Robert Service, fully Robert William Service

Robert
Service, fully Robert William Service
1874
1958

English Poet and Writer, known as "the Bard of the Yukon"

Author Quotes

I know how father's strap would feel,
If ever I were caught,
So mother's jam I did not steal,
Though theft was in my thought.
Then turned fourteen and full of pitch,
Of love I was afraid,
And did not dare to dally with
Our pretty parlour maid.

And so it is and always was,
The path of rectitude
I've followed all my life because
The Parson said I should.
The dread of hell-fire held me straight
When I was wont to stray,
And though my guts I often hate,
I walk the narrow way.

I might have been a bandit or
A Casanovish blade,
But always I have prospered for
I've always been afraid;
Ay, fear's behind the best of us
And schools us for success,
And that is why I'm virtuous,
And happy - more or less.

So let me hail that mighty power
That goads me to be good,
And makes me cannily to cower
Amid foolhardihood;
Though I be criminal in gain,
My virtue a veneer,
I thank the God who keeps me sane,
And shields me from distress and pain,
And thrifts me on to golden gain,
Almighty Fear.

Here is this vale of sweet abiding,
My ultimate and dulcet home,
That gently dreams above the chiding
of restless and impatient foam;
Beyond the hazards of hell weather,
The harceling of wind and sea,
With timbers morticed tight together
My old hulk havens happily.

The dawn exultantly discloses
My lawn lit with mimosa gold;
The joy of January roses
Is with me when rich lands are cold;
Serene with bells of beauty chiming,
This dream domain to be belongs,
By sweet conspiracy of rhyming,
And virtue of some idle songs.

I thank the gracious Lord of Living
Who gave me power and will to write:
May I be worthy of His giving
And win to merit in His sight. . . .
O merciful and mighty Master,
Though I have faltered in the past,
Your scribe I be. . . . Despite disaster
Let me be faithful to the last.

Why should I be the first to fall
Of all the leaves on this old tree?
Though sadly soon I know that all
Will lose their hold and follow me.
While my birth-brothers bravely blow,
Why should I be first to go?

Why should I be the last to cling
Of all the leaves on this bleak bough?
I've fluttered since the fire of Spring
And I am worn and withered now.
I would escape the Winter gale
And sleep soft-silvered by a snail.

When swoop the legions of the snow
To pitch their tents in roaring weather
We fallen leaves will lie below
And rot rejoicingly together;
And from our rich and dark decay
Will laugh our brothers of the May.

No matter how he toil and strive
The fate of every man alive
With luck will be to lie alone,
His empty name cut in a stone.

Grim time the fairest fame will flout,
But though his name be blotted out,
And he forgotten with his peers,
His stone may wear a year of years.

No matter how we sow and reap
The end of all is endless sleep;
From strife a merciful release,
From life the crowning prize of Peace.

I loved to toy with tuneful rhyme,
My fancies into verse to weave;
For as I walked my words would chime
So bell-like I could scarce believe;
My rhymes rippled like a brook,
My stanzas bloomed like blossoms gay:
And that is why I dream this book
A verseman's holiday.

The palm-blades brindle in the blaze
Of sunsets splendouring the sea;
The Gloaming is a lilac haze
That impish stars stab eagerly. . . .
O Land of Song! Oh golden clime!
O happy me, whose work is play!
Please take this tribute of my rhymes:
A verseman's holiday.

As I go forth from fair to mart
With racket ringing,
Who would divine that in my heart
Mad larks are singing.
As I sweet sympathy express,
Lest I should pain them,
The money-mongers cannot guess
How I disdain them.

As I sit at some silly tea
And flirt and flatter
How I abhor society
And female chatter.
As I with wonderment survey
Their peacock dresses,
My mind is wafted far away
To wildernesses.

As I sit in some raucous pub,
Taboo to women,
And treat myself to greasy grub
I feel quite human.
Yet there I dream, despite the din,
Of God's green spaces,
And sweetly dwell the peace within
Of sylvan graces.

And so I wear my daily mask
Of pleasant seeming,
And nobody takes me to task
For distant dreaming;
A happy hypocrite am I
Of ambiance inner,
Who smiling make the same reply
To saint and sinner.

