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.
The Man in Black reads the poem (darn well, too) and as a bonus, there’s a good slideshow of old-time gold mining.
A Short Film Based on the Poem
These guys pretty much reenact the whole thing, with a super-creepy ending. A fun watch.
A Reading by the Author?
We’re not absolutely sure whether this is the real deal (sounds a little like Vincent Price to us), but the reading is good – very spooky.
A Gallery with Photos of the Poet
A few shots of the man himself.
Service lived in this cabin in Dawson, Yukon in the early 1900s.
History of the Klondike Gold Rush
A nice quick over view of the time and place this poem was written about. Some good photos too. Make sure to click through the various pages to get the whole show.
A Website Dedicated to Robert Service
Worth poking around. They’ve got a lot of info about Service here.