.... I gave this speech just a few weeks ago while in college....... I do so hope that you enjoy.......
Good morning, class.
Today I have been asked to give an informative speech, just like the rest of you. And I would like to begin my speech with a simple, pointed question. How many of you like poetry? Raise your hands, and let me see. Now, I notice that most of you ladies raised your hands while most of you gentlemen did not, and that is understandable. Poetry is something that most people associate with love, unicorns, and fluffy touchy-feely bunny rabbits, right? And besides, what macho man is going to get up in front of a group of people and say that he loves bunny rabbits?
Well, so far in this class you have heard me ramble on about the passionate love I have for my car, Vivienne, the military, and the 2nd amendment. Good lord, the last impromptu speech I gave I shot this poor fellow with my finger gun and argued that we should all arm ourselves!
And if you thought that I was going to stand up here and tell you that I love petting bunnies, you'd be wrong. However, I AM quite prepared to stand here and tell you that I love poetry. And hopefully by the time I finish this presentation you will realize that you love poetry as well. Today I am going to introduce you to my favorite poet, Robert W. Service.
Now, I realize that most of you think of poetry and imagine Shakespearean sonnets, Byron waxing on about crushed love, or Percy Shelly wistfully wringing his hands over lost sweethearts, tragic death, or some such other overly emotional thing..... after all, who would not fall in love with the lines from that famous poem, "she walks in beauty like the night.... of cloudless climes and starry skies and all that is best of dark and bright meet in her aspect and her eyes"?...... I imagine most brunettes hear those words and swoon with delight!
Instead I want to show you that poetry is simply the expression of an emotion..... scary, funny, intelligent, maybe a story put to verse..... but regardless, a poem can be a beautiful form of entertaining story telling..... and who does not like a good story? Now, Robert Service is a favorite of mine because he embodies a lot of the traits that I enjoy, share myself, and desire to emulate...... he is entertaining, he has a kooky sense of humor, he loves rhyme and word play, and he doesn't take himself too seriously.... which, if you pay attention today you will see that I am much the same myself!
Robert W. Service was born in Lancashire in 1874.... the first of 10 children, life was hard and after attending school in Glasgow, Scotland he immigrated to Canada in his early 20s. The Klondike gold rush was on and he dreamed of striking it rich as a prospector, but this was not to be..... he found the work too hard and the climate too rough and became a banker instead. But in Whitehorse, Canada, he found himself surrounded by the prospectors and those novices who wanted to strike it rich. Sourdoughs, they were called. He heard their tales and began to write poetry about them. And before long, his doggerel became so popular that he was known as The Bard of the Yukon....
Service's sense of humor and love of verse allowed him to tackle more than a few stories that your average "literary" poet wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole..... in one story, he wrote of a fellow cremating his buddy and the things he had to overcome to do it.... .that poem was famous all over the world back in the day and it was called "The Cremation of Sam McGee"...... but, as an introduction to Service, I want to begin by telling you a bit about MY favorite of his, "The Ballad of Blasphemous Bill".... a poem about a fellow taking a contract to bury his best friend if he happened to freeze to death alone in the Yukon........ how different from Shakespeare, Byron, and E.E. Cummings is THAT?.... so, here goes........ see if you can appreciate the rhyme, the meter, and the word play.....
I took a contract to bury the body of blasphemous Bill MacKie,
Whenever, wherever or whatsoever the manner of death he die —
Whether he die in the light o’ day or under the peak-faced moon;
In cabin or dance-hall, camp or dive, mucklucks or patent shoon;
On velvet tundra or virgin peak, by glacier, drift or draw;
In muskeg hollow or canyon gloom, by avalanche, fang or claw;
By battle, murder or sudden wealth, by pestilence, hooch or lead —
I swore on the Book I would follow and look till I found my tombless dead.
For Bill was a dainty kind of cuss, and his mind was mighty sot
On a dinky patch with flowers and grass in a civilized bone-yard lot.
And where he died or how he died, it didn’t matter a damn
So long as he had a grave with frills and a tombstone “epigram”.
So I promised him, and he paid the price in good cheechako coin
(Which the same I blowed in that very night down in the Tenderloin).
Then I painted a three-foot slab of pine: “Here lies poor Bill MacKie”,
And I hung it up on my cabin wall and I waited for Bill to die.
Years passed away, and at last one day came a squaw with a story strange,
Of a long-deserted line of traps ’way back of the Bighorn range;
Of a little hut by the great divide, and a white man stiff and still,
Lying there by his lonesome self, and I figured it must be Bill.
So I thought of the contract I’d made with him, and I took down from the shelf
The swell black box with the silver plate he’d picked out for hisself;
And I packed it full of grub and “hooch”, and I slung it on the sleigh;
Then I harnessed up my team of dogs and was off at dawn of day.