Birds have no consciousness of doom:
Yon thrush that serenades me daily
From scented snow of hawthorn bloom
Would not trill out his glee so gaily,
Could he foretell his songful breath
Would sadly soon be stilled in death.

Yon lambs that frolic on the lea
And incarnate the joy of life,
Would scarce disport them could they see
The shadow of the butcher's knife:
Oh Nature, with your loving ruth,
You spare them knowledge of Dark Truth.

To sad humanity alone,
(Creation's triumph ultimate)
The grimness of the grave is known,
The dusty destiny await . . . .
Oh bird and beast, with joy, elance
Effulgently your ingorance!
Oh man, previsioning the hearse,
With fortitude accept your curse!

'Twas in the grave-yard's gruesome gloom
That May and I were mated;
We sneaked inside and on a tomb
Our love was consummated.
It's quite all right, no doubt we'll wed,
Our sin will go unchidden . . .
Ah! sweeter than the nuptial bed
Are ecstasies forbidden.

And as I held my sweetheart close,
And she was softly sighing,
I could not help but think of those
In peace below us lying.
Poor folks! No disrespect we meant,
And beg you'll be forgiving;
We hopes the dead will not resent
The rapture of the living.

And when in death I, too, shall lie,
And lost to those who love me,
I wish two sweethearts roving by
Will plight their troth above me.
Oh do not think that I will grieve
To hear the vows they're voicing,
And if their love new life conceive,
'Tis I will be rejoicing.

Old Man Death's a lousy heel who will not play the game:
Let Graveyard yawn and doom down crash, he'll sneer and turn away.
But when the sky with rapture rings and joy is like a flame,
Then Old Man Death grins evilly, and swings around to slay.

Jack Duval was my chosen pal in the ranks of the Reckless Men.
Thick as thieves they used to say, and it may be that we were:
Where the price of life is a naked knife and dammed are nine in ten,
It doesn't do to be curious in the Legion Etrangère.

So when it came to a hidden shame our mugs were zippered tight;
He never asked me what I'd done, and he would never tell;
But though like men we revelled, when it came to bloody fight
I knew that I could bank on him clear to the hubs of hell.

They still tell how we held the Fort back on the blasted bled,
And blazed from out the shambles till the fagged relief arrived.
"The garrison are slaughtered all," the Captain grimly said:
Piped Jack: "Give us a slug of hooch and say that TWO survived."

Then was that time we were lost, canteen and carcase dry,
As on we staggered with the thought: "Here's where our story ends."
Ten desert days delirious, when black against the sky,
We saw a line of camels, and the Arabs were our friends.

And last of all, the lurid night we crashed the gates of hell
And stemmed the Teuton torrent as it roared on every side;
And we were left in blood and mud to rot on the Moselle -
Two lacerated Legionaires, whom all supposed had died.

Three times death thought to take us and three times he stayed his hand;
But when we left the Legion what a happy pair we were,
Then reckless roving up and down the sunny land,
I found Jack eating bouillabaisse back on the Cannebière.

"Next week I wed," he gaily said, "the sweetest girl on earth.
I wonder why did Death pass by just then and turn to gloat?
"Oh I'm so happy! You must come and join us in our mirth."...
Death struck ... Jack gasped and choked and - died:
A fishbone in his throat.

Although you deem it far from nice,
And it perchance may hurt you,
Let me suggest that cowardice
Can masquerade as virtue;
And many a maid remains a maid
Because she is afraid.

And many a man is chaste because
He fears the house of sin;
And though before the door he pause,
He dare not enter in:
So worse than being dissolute
At home he plays the flute.

And many an old cove such as I
Is troubled with the jitters,
And being as he's scared to die
Gives up his gin and bitters;
While dreading stomach ulcers he
Chucks dinner for high tea.

Well, we are wise. When life begins
To look so dour and dark
'Tis good to jettison our sins
And keep afloat the bark:
But don't let us claim lack of vice
For what's plumb cowardice!

An Ancient gaffer once I knew,
Who puffed a pipe and tossed a tankard;
He claimed a hundred years or two,
And for a dozen more he hankered;
So o’er a pint I asked how he
Had kept his timbers tight together;
He grinned and answered: “It maun be
Because I likes all kinds o’ weather.

