The Cremation of Sam McGee
by Robert Service
Where It All Goes Down
Service is pretty clear about where this poem is set and what the snowy world of the Yukon looks like. It's December in the Arctic and absolutely frigid. But before you decide that the frozen North is the poem's only setting, think about this. "The Cremation of Sam McGee" is all about storytelling. Think about the beginning of the poem and the refrain. We aren't necessarily in the Yukon at that point.
We can imagine the speaker telling this story around a campfire in the mountains, on a cold night, with a blanket of stars overhead. The setting would really make you feel the effect of the story. You’d look into the fire and think of the burning furnace. You might even hear a coyote howl in the distance and think of those sled dogs. You’d smell the smoke and feel the bite of the cold, and imagine how much colder it would be in the Yukon. You’d see the fire lighting up the storyteller’s face, and you’d imagine, for a minute, that he’d actually been there, mushing over the Dawson trail all those years ago.
Where do you imagine the speaker is when he's recounting the story of Sam McGee? Who do you imagine he's speaking to?