Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge I cremated Sam McGee. (lines 7-8)
Death comes up fast in this poem. We heard about it in the opening lines, and now we’re being reminded that we’re here to listen to a story about a cremation. It’s a pretty strange topic for a poem, especially one that ends up being so funny. We think the focus on death is what gives this poem a lot of its weird, surprising power.
He turned to me, and "Cap," says he, "I'll cash in this trip, I guess; (line 19)
Here’s where Sam comes to terms with the fact that he’s dying, and says it out loud. Check out the way he says it, though. There’s no drama. It’s kind of slangy and casual: "I’ll cash in." It adds a little tough-guy flavor to the poem, and it makes him sound like a man who’s spent some time around death and gotten used to it.
And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee. (line 28)
This is a pretty big moment in the poem – the moment when Sam goes from being a person to being a corpse. From now on, he’s literally dead weight, a burden on the speaker. In the normal world, this would be the end of things. Once you’re dead, that’s usually it for you. In this poem, though, nothing goes quite according to plan, in life or death.