“Fore every morn when I get up
I lights my clay pipe wi’ a cinder,
And as me mug o’ tea I sup
I looks from out the cottage winder;
And if it’s shade or if it’s shine
Or wind or snow befit to freeze me,
I always say: ‘Well, now that’s fine...
It’s just the sorto’ day to please me.’

“For I have found it wise in life
To take the luck the way it’s coming;
A wake, a worry or a wife -
Just carry on and keep a-humming.
And so I lights me pipe o’ clay,
And through the morn on blizzard borders,
I chuckle in me guts and say:
‘It’s just the day the doctor orders.’”

A mighty good philosophy
Thought I, and leads to longer living,
To make the best of things that be,
And take the weather of God’s giving;
So though the sky be ashen grey,
And winds be edged and sleet be slanting,
Heap faggots on the fire and say:
“It’s just the kind of day I’m wanting.”

One spoke: "Come, let us gaily go
With laughter, love and lust,
Since in a century or so
We'll all be boneyard dust.
When unborn shadows hold the screen,
(Our betters, I'll allow)
'Twill be as if we'd never been,
A hundred years from now.

When we have played life's lively game
Right royally we'll rot,
And not a soul will care a damn
The why or how we fought;
To grub for gold or grab for fame
Or raise a holy row,
It will be all the bloody same
A hundred years from now."

Said I: "Look! I have built a tower
Upon you lonely hill,
Designed to be a daughter's dower,
Yet when my heart is still,
The stone I set with horny hand
And salty sweat of brow,
A record of my strength will sand
A hundred years from now.

"There's nothing lost and nothing vain
In all this world so wide;
The ocean hoards each drop of rain
To swell its sweeping tide;
The desert seeks each grain of sand
It's empire to endow,
And we a bright brave world have planned
A hundred years from now.

And all we are and all we do
Will bring that world to be;
Our strain and pain let us not rue,
Though other eyes shall see;
For other hearts will bravely beat
And lips will sing of how
We strove to make life sane and sweet
A hundred years from now.

O meadow lark, so wild and free,
It cannot be, it cannot be,
That men to merchandise your spell
Do close you in a wicker hell!

O hedgerow thrush so mad with glee,
it cannot be, it cannot be,
They rape you from your hawthorn foam
To make a cell of steel your home!

O blackbird in the orchard tree,
In cannot be, it cannot be,
That devils in a narrow cage
Would prison your melodic rage!

O you who live for liberty,
Can you believe that it can be,
That we of freedom's faith destroy
In dungeons, innocence and joy?

O decent folk who read this page,
If you should own a bird in cage,
Throw wide the door, - God gave it wings:
Then hear how in your heart it sings!

Behold! I'm old; my hair is white;
My eighty years are in the offing,
And sitting by the fire to-night
I sip a grog to ease my coughing.
It's true I'm raucous as a rook,
But feeling bibulously "bardy,"
These lines I'm scribbling in a book:
The verse complete of Thomas Hardy.

Although to-day he's read by few,
Him have I loved beyond all measure;
So here to-night I riffle through
His pages with the oldtime pleasure;
And with this book upon my knee,
(To-day so woefully neglected)
I muse and think how soon I'll be
Myself among the Great Rejected.

Yet as these lines with zest I write,
Although the hour for me is tardy,
I think: "Of all the world to-night
'Tis I alone am reading Hardy";
And now to me he seems so nigh
I feel I commune with his spirit,
And as none love him more than I,
Thereby I gain a modest merit.

Oh Brother Thomas, glad I'll be,
Though all the world may pass unheeding,
If some greybeard con over me,
As I to-night your rhymes are reading;
Saying: "Old Bastard, you and I
By sin are knit in mind and body. . . ."
So ere to hit the hay I hie
Your ghost I'll toast in midnight toddy.

Between the cliff-rise and the beach
A slip of emerald I own;
With fig and olive, almond, peach,
cherry and plum-tree overgrown;
Glad-watered by a crystal spring
That carols through the silver night,
And populous with birds who sing
Gay madrigals for my delight.

