Robert W. ServicePoet
Born: 16 January 1874
Died: 11 September 1958
Birthplace: Preston, Lancashire, England
Best known as: The England-born, Scotland-raised poet who wrote "The Cremation of Sam McGee"
Robert W. Service was the English-born poet who made his fame writing about the frontier life of western Canada in poems such as "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" and "The Cremation of Sam McGee." Robert Service grew up in Scotland and tried a career in banking, but then emigrated to Canada in 1896 to be a cowboy. After more than a year of hard work on the range, he then led an itinerant life in San Francisco and along the Pacific coast before trying banking again in British Columbia in 1902. The bank transferred him to frontier towns like Kamloops, Whitehorse and Dawson. Service entertained the locals with poetry recitations and, with the encouragement of a newspaper editor, began reciting his own poems specifically about life in the Yukon. Robert Service put his poems together and published them as Songs of a Sourdough
in 1907. The collection that made him a rich man, thanks especially to "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" and "The Cremation of Sam McGee." These humorous tales in verse were considered doggerel by the literary set, yet remain extremely popular to this day. Called "The Bard of the Yukon," Robert Service wrote poetry and novels throughout his career, and ended up with quite a life story. He quit banking in 1908 and traveled the world, then settled in France, then served as a volunteer in the Balkan Wars (1912-13) and World War I. He barely escaped Poland at the beginning of World War II, went to Hollywood during World War II (he's even in the 1940 John Wayne
movie The Spoilers
) then returned to France after the war, where he lived until his death at the age of 84. Despite having spent only about a dozen years in western Canada, Robert Service is now considered one of the early crafters of cowboy poetry. His other works include the novels The Trail of Ninety-Eight, A Northland Romance
(1912) and The Pretender: A Story of the Latin Quarter
(1914), the poetry collections Rhymes of a Rolling Stone
(1912) and Ballads of a Bohemian
(1921) and the memoir Ploughman of the Moon, An Adventure Into Memory
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