Tuesday, June 18, 2024



It’s been cold here in Oz and it had me thinking of the poems of Scottish-Canadian Robert W Service (1874-1958), who wrote of the cold in the Yukon and the hardships of the prospectors in the frozen north, such as his poem The Cremation of Sam McGee. Set in the Arctic, it follows the author’s carrying out his dying friend's request for cremation. The friend leaves the cremation because of his sadness, then comes back a little later when “I guess he’s cooked”, only to find Sam McGee, sitting upright, who declares ‘Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it's the first time I've been warm.'

Here is another poem by Robert W Service, A Song of Winter Weather. We should bear these words and account of experiences in mind when next we want to complin about the cold and the weather.

Comment from All Poetry at:
This poem depicts the horrors of war from a unique perspective, focusing on the non-lethal but debilitating effects of weather conditions. It highlights the brutality of trench warfare during World War I, particularly the relentless cold, mud, and rain. Unlike Service's other adventure-oriented works, this poem emphasizes the hardship and misery soldiers faced in the trenches.
By the way:

Service was 40 when World War I broke out; he attempted to enlist, but was turned down "due to varicose veins." He briefly covered the war for the Toronto Star (from 11 December 1915, through 29 January 1916), but "was arrested and nearly executed in an outbreak of spy hysteria in Dunkirk." He then "worked as a stretcher bearer and ambulance driver with the Ambulance Corps of the American Red Cross, until his health broke." Convalescing in Paris, he wrote a new book of mainly war poetry, Rhymes of a Red Cross Man, in 1916. The book was dedicated to the memory of Service's "brother, Lieutenant Albert Service, Canadian Infantry, Killed in Action, France, August 1916." Robert Service received three medals for his war service: 1914–15 Star, British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

The poem below is from Rhymes of a Red Cross Man.


A Song Of Winter Weather

It isn't the foe that we fear;
    It isn't the bullets that whine;
It isn't the business career
    Of a shell, or the bust of a mine;
It isn't the snipers who seek
    To nip our young hopes in the bud:
No, it isn't the guns,
And it isn't the Huns —
    It's the mud,

It isn't the melee we mind.
That often is rather good fun.
    It isn't the shrapnel we find
Obtrusive when rained by the ton;
    It isn't the bounce of the bombs
That gives us a positive pain:
    It's the strafing we get
When the weather is wet —
    It's the rain,

It isn't because we lack grit
    We shrink from the horrors of war.
We don't mind the battle a bit;
    In fact that is what we are for;
It isn't the rum-jars and things
    Make us wish we were back in the fold:
It's the fingers that freeze
In the boreal breeze —
    It's the cold,

Oh, the rain, the mud, and the cold,
    The cold, the mud, and the rain;
With weather at zero it's hard for a hero
    From language that's rude to refrain.
With porridgy muck to the knees,
    With sky that's a-pouring a flood,
Sure the worst of our foes
Are the pains and the woes
    Of the rain,
        the cold,
            and the mud.

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