“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: “Please close that door.
It’s fine in here, but I greatly fear you’ll let in the cold and storm—
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.’”

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.”

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  1. Mary Jane Schaefer says:

    Danger: controversial comment. I suffer terribly from the cold and winter weather. My sister, after years of setting her own example, finally persuaded me that I HAD to have a fur coat. She even took me to a factory outlet sale, where I got a mink, trimmed in crystal fox, for a very reasonable price. While I doubt it was top quality, it has provided, over the years, very comfortable winters for me. The first time I wore this coat to my bookclub meeting, one of the woman, very nice, an animal-lover as I am, asked me, “Don’t you feel guilty about all those animals who died to make this coat?” And I replied, “No, they died in a good cause. I am finally warm when I go out.”

  2. Nick says:

    Hardest thing for me to adjust to having moved back north since my college days is how long the winters are. It gets to mid-February, as it is now, and in Atlanta things start to warm up at least to the point where it doesn’t feel oppressive and you can sense spring on the horizon.

    Meanwhile, temperatures are falling back below 20 in Manhattan at night and the cold feels sentient and grasping…Not much longer I hope.

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