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Friday, October 05, 2007

Poetry Friday: Writer's Diary #36

Robert W. Service's "The Cremation of Sam McGee" will always be one of my favourite poems. I loved it as a child and still do to this day, despite that I don't typically go for that sort of poem anymore. Anyway, in homage to Service, I present my own poem of Northern folklore* (also inspired by Kristian Birkeland):

The Enlightenment of Sammy Lowe

There are strange things seen in the midnight sun.
You best keep that thought in mind.
Just realize, though with open eyes,
you might still be left blind.
The Northern Lights, the queerest of sights,
can make a grown man crack.
Dark as it gets, when that sun sets,
it’s fear makes the night go black.

Now Sammy Lowe from Toronto, a scientist to the core,
had sailed from the South, to shoot off his mouth, to disprove the lasting lore.
“Don’t whistle,” they said, “or they’ll take your head, and play with it like a ball.”
His fur hat he doffed, “The electrons?” he scoffed, and laughed at them one and all.

He raised a finger, let the moment linger, then his whistle blew.
The lights flickered, but Sammy snickered and bid them good-night and adieu.
Proud of his lecture, and just by conjecture, he’d thought the night went well.
He’d not slept long, when his theory proved wrong; so begun his night in hell.

He woke from a dream, to a ghastly scream, his companions’ cots were bare.
He threw off his sheets, his heart skipping beats, but then a bigger scare
came from the outside; he was left wild-eyed, as lights flashed through the pane.
He fell to the floor, he’d whistle no more: poor Sammy had gone insane.

With lanterns in hand, in walked the band of pranksters looking to tease.
But Sammy lay prone, the colour of bone, and out of his mouth came a wheeze.
And his last clear thought, from his brain of rot, was “You’ve stolen my head.
But what’s really the worst, you played with it first, and now I’d be better off dead.”

There are strange things seen in the midnight sun.
You best keep that thought in mind.
Just realize, though with open eyes,
you might still be left blind.
The Northern Lights, the queerest of sights,
can make a grown man crack.
Dark as it gets, when that sun sets,
it’s fear makes the night go black.

(*There are variations, but it was popular belief around many parts of the North that the Northern Lights are ancestral spirits playing soccer. If one whistles at the Northern Lights, they are said to get brighter and finally come close enough to steal your head- to be used as their new ball!)

5 comments:

raidergirl3 said...

My grandfather loved Robert Service and his poetry. You've done an excellent poem, the southerner coming north, and using the Northern Lights. I want to win the Robert Service book in the Canadian Challenge.

John Mutford said...

Thanks Raidergirl! I love Ted Harrison's illustrations in that book.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

You are the new Robert Service! I loved your poem, as I am a sucker for those ones that tell a tale.

Carrie K said...

That's an excellent homage to Robert Service! I love his poetry, The Men That Don't Fit In is my fave. One of my faves.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: Them's big snowshoes to fill!

Carrie: I don't remember that one. I find Service hit or miss to be honest.