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The Spell of the Yukon
and Other Verses
Robert W. Service
- The lonely sunsets flare forlorn
- Down valleys dreadly desolate;
- The lordly mountains soar in scorn
- As still as death, as stern as fate.
- The lonely sunsets flame and die;
- The giant valleys gulp the night;
- The monster mountains scrape the sky,
- Where eager stars are diamond-bright.
- So gaunt against the gibbous moon,
- Piercing the silence velvet-piled,
- A lone wolf howls his ancient rune --
- The fell arch-spirit of the Wild.
- O outcast land! O leper land!
- Let the lone wolf-cry all express
- The hate insensate of thy hand,
- Thy heart's abysmal loneliness.
- I wanted the gold, and I sought it,
- I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
- Was it famine or scurvy -- I 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 earth -- and 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 summer -- no 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-by -- but 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 land -- oh, it beckons and beckons,
- And I want to go back -- and 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 fight -- and 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.
- There where the mighty mountains bare their fangs unto the moon,
- There where the sullen sun-dogs glare in the snow-bright, bitter noon,
- And the glacier-glutted streams sweep down at the clarion call of June.
- There where the livid tundras keep their tryst with the tranquil snows;
- There where the silences are spawned, and the light of hell-fire flows
- Into the bowl of the midnight sky, violet, amber and rose.
- There where the rapids churn and roar, and the ice-floes bellowing run;
- Where the tortured, twisted rivers of blood rush to the setting sun --
- I've packed my kit and I'm going, boys, ere another day is done.
- * * * * *
- I knew it would call, or soon or late, as it calls the whirring wings;
- It's the olden lure, it's the golden lure, it's the lure of the timeless things,
- And to-night, oh, God of the trails untrod, how it whines in my heart-strings!
- I'm sick to death of your well-groomed gods, your make believe and your show;
- I long for a whiff of bacon and beans, a snug shakedown in the snow;
- A trail to break, and a life at stake, and another bout with the foe.
- With the raw-ribbed Wild that abhors all life, the Wild that would crush and rend,
- I have clinched and closed with the naked North, I have learned to defy and defend;
- Shoulder to shoulder we have fought it out -- yet the Wild must win in the end.
- I have flouted the Wild. I have followed its lure, fearless, familiar, alone;
- By all that the battle means and makes I claim that land for mine own;
- Yet the Wild must win, and a day will come when I shall be overthrown.
- Then when as wolf-dogs fight we've fought, the lean wolf-land and I;
- Fought and bled till the snows are red under the reeling sky;
- Even as lean wolf-dog goes down will I go down and die.
- The waves have a story to tell me,
- As I lie on the lonely beach;
- Chanting aloft in the pine-tops,
- The wind has a lesson to teach;
- But the stars sing an anthem of glory
- I cannot put into speech.
- The waves tell of ocean spaces,
- Of hearts that are wild and brave,
- Of populous city places,
- Of desolate shores they lave,
- Of men who sally in quest of gold
- To sink in an ocean grave.
- The wind is a mighty roamer;
- He bids me keep me free,
- Clean from the taint of the gold-lust,
- Hardy and pure as he;
- Cling with my love to nature,
- As a child to the mother-knee.
- But the stars throng out in their glory,
- And they sing of the God in man;
- They sing of the Mighty Master,
- Of the loom his fingers span,
- Where a star or a soul is a part of the whole,
- And weft in the wondrous plan.
- Here by the camp-fire's flicker,
- Deep in my blanket curled,
- I long for the peace of the pine-gloom,
- When the scroll of the Lord is unfurled,
- And the wind and the wave are silent,
- And world is singing to world.
- This is the law of the Yukon, and ever she makes it plain:
- "Send not your foolish and feeble; send me your strong and your sane --
- Strong for the red rage of battle; sane for I harry them sore;
- Send me men girt for the combat, men who are grit to the core;
- Swift as the panther in triumph, fierce as the bear in defeat,
- Sired of a bulldog parent, steeled in the furnace heat.
- Send me the best of your breeding, lend me your chosen ones;
- Them will I take to my bosom, them will I call my sons;
- Them will I gild with my treasure, them will I glut with my meat;
- But the others -- the misfits, the failures -- I trample under my feet.
- Dissolute, damned and despairful, crippled and palsied and slain,
- Ye would send me the spawn of your gutters -- Go! take back your spawn again.
