The Man From Athabaska



Oh the wife she tried to tell me that 'twas nothing but the thrumming
    Of a wood-pecker a-rapping on the hollow of a tree;
And she thought that I was fooling when I said it was the drumming
    Of the mustering of legions, and 'twas calling unto me;
    'Twas calling me to pull my freight and hop across the sea.

And a-mending of my fish-nets sure I started up in wonder,
    For I heard a savage roaring and 'twas coming from afar;
Oh the wife she tried to tell me that 'twas only summer thunder,
    And she laughed a bit sarcastic when I told her it was War;
    'Twas the chariots of battle where the mighty armies are.

Then down the lake came Half-breed Tom with russet sail a-flying,
    And the word he said was "War" again, so what was I to do?
Oh the dogs they took to howling, and the missis took to crying,
    As I flung my silver foxes in the little birch canoe:
    Yes, the old girl stood a-blubbing till an island hid the view.

Says the factor: "Mike, you're crazy! They have soldier men a-plenty.
    You're as grizzled as a badger, and you're sixty year or so."
"But I haven't missed a scrap," says I, "since I was one and twenty.
    And shall I miss the biggest? You can bet your whiskers -- no!"
    So I sold my furs and started . . . and that's eighteen months ago.

For I joined the Foreign Legion, and they put me for a starter
    In the trenches of the Argonne with the Boche a step away;
And the partner on my right hand was an apache from Montmartre;
    On my left there was a millionaire from Pittsburg, U. S. A.
    (Poor fellow! They collected him in bits the other day.)

But I'm sprier than a chipmunk, save a touch of the lumbago,
    And they calls me Old Methoosalah, and `blagues' me all the day.
I'm their exhibition sniper, and they work me like a Dago,
    And laugh to see me plug a Boche a half a mile away.
    Oh I hold the highest record in the regiment, they say.

And at night they gather round me, and I tell them of my roaming
    In the Country of the Crepuscule beside the Frozen Sea,
Where the musk-ox runs unchallenged, and the cariboo goes homing;
    And they sit like little children, just as quiet as can be:
    Men of every crime and colour, how they harken unto me!

And I tell them of the Furland, of the tumpline and the paddle,
    Of secret rivers loitering, that no one will explore;
And I tell them of the ranges, of the pack-strap and the saddle,
    And they fill their pipes in silence, and their eyes beseech for more;
    While above the star-shells fizzle and the high explosives roar.

And I tell of lakes fish-haunted, where the big bull moose are calling,
    And forests still as sepulchres with never trail or track;
And valleys packed with purple gloom, and mountain peaks appalling,
    And I tell them of my cabin on the shore at Fond du Lac;
    And I find myself a-thinking: Sure I wish that I was back.

So I brag of bear and beaver while the batteries are roaring,
    And the fellows on the firing steps are blazing at the foe;
And I yarn of fur and feather when the `marmites' are a-soaring,
    And they listen to my stories, seven `poilus' in a row,
    Seven lean and lousy poilus with their cigarettes aglow.

And I tell them when it's over how I'll hike for Athabaska;
    And those seven greasy poilus they are crazy to go too.
And I'll give the wife the "pickle-tub" I promised, and I'll ask her
    The price of mink and marten, and the run of cariboo,
    And I'll get my traps in order, and I'll start to work anew.

For I've had my fill of fighting, and I've seen a nation scattered,
    And an army swung to slaughter, and a river red with gore,
And a city all a-smoulder, and . . . as if it really mattered,
    For the lake is yonder dreaming, and my cabin's on the shore;
And the dogs are leaping madly, and the wife is singing gladly,
    And I'll rest in Athabaska, and I'll leave it nevermore.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on April 30, 2023

3:42 min read
143

Quick analysis:

Scheme ABABB CDCED AFAFF BGBGA CHIIH AHAHH ABABB JEJEE AAAAA AGAGG AFCXF KEKEBE
Closest metre Iambic octameter
Characters 3,843
Words 725
Stanzas 12
Stanza Lengths 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 6

Robert William Service

Robert William Service was a poet and writer sometimes referred to as the Bard of the Yukon He is best-known for his writings on the Canadian North including the poems The Shooting of Dan McGrew The Law of the Yukon and The Cremation of Sam McGee His writing was so expressive that his readers took him for a hard-bitten old Klondike prospector not the later-arriving bank clerk he actually was Robert William Service was born 16 January 1874 in Preston England but also lived in Scotland before emigrating to Canada in 1894 Service went to the Yukon Territory in 1904 as a bank clerk and became famous for his poems about this region which are mostly in his first two books of poetry He wrote quite a bit of prose as well and worked as a reporter for some time but those writings are not nearly as well known as his poems He travelled around the world quite a bit and narrowly escaped from France at the beginning of the Second World War during which time he lived in Hollywood California He died 11 September 1958 in France Incidentally he played himself in a movie called The Spoilers starring John Wayne and Marlene Dietrich more…

All Robert William Service poems | Robert William Service Books

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