Some merchants fain would buy my land
To build a stately pleasure dome.
Poor fools! they cannot understand
how pricelessly it is my home!
So luminous with living wings,
So musical with feathered joy . . .
Not for all pleasure fortune brings,
Would I such ecstasy destroy.

A thousand birds are in my grove,
Melodious from morn to night;
My fruit trees are their treasure trove,
Their happiness is my delight.
And through the sweet and shining days
They know their lover and their friend;
So I will shield in peace and praise
My innocents unto the end.

To buy for school a copy-book
I asked my Dad for two-pence;
He gave it with a gentle look,
Although he had but few pence.
'Twas then I proved myself a crook
And came a moral cropper,
I bought a penny copy-book
And blued the other copper.

I spent it on a sausage roll
Gulped down with guilt suggestion,
To the damnation of my soul
And awful indigestion.
Poor Dad! His job was hard to hold;
His mouths to feed were many;
Were he alive a millionfold
I'd pay him for his penny.

Now nigh the grave I think with grief,
Though other sins are many,
I am a liar and a thief
'Cause once I stole a penny:
Yet be he pious as a friar
It is my firm believing,
That every man has been a liar
And most of us done thieving.

When I blink sunshine in my eyes
And hail the amber morn,
Before the rosy dew-drop dries
With sparkle on the thorn;
When boughs with robin rapture ring,
And bees hum in the may,--
Then call me young, with heart of Spring,
Though I be grey.

But when no more I know the joy
And urgence of that hour,
As like a happy-hearted boy
I leap to land aflower;
When gusto I no longer feel,
To rouse with glad hooray,--
Then call me old and let me steal
From men away.

Let me awaken with a smile
And go to garden glee,
For there is such a little while
Of living left to me;
But when star-wist I frail away,
Lord, let the hope beguile
That to Ecstatic Light I may
Awake to smile.

Cares seem to crowd on us -- so much to do;
New fields to conquer, and time's on the wing.
Grey hairs are showing, a wrinkle or two;
Somehow our footstep is losing its spring.
Pleasure's forsaken us, Love ceased to smile;
Youth has been funeralled; Age travels fast.
Sometimes we wonder: is it worth while?
There! we have gained to the summit at last.

Aye, we have triumphed! Now must we haste,
Revel in victory . . . why! what is wrong?
Life's choicest vintage is flat to the taste --
Are we too late? Have we laboured too long?
Wealth, power, fame we hold . . . ah! but the truth:
Would we not give this vain glory of ours
For one mad, glad year of glorious youth,
Life in the Springtide, and Love in the flowers.

I deem that there are lyric days
So ripe with radiance and cheer,
So rich with gratitude and praise
That they enrapture all the year.
And if there is a God b\above,
(As they would tell me in the Kirk,)
How he must look with pride and love
Upon his perfect handiwork!

To-day has been a lyric day
I hope I shall remember long,
Of meadow dance and roundelay,
Of woodland glee, of glow and song.
Such joy I saw in maidens eyes,
In mother gaze such tender bliss . . .
How earth would rival paradise
If every day could be like this!

Why die, say I? Let us live on
In lyric world of song and shine,
With ecstasy from dawn to dawn,
Until we greet the dawn Devine.
For I believe, with star and sun,
With peak and plain, with sea and sod,
Inextricably we are one,
Bound in the Wholeness - God.

How often do I wish I were
What people call a character;
A ripe and cherubic old chappie
Who lives to make his fellows happy;
With in his eyes a merry twinkle,
And round his lips a laughing wrinkle;
Who radiating hope and cheer
Grows kindlier with every year.
For this ideal let me strive,
And keep the lad in me alive;
Nor argument nor anger know,
But my own way serenly go;
The woes of men to understand,
Yet walk with humour hand in hand;
To love each day and wonder why
Folks are not so jocund as I.

So be you simple, decent, kind,
With gentle heart and quiet mind;
And if to righteous anger stung,
Restrain your temper and your toungue.
Let thought for others be your guide,
And patience triumph over pride . . .
With charity for those who err,
Live life so folks may say you were--
God bless your heart!--A Character.

That boy I took in the car last night,
With the body that awfully sagged away,
And the lips blood-crisped, and the eyes flame-bright,
And the poor hands folded and cold as clay --
Oh, I've thought and I've thought of him all the day.