- "Wild and wide are my borders, stern as death is my sway;
- From my ruthless throne I have ruled alone for a million years and a day;
- Hugging my mighty treasure, waiting for man to come,
- Till he swept like a turbid torrent, and after him swept -- the scum.
- The pallid pimp of the dead-line, the enervate of the pen,
- One by one I weeded them out, for all that I sought was -- Men.
- One by one I dismayed them, frighting them sore with my glooms;
- One by one I betrayed them unto my manifold dooms.
- Drowned them like rats in my rivers, starved them like curs on my plains,
- Rotted the flesh that was left them, poisoned the blood in their veins;
- Burst with my winter upon them, searing forever their sight,
- Lashed them with fungus-white faces, whimpering wild in the night;
- Staggering blind through the storm-whirl, stumbling mad through the snow,
- Frozen stiff in the ice-pack, brittle and bent like a bow;
- Featureless, formless, forsaken, scented by wolves in their flight,
- Left for the wind to make music through ribs that are glittering white;
- Gnawing the black crust of failure, searching the pit of despair,
- Crooking the toe in the trigger, trying to patter a prayer;
- Going outside with an escort, raving with lips all afoam,
- Writing a cheque for a million, driveling feebly of home;
- Lost like a louse in the burning. . .or else in the tented town
- Seeking a drunkard's solace, sinking and sinking down;
- Steeped in the slime at the bottom, dead to a decent world,
- Lost 'mid the human flotsam, far on the frontier hurled;
- In the camp at the bend of the river, with its dozen saloons aglare,
- Its gambling dens ariot, its gramophones all ablare;
- Crimped with the crimes of a city, sin-ridden and bridled with lies,
- In the hush of my mountained vastness, in the flush of my midnight skies.
- Plague-spots, yet tools of my purpose, so natheless I suffer them thrive,
- Crushing my Weak in their clutches, that only my Strong may survive.
- "But the others, the men of my mettle, the men who would 'stablish my fame
- Unto its ultimate issue, winning me honor, not shame;
- Searching my uttermost valleys, fighting each step as they go,
- Shooting the wrath of my rapids, scaling my ramparts of snow;
- Ripping the guts of my mountains, looting the beds of my creeks,
- Them will I take to my bosom, and speak as a mother speaks.
- I am the land that listens, I am the land that broods;
- Steeped in eternal beauty, crystalline waters and woods.
- Long have I waited lonely, shunned as a thing accurst,
- Monstrous, moody, pathetic, the last of the lands and the first;
- Visioning camp-fires at twilight, sad with a longing forlorn,
- Feeling my womb o'er-pregnant with the seed of cities unborn.
- Wild and wide are my borders, stern as death is my sway,
- And I wait for the men who will win me -- and I will not be won in a day;
- And I will not be won by weaklings, subtle, suave and mild,
- But by men with the hearts of vikings, and the simple faith of a child;
- Desperate, strong and resistless, unthrottled by fear or defeat,
- Them will I gild with my treasure, them will I glut with my meat.
- "Lofty I stand from each sister land, patient and wearily wise,
- With the weight of a world of sadness in my quiet, passionless eyes;
- Dreaming alone of a people, dreaming alone of a day,
- When men shall not rape my riches, and curse me and go away;
- Making a bawd of my bounty, fouling the hand that gave --
- Till I rise in my wrath and I sweep on their path and I stamp them into a grave.
- Dreaming of men who will bless me, of women esteeming me good,
- Of children born in my borders of radiant motherhood,
- Of cities leaping to stature, of fame like a flag unfurled,
- As I pour the tide of my riches in the eager lap of the world."
- This is the Law of the Yukon, that only the Strong shall thrive;
- That surely the Weak shall perish, and only the Fit survive.
- Dissolute, damned and despairful, crippled and palsied and slain,
- This is the Will of the Yukon, -- Lo, how she makes it plain!
- This is the song of the parson's son, as he squats in his shack alone,
- On the wild, weird nights, when the Northern Lights shoot up from the frozen zone,
- And it's sixty below, and couched in the snow the hungry huskies moan:
- "I'm one of the Arctic brotherhood, I'm an old-time pioneer.
- I came with the first -- O God! how I've cursed this Yukon -- but still I'm here.
- I've sweated athirst in its summer heat, I've frozen and starved in its cold;
- I've followed my dreams by its thousand streams, I've toiled and moiled for its gold.
