wonderful men and women can be traced back to Service's poems and style. Being called the "Bard of the Yukon" is certainly true, but sells this particular writer short. His works include so much more that just the delightful poems of the Canadian Territory. Simply written, with a story, they are quite a delight for both old and young alike. I recent years, some of our elitist in our academic world have been less than kind to this poet. This is all well and good with me. They simply don't get it. Service's work will quite likely endure far longer than some of the ranting I read in the professional journals. I read these poems to young folks in my classes, and they seldom fail to delight and indeed, inspire. It is difficult to go wrong with this one. Highly recommend.
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I recently saw this poem used effectively with a sixth grade Social Studies class studying the Yukon Gold Rush. The poem with it's morbid/supernatural theme is intriguing to kids in the middle school years and the colorful yet somewhat archaic and ambiguous language led to a great beginning Socratic Seminar. This type of "picture book" should be used more often with older students and as another reviewer mentioned this poem would make a great extension to a literature unit on narrative poems or as a supplemental reading to a classic novel like Jack London's CALL OF THE WILD. And though I had never heard this poem before someone recently told me it is a classic to tell around the campfire especially when camping in the snow.
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on October 28, 2008
Book by Robert Service The Cremation of Sam McGee, I am 70yrs. old, when I was a child my father would read with great expression this story to me and my 6 siblings. I always thought as an adult I should have dad tape his reading. I waited too long and dad died. I read where this was now available with amazing art. I purchased the book and have read it to my grandchildren. They love it. Frequently dad would say"A promise made,is a debt unpaid" I was amazed to find where he got that saying, it was from the Cremation of Sam McGee story

Robert Service wrote of the Yukon and the severity of that area. Check it out, you may just find this a fun story to read and share.
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on October 8, 2015
This poem is wonderful and funny and has stood the test of time. This edition is beautifully illustrated by Canadian painter Ted Harrison. The paintings are almost childlike but well composed and very appropriate for the material. I bought one for my kids when they were little and have given a few copies as gifts.
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