Friday, October 13, 2006

Reader's Diary #167- Robert Service: The Best Of (FINISHED)

I still love "The Cremation of Sam McGee" and "The Shooting of Dan McGrew". I even found a few new Service poems that I really like, "Unforgotten" and "The Ballad of The Black Fox Skin."

But all in all, I discovered that I'm not a huge fan. I've already aired my beef about the gratuitous use of the word "Oh". Asides from that, there are a few other complaints.

First, the whole "rugged outdoorsman is superior" motif gets a bit old, both in the chronological sense and the tiresome sense. It seems like poems that might have been found in Boy Scout manual in the 50s (though I don't ever remember a "poetry badge.") At times it almost seemed as if Service had been hired by the Yukon Department of Tourism. What irked me most was the assumption all of these poems seemed based on; city men are unhappy. While I'm sure that might be true for some, it's not for all and that great old life of nature and toil ain't for everyone.

Second, occasionally Service worked so hard fitting in a rhyme in that he sacrificed realistic grammar. The best example, and perhaps the worst poem in the entire collection, is "The Hat." The opening stanza:

In city shop a hat I saw
That so my fancy seemed to strike,
I gave my wages to buy the straw
And make myself a one the like.


In city shop a hat I saw? Who the heck talks like that? I caught myself trying to find a poetic justification, but stopped myself short. Sometimes, especially when I like a particular author, I tend to find arguments to defend what is probably just a shoddy piece. Not this time. That's pretty putrid.

2 comments:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Perhaps Robert Service was the precursor to Yoda. That would be one explanation anyway. I think the only two service poems I know will suffice for me.

John Mutford said...

I think you're onto something. In the first draft of "The Cremation of Sam McGee" he did write about the "young jedi who moil for gold".