- "Look at my eyes -- been snow-blind twice; look where my foot's half gone;
- And that gruesome scar on my left cheek, where the frost-fiend bit to the bone.
- Each one a brand of this devil's land, where I've played and I've lost the game,
- A broken wreck with a craze for 'hooch', and never a cent to my name.
- "This mining is only a gamble; the worst is as good as the best;
- I was in with the bunch and I might have come out right on top with the rest;
- With Cormack, Ladue and MacDonald -- O God! but it's hell to think
- Of the thousands and thousands I've squandered on cards and women and drink.
- "In the early days we were just a few, and we hunted and fished around,
- Nor dreamt by our lonely camp-fires of the wealth that lay under the ground.
- We traded in skins and whiskey, and I've often slept under the shade
- Of that lone birch tree on Bonanza, where the first big find was made.
- "We were just like a great big family, and every man had his squaw,
- And we lived such a wild, free, fearless life beyond the pale of the law;
- Till sudden there came a whisper, and it maddened us every man,
- And I got in on Bonanza before the big rush began.
- "Oh, those Dawson days, and the sin and the blaze, and the town all open wide!
- (If God made me in His likeness, sure He let the devil inside).
- But we were all mad, both the good and the bad, and as for the women, well --
- No spot on the map in so short a space has hustled more souls to hell.
- "Money was just like dirt there, easy to get and to spend.
- I was all caked in on a dance-hall jade, but she shook me in the end.
- It put me queer, and for near a year I never drew sober breath,
- Till I found myself in the bughouse ward with a claim staked out on death.
- "Twenty years in the Yukon, struggling along its creeks;
- Roaming its giant valleys, scaling its god-like peaks;
- Bathed in its fiery sunsets, fighting its fiendish cold --
- Twenty years in the Yukon. . .twenty years -- and I'm old.
- "Old and weak, but no matter, there's 'hooch' in the bottle still.
- I'll hitch up the dogs to-morrow, and mush down the trail to Bill.
- It's so long dark, and I'm lonesome -- I'll just lay down on the bed;
- To-morrow I'll go. . .to-morrow. . .I guess I'll play on the red.
- ". . .Come, Kit, your pony is saddled. I'm waiting, dear, in the court. . .
- . . .Minnie, you devil, I'll kill you if you skip with that flossy sport. . .
- . . .How much does it go to the pan, Bill?. . . play up, School, and play the game. . .
- . . .Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. . ."
- This was the song of the parson's son, as he lay in his bunk alone,
- Ere the fire went out and the cold crept in, and his blue lips ceased to moan,
- And the hunger-maddened malamutes had torn him flesh from bone.
- Have you gazed on naked grandeur where there's nothing else to gaze on,
- Set pieces and drop-curtain scenes galore,
- Big mountains heaved to heaven, which the blinding sunsets blazon,
- Black canyons where the rapids rip and roar?
- Have you swept the visioned valley with the green stream streaking through it,
- Searched the Vastness for a something you have lost?
- Have you strung your soul to silence? Then for God's sake go and do it;
- Hear the challenge, learn the lesson, pay the cost.
- Have you wandered in the wilderness, the sagebrush desolation,
- The bunch-grass levels where the cattle graze?
- Have you whistled bits of rag-time at the end of all creation,
- And learned to know the desert's little ways?
- Have you camped upon the foothills, have you galloped o'er the ranges,
- Have you roamed the arid sun-lands through and through?
- Have you chummed up with the mesa? Do you know its moods and changes?
- Then listen to the Wild -- it's calling you.
- Have you known the Great White Silence, not a snow-gemmed twig aquiver?
- (Eternal truths that shame our soothing lies).
- Have you broken trail on snowshoes? mushed your huskies up the river,
- Dared the unknown, led the way, and clutched the prize?
- Have you marked the map's void spaces, mingled with the mongrel races,
- Felt the savage strength of brute in every thew?
- And though grim as hell the worst is, can you round it off with curses?
- Then hearken to the Wild -- it's wanting you.
- Have you suffered, starved and triumphed, groveled down, yet grasped at glory,
- Grown bigger in the bigness of the whole?
- "Done things" just for the doing, letting babblers tell the story,
- Seeing through the nice veneer the naked soul?
- Have you seen God in His splendors, heard the text that nature renders?
- (You'll never hear it in the family pew).
- The simple things, the true things, the silent men who do things --
- Then listen to the Wild -- it's calling you.
