The Spell of the Yukon

By Robert W. Service 1874–1958
I wanted the gold, and I sought it;
   I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
Was it famine or scurvyI fought it;
   I hurled my youth into a grave.
I wanted the gold, and I got it 
   Came out with a fortune last fall, 
Yet somehow life’s not what I thought it,
   And somehow the gold isn’t all.

No! There’s the land. (Have you seen it?)
   It’s the cussedest land that I know,
From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it
   To the deep, deathlike valleys below.
Some say God was tired when He made it;
   Some say it’s a fine land to shun;
Maybe; but there’s some as would trade it
   For no land on earthand I’m one.

You come to get rich (damned good reason);
   You feel like an exile at first;
You hate it like hell for a season,
   And then you are worse than the worst.
It grips you like some kinds of sinning;
   It twists you from foe to a friend;
It seems it’s been since the beginning;
   It seems it will be to the end.

I’ve stood in some mighty-mouthed hollow
   That’s plumb-full of hush to the brim;
I’ve watched the big, husky sun wallow
   In crimson and gold, and grow dim,
Till the moon set the pearly peaks gleaming,
   And the stars tumbled out, neck and crop;
And I’ve thought that I surely was dreaming,
   With the peace o’ the world piled on top.

The summerno sweeter was ever;
   The sunshiny woods all athrill;
The grayling aleap in the river,
   The bighorn asleep on the hill.
The strong life that never knows harness;
   The wilds where the caribou call;
The freshness, the freedom, the farness
   O God! how I’m stuck on it all.

The winter! the brightness that blinds you,
   The white land locked tight as a drum,
The cold fear that follows and finds you,
   The silence that bludgeons you dumb.
The snows that are older than history,
   The woods where the weird shadows slant;
The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery,
   I’ve bade ’em good-bybut I can’t.

There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
   And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
   And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
   There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There’s a landoh, it beckons and beckons,
   And I want to go backand I will.

They’re making my money diminish;
   I’m sick of the taste of champagne.
Thank God! when I’m skinned to a finish
   I’ll pike to the Yukon again.
I’ll fightand you bet it’s no sham-fight;
   It’s hell!but I’ve been there before;
And it’s better than this by a damsite
   So me for the Yukon once more.

There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
   It’s luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting
   So much as just finding the gold.
It’s the great, big, broad land ’way up yonder,
   It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
   It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

Source: The Best of Robert Service (1953)

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Poet Robert W. Service 1874–1958

POET’S REGION Canada

Subjects Disappointment & Failure, Living, Social Commentaries, Money & Economics

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 Robert W. Service

Biography

The fame of Robert Service—considerable in his day—resulted from the publication of two best-selling volumes of verse: The Spell of the Yukon (1907) and Ballad of a Cheechako (1909). In rollicking rhythms and comical rhymes, Service regaled armchair adventures with gripping yarns of the wild Northwest—rough men braving hardship on the lonely frontier in pursuit of “the muck called gold.”

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Disappointment & Failure, Living, Social Commentaries, Money & Economics

POET’S REGION Canada

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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