Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.
- Now we hear a little more about Sam himself. It seems he was from Tennessee where "the cotton blooms and blows."
- That’s a pretty soft, calm, warm-sounding image right? Makes Tennessee sound like an easy place to live. That’s exactly the point. Our speaker is setting up a contrast with the bitter, biting, terrible cold of the Yukon.
Why he left his home in the South to roam 'round the Pole, God only knows.
- The speaker wonders why Sam left home to come to the frozen North.
- A lot of young guys from all over the world would have been in his position during the Gold Rush, charging off to a place they new nothing about in hopes of getting rich quick.
He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;
- It sounds like Sam has gold fever in the worst way. Even though he’s "always cold," he seems to be under the spell of the "land of gold."
- All this phrasing helps to make the Yukon sound like a strange and magical place, doesn’t it? Think about it: a land of gold where the sun shines at night. Service is definitely aiming for the armchair traveler here, the type who is happy to hear an exciting story, as long as he or she can stay safe and warm.
Though he'd often say in his homely way that "he'd sooner live in hell."
- Sam hates the frozen North, even though he can’t seem to make himself leave. He moans and groans that "he’d sooner live in hell" than hang out here in the Arctic.
- The speaker calls Sam's manner of speaking "homely," which means simple, natural, and unpretentious. This gives us a clue about what kind of a guy Sam is, and it also sets the speaker a little bit above him.
- Notice that Service is playing with temperature again, drawing a comparison between the heat of hell (which Sam says he’d prefer) and the freezing cold of the North. Keep this in mind. Later on, you’ll see why that’s important.