“THE FIRST TIME I’VE BEEN WARM.” On occasion, my father would recite stanzas by Robert W. Service at the dinner table. My father considered Service to be a poet, and I do as well, but we are in the minority. One of the poems he would recite from was “The Cremation of Sam McGee”, taking special pleasure in the first and last lines (which are repeated):
“There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.”
The poem (full text here) tells the story of the suffering of Sam McGee in the cold of the Yukon. Sam McGee freezes to death eventually and the poet fulfills a promise to McGee that he will cremate him.
For me, it is the next to last stanza that stays with me:
“And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: â€œPlease close that door.
Itâ€™s fine in here, but I greatly fear youâ€™ll let in the cold and stormâ€”
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, itâ€™s the first time Iâ€™ve been warm.’â€
In particular, the line I find myself repeating a lot in January and February is: “Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.”