For the weary old doctor says to me:
"He'll only last for an hour or so.
Both of his legs below the knee
Blown off by a bomb. . . . So, lad, go slow,

And please remember, he doesn't know."
So I tried to drive with never a jar;
And there was I cursing the road like mad,
When I hears a ghost of a voice from the car:
"Tell me, old chap, have I `copped it' bad?"
So I answers "No," and he says, "I'm glad."

"Glad," says he, "for at twenty-two
Life's so splendid, I hate to go.
There's so much good that a chap might do,
And I've fought from the start and I've suffered so.
'Twould be hard to get knocked out now, you know."

"Forget it," says I; then I drove awhile,
And I passed him a cheery word or two;
But he didn't answer for many a mile,
So just as the hospital hove in view,
Says I: "Is there nothing that I can do?"

Then he opens his eyes and he smiles at me;
And he takes my hand in his trembling hold;
"Thank you -- you're far too kind," says he:
"I'm awfully comfy -- stay . . . let's see:
I fancy my blanket's come unrolled --
My feet, please wrap 'em -- they're cold . . . they're cold."

'Why keep a cow when I can buy,'
Said he, 'the milk I need,'
I wanted to spit in his eye
Of selfishness and greed;
But did not, for the reason he
Was stronger than I be.

I told him: ''Tis our human fate,
For better or for worse,
That man and maid should love and mate,
And little children nurse.
Of course, if you are less than man
You can't do what we can.

'So many loving maids would wed,
And wondrous mothers be.'
'I'll buy the love I want,' he said,
'No squally brats for me.'
. . . I hope the devil stoketh well
For him a special hell.

The sunshine seeks my little room
To tell me Paris streets are gay;
That children cry the lily bloom
All up and down the leafy way;
That half the town is mad with May,
With flame of flag and boom of bell:
For Carnival is King to-day;
So pen and page, awhile farewell.

It's easy to fight when everything's right,
And you're mad with the thrill and the glory;
It's easy to cheer when victory's near,
And wallow in fields that are gory.
It's a different song when everything's wrong,
When you're feeling infernally mortal;
When it's ten against one, and hope there is none,
Buck up, little soldier, and chortle:

Carry on! Carry on!
There isn't much punch in your blow.
You're glaring and staring and hitting out blind;
You're muddy and bloody, but never you mind.
Carry on! Carry on!
You haven't the ghost of a show.
It's looking like death, but while you've a breath,
Carry on, my son! Carry on!

And so in the strife of the battle of life
It's easy to fight when you're winning;
It's easy to slave, and starve and be brave,
When the dawn of success is beginning.
But the man who can meet despair and defeat
With a cheer, there's the man of God's choosing;
The man who can fight to Heaven's own height
Is the man who can fight when he's losing.

Carry on! Carry on!
Things never were looming so black.
But show that you haven't a cowardly streak,
And though you're unlucky you never are weak.
Carry on! Carry on!
Brace up for another attack.
It's looking like hell, but -- you never can tell:
Carry on, old man! Carry on!

There are some who drift out in the deserts of doubt,
And some who in brutishness wallow;
There are others, I know, who in piety go
Because of a Heaven to follow.
But to labour with zest, and to give of your best,
For the sweetness and joy of the giving;
To help folks along with a hand and a song;
Why, there's the real sunshine of living.

Carry on! Carry on!
Fight the good fight and true;
Believe in your mission, greet life with a cheer;
There's big work to do, and that's why you are here.
Carry on! Carry on!
Let the world be the better for you;
And at last when you die, let this be your cry:
Carry on, my soul! Carry on!

There's a race of men that don't fit in,
A race that can't stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain's crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don't know how to rest.

If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they're always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.
They say: "Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!"
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake.

And each forgets, as he strips and runs
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It's the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.
And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that's dead,
In the glare of the truth at last.

He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
He has just done things by half.
Life's been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.
Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
He's a rolling stone, and it's bred in the bone;
He's a man who won't fit in.

Author Picture
First Name
Robert
Last Name
Service, fully Robert William Service
Birth Date
1874
Death Date
1958
Bio

English Poet and Writer, known as "the Bard of the Yukon"