The Cremation of Sam McGee
by Robert Service
Analysis: Form and Meter
Let’s tackle the rhyme first, since it’s a really big part of how this poem fits together. The first thing for us to notice is that all of these lines rhyme in the middle (that’s called internal rhyme) and also at the end of the line. You probably picked this up just by reading it, but why don’t we show you how it works in the second stanza, just to be extra clear. We’ll put the rhyming words in bold:
Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows. (A)
Why he left his home in the South to roam 'round the Pole, God only knows. (A)
He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell; (B)
Though he'd often say in his homely way that "he'd sooner live in hell." (B)
Can you see the two kinds of rhyme there? First look at the internal rhyme in the first line: McGee rhymes with Tennessee. Then look at the end of the first line, where we find the word blows, which rhymes with the end of the next line, knows. When a line rhymes with just one line right below it, we call it a rhyming couplet. If you follow it through the poem, you’ll see that all the lines follow this pattern: blows/knows, spell/hell, etc. Sometimes people represent these rhyme patterns with letters, where each letter matches up to the rhyming sound at the end of the line. You can see that we’ve done that up above. In this case it’s pretty simple. The pattern for rhyming couplets goes AABBCC, etc.
Now that we’ve got that down, let’s take a look at the meter, or the rhythm of the poem. We think the most important thing to see here is that every line has seven stressed syllables in it. Even when the lines are a little longer or shorter, you will always find those seven beats, as they’re sometimes called. Again, you can probably hear this already, but we’ll show you exactly how it works. Just like we did with the rhymes, we’ll put the stressed syllables in bold:
Now Sam | McGee | was from Tenn|essee, | where the co|tton blooms | and blows.
Try reading that aloud, putting extra emphasis on the bold syllables. Feel how the rhythm kind of lopes along? When we have a line with seven beats in it, we call that heptameter ("hepta" is Greek for seven, so it literally means seven-meter). It’s good to have names for these things, but we think it’s more important to really get a feel for the rhythm of a poem and to pay close attention to how it sounds.