- They have cradled you in custom, they have primed you with their preaching,
- They have soaked you in convention through and through;
- They have put you in a showcase; you're a credit to their teaching --
- But can't you hear the Wild? -- it's calling you.
- Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us;
- Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
- There's a whisper on the night-wind, there's a star agleam to guide us,
- And the Wild is calling, calling. . .let us go.
- Ye who know the Lone Trail fain would follow it,
- Though it lead to glory or the darkness of the pit.
- Ye who take the Lone Trail, bid your love good-by;
- The Lone Trail, the Lone Trail follow till you die.
- The trails of the world be countless, and most of the trails be tried;
- You tread on the heels of the many, till you come where the ways divide;
- And one lies safe in the sunlight, and the other is dreary and wan,
- Yet you look aslant at the Lone Trail, and the Lone Trail lures you on.
- And somehow you're sick of the highway, with its noise and its easy needs,
- And you seek the risk of the by-way, and you reck not where it leads.
- And sometimes it leads to the desert, and the tongue swells out of the mouth,
- And you stagger blind to the mirage, to die in the mocking drouth.
- And sometimes it leads to the mountain, to the light of the lone camp-fire,
- And you gnaw your belt in the anguish of hunger-goaded desire.
- And sometimes it leads to the Southland, to the swamp where the orchid glows,
- And you rave to your grave with the fever, and they rob the corpse for its clothes.
- And sometimes it leads to the Northland, and the scurvy softens your bones,
- And your flesh dints in like putty, and you spit out your teeth like stones.
- And sometimes it leads to a coral reef in the wash of a weedy sea,
- And you sit and stare at the empty glare where the gulls wait greedily.
- And sometimes it leads to an Arctic trail, and the snows where your torn feet freeze,
- And you whittle away the useless clay, and crawl on your hands and knees.
- Often it leads to the dead-pit; always it leads to pain;
- By the bones of your brothers ye know it, but oh, to follow you're fain.
- By your bones they will follow behind you, till the ways of the world are made plain.
- Bid good-by to sweetheart, bid good-by to friend;
- The Lone Trail, the Lone Trail follow to the end.
- Tarry not, and fear not, chosen of the true;
- Lover of the Lone Trail, the Lone Trail waits for you.
- We sleep in the sleep of ages, the bleak, barbarian pines;
- The gray moss drapes us like sages, and closer we lock our lines,
- And deeper we clutch through the gelid gloom where never a sunbeam shines.
- On the flanks of the storm-gored ridges are our black battalions massed;
- We surge in a host to the sullen coast, and we sing in the ocean blast;
- From empire of sea to empire of snow we grip our empire fast.
- To the niggard lands were we driven, 'twixt desert and floes are we penned;
- To us was the Northland given, ours to stronghold and defend;
- Ours till the world be riven in the crash of the utter end;
- Ours from the bleak beginning, through the aeons of death-like sleep;
- Ours from the shock when the naked rock was hurled from the hissing deep;
- Ours through the twilight ages of weary glacier creep.
- Wind of the East, Wind of the West, wandering to and fro,
- Chant your songs in our topmost boughs, that the sons of men may know
- The peerless pine was the first to come, and the pine will be last to go!
- We pillar the halls of perfumed gloom; we plume where the eagles soar;
- The North-wind swoops from the brooding Pole, and our ancients crash and roar;
- But where one falls from the crumbling walls shoots up a hardy score.
- We spring from the gloom of the canyon's womb; in the valley's lap we lie;
- From the white foam-fringe, where the breakers cringe to the peaks that tusk the sky,
- We climb, and we peer in the crag-locked mere that gleams like a golden eye.
- Gain to the verge of the hog-back ridge where the vision ranges free:
- Pines and pines and the shadow of pines as far as the eye can see;
- A steadfast legion of stalwart knights in dominant empery.
- Sun, moon and stars give answer; shall we not staunchly stand,
- Even as now, forever, wards of the wilder strand,
- Sentinels of the stillness, lords of the last, lone land?
- There's a cry from out the loneliness -- oh, listen, Honey, listen!
- Do you hear it, do you fear it, you're a-holding of me so?
- You're a-sobbing in your sleep, dear, and your lashes, how they glisten --
- Do you hear the Little Voices all a-begging me to go?
- All a-begging me to leave you. Day and night they're pleading, praying,
- On the North-wind, on the West-wind, from the peak and from the plain;
- Night and day they never leave me -- do you know what they are saying?