...... how is that for an intro??....... so, the poem continues and he talks about the grandeur of the mountains.... the harshness of the weather........ manly stuff, I tell you...... but then he finally finds his friend, Bill...... and he is frozen in such a position that it is impossible for him to get him into the coffin that he had brought...... so, in typical Robert Service fashion he does the best and most honest thing that he can........ here's the ending...... and with this you will see why I love Service's sense of humor so much.....
Well, I thawed and thawed for thirteen days, but it didn’t seem no good;
His arms and legs stuck out like pegs, as if they was made of wood.
Till at last I said: “It ain’t no use — he’s froze too hard to thaw;
He’s obstinate, and he won’t lie straight, so I guess I got to — saw.”
So I sawed off poor Bill’s arms and legs, and I laid him snug and straight
In the little coffin he picked hisself, with the dinky silver plate;
And I came nigh near to shedding a tear as I nailed him safely down;
Then I stowed him away in my Yukon sleigh, and I started back to town.
So I buried him as the contract was in a narrow grave and deep,
And there he’s waiting the Great Clean-up, when the Judgment sluice-heads sweep;
And I smoke my pipe and I meditate in the light of the Midnight Sun,
And sometimes I wonder if they was, the awful things I done.
And as I sit and the parson talks, expounding of the Law,
I often think of poor old Bill — and how hard he was to saw.
.... SEE?..... who writes a poem about sawing up your poor frozen friend?
At the end of the day, while this poem is extremely whacky and a bit off color, it IS poetry..... and it is lowbrow...... surreal, sure..... but wow, it is still an entertaining story, is it not?
But there is more to Service than just his Yukon tales....... see, he also had a military side...... his brother was killed early in World War I and Service volunteered to be an ambulance driver for the Red Cross.... and out of that experience came his next book of verse The Rhymes of a Red Cross Man... here, let me read you the foreword dedication.....
(Reading from book)
I've tinkered at my bits of rhymes
In weary, woeful, waiting times;
In doleful hours of battle-din,
Ere yet they brought the wounded in;
Through vigils of the fateful night,
In lousy barns by candle-light;
In dug-outs, sagging and aflood,
On stretchers stiff and bleared with blood;
By ragged grove, by ruined road,
By hearths accurst where Love abode;
By broken altars, blackened shrines
I've tinkered at my bits of rhymes.
I've solaced me with scraps of song
The desolated ways along:
Through sickly fields all shrapnel-sown,
And meadows reaped by death alone;
By blazing cross and splintered spire,
By headless Virgin in the mire;
By gardens gashed amid their bloom,
By gutted grave, by shattered tomb;
Beside the dying and the dead,
Where rocket green and rocket red,
In trembling pools of poising light,
With flowers of flame festoon the night.
Ah me! by what dark ways of wrong
I've cheered my heart with scraps of song.
So here's my sheaf of war-won verse,
And some is bad, and some is worse.
And if at times I curse a bit,
You needn't read that part of it;
For through it all like horror runs
The red resentment of the guns.
And you yourself would mutter when
You took the things that once were men,
And sped them through that zone of hate
To where the dripping surgeons wait;
And wonder too if in God's sight
War ever, ever can be right.
Yet may it not be, crime and war
But effort misdirected are?
And if there's good in war and crime,
There may be in my bits of rhyme,
My songs from out the slaughter mill:
So take or leave them as you will.
..... How heartfelt and sensitive........ and beautiful, even in the shadow of the horrors of war....... we, you and I, and Robert Service are all emotional, intelligent people...... and whether we express it in poetry, song, writing, or any other manner, we all have to deal with the world that surrounds us........ I do that by relishing the words and the tales of people like Robert Service and Ogden Nash...... they show me that I shouldn't take things to seriously....... that I should enjoy every moment........ that I should polish my sense of humor each and every day...... and that I don't have to be a literary Goliath to pen words of my own that are of value to me and to others........
So now, in conclusion, you have been introduced to a great friend and companion of mine..... Mr. Robert W. Service...... simply a fellow traveler with us on this planet who only sought to entertain by giving us a peek inside his head with rhyming tales of The Yukon, flannel shirts, and the occasional impromptu lakeside cremation or dismemberment of a frozen friend........ and I hope that you have a new outlook on poetry and how it can enrich your life...... and that poetry isn't for chicks..... and it isn't about "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day"..... Find your poet, fellow students..... I guarantee that there is one out there that you will fall in love with..... hey, don't do it for me, do it for yourself...... trust me..... Real Men read poetry........
.... now, my speech is over and I thank you........ but if you wish, I can quickly finish the rest of The Ballad of Blasphemous Bill if you want to hear it...... otherwise, I will take my seat..... and I hope you now love Robert W. Service as much as I do........
By George, E... if you didn't already exist, we'd have to invent you!
You make a decidedly fine argument for appreciating poetry.
.... thanks Elisson and Jean..... you two definitely appreciate poetry....
I am glad to visit your site, and I really like your writing this, it is very interesting to read and helpful as well.
Thank you... :)
fucking awesome man!If you're a bitch I'd totally do you!
The Cremation of Sam McGee. 'Nuff said.
Nice to see you're still alive.