Robert W. Service wrote a lot of poems about the Gold Rush that happened in Alaska and northwestern Canada at the turn of the 19th century. "The Cremation of Sam McGee," however, is probably the most famous of all. It was published in 1907 in a collection called Songs of a Sourdough. Service was born in Scotland, but when he wrote the poem, he had been living in the Yukon (in northwestern Canada) for several years. He based "The Cremation of Sam McGee" on the places he saw, the people he met, and the stories he heard while he lived there. Since it’s publication, the poem has been popular with generations of readers, who love its combination of black humor, adventure, and captivating descriptions of the lives of Yukon prospectors.
There are lots of reasons to love "The Cremation of Sam McGee," but we think its mostly worth your time because it is unusual and super fun. It’s got action, horror, excitement, and a killer punch line. Now, here at Shmoop, we like the fancy poems too, but we especially love an author who can make a poem exciting, accessible, and catchy. We bet that once you read this poem a couple times, you’ll find the words and the images getting stuck in your head. In a way, it’s like a great pop song: short, relatable, and fun to hear again and again. There’s no highfalutin’ philosophizing or super-hard language to get in the way of your enjoyment. If you’re looking for a poem that entertains all ages and does it in style, you definitely don’t need to look any farther than this one.