- "He was ours before you got him, and we want him once again."
- Yes, they're wanting me, they're haunting me, the awful lonely places;
- They're whining and they're whimpering as if each had a soul;
- They're calling from the wilderness, the vast and God-like spaces,
- The stark and sullen solitudes that sentinel the Pole.
- They miss my little camp-fires, ever brightly, bravely gleaming
- In the womb of desolation, where was never man before;
- As comradeless I sought them, lion-hearted, loving, dreaming,
- And they hailed me as a comrade, and they loved me evermore.
- And now they're all a-crying, and it's no use me denying;
- The spell of them is on me and I'm helpless as a child;
- My heart is aching, aching, but I hear them, sleeping, waking;
- It's the Lure of Little Voices, it's the mandate of the Wild.
- I'm afraid to tell you, Honey, I can take no bitter leaving;
- But softly in the sleep-time from your love I'll steal away.
- Oh, it's cruel, dearie, cruel, and it's God knows how I'm grieving;
- But His loneliness is calling, and He knows I must obey.
- When the long, long day is over, and the Big Boss gives me my pay,
- I hope that it won't be hell-fire, as some of the parsons say.
- And I hope that it won't be heaven, with some of the parsons I've met --
- All I want is just quiet, just to rest and forget.
- Look at my face, toil-furrowed; look at my calloused hands;
- Master, I've done Thy bidding, wrought in Thy many lands --
- Wrought for the little masters, big-bellied they be, and rich;
- I've done their desire for a daily hire, and I die like a dog in a ditch.
- I have used the strength Thou hast given, Thou knowest I did not shirk;
- Threescore years of labor -- Thine be the long day's work.
- And now, Big Master, I'm broken and bent and twisted and scarred,
- But I've held my job, and Thou knowest, and Thou will not judge me hard.
- Thou knowest my sins are many, and often I've played the fool --
- Whiskey and cards and women, they made me the devil's tool.
- I was just like a child with money; I flung it away with a curse,
- Feasting a fawning parasite, or glutting a harlot's purse;
- Then back to the woods repentant, back to the mill or the mine,
- I, the worker of workers, everything in my line.
- Everything hard but headwork (I'd no more brains than a kid),
- A brute with brute strength to labor, doing as I was bid;
- Living in camps with men-folk, a lonely and loveless life;
- Never knew kiss of sweetheart, never caress of wife.
- A brute with brute strength to labor, and they were so far above --
- Yet I'd gladly have gone to the gallows for one little look of Love.
- I, with the strength to two men, savage and shy and wild --
- Yet how I'd ha' treasured a woman, and the sweet, warm kiss of a child!
- Well, 'tis Thy world, and Thou knowest. I blaspheme and my ways be rude;
- But I've lived my life as I found it, and I've done my best to be good;
- I, the primitive toiler, half naked and grimed to the eyes,
- Sweating it deep in their ditches, swining it stark in their styes;
- Hurling down forests before me, spanning tumultuous streams;
- Down in the ditch building o'er me palaces fairer than dreams;
- Boring the rock to the ore-bed, driving the road through the fen,
- Resolute, dumb, uncomplaining, a man in a world of men.
- Master, I've filled my contract, wrought in Thy many lands;
- Not by my sins wilt Thou judge me, but by the work of my hands.
- Master, I've done Thy bidding, and the light is low in the west,
- And the long, long shift is over. . .Master, I've earned it -- Rest.
If you're up against a bruiser and you're getting knocked about --
If you're feeling pretty groggy, and you're licked beyond a doubt --
Don't let him see you're funking, let him know with every clout,
Though your face is battered to a pulp, your blooming heart is stout;
Just stand upon your pins until the beggar knocks you out --
This life's a bally battle, and the same advice holds true
If you're up against it badly, then it's only one on you,
If the future's black as thunder, don't let people see you're blue;
Just cultivate a cast-iron smile of joy the whole day through;
If they call you "Little Sunshine",
wish that they'd no troubles, too --
You may -- grin.
Rise up in the morning with the will that, smooth or rough,
Sink to sleep at midnight, and although you're feeling tough,
There's nothing gained by whining, and you're not that kind of stuff;
You're a fighter from away back, and you won't take a rebuff;
Your trouble is that you don't know when you have had enough --
Don't give in.
If Fate should down you, just get up and take another cuff;
You may bank on it that there is no philosophy like bluff,
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