The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service is an incredible example of a narrative ballad. It tells its story through internal and external rhyming couplets Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows. Why he left his home in the South to roam ’round the Pole, God only knows with a cadence that holds true throughout the whole poem. Service’s application of literary devices like alliteration enhances the flow of the poem; “roam ’round, cursed cold, foul or fair, half hid, and brawn and brains”. The cold of the Arctic is a major theme and Service uses an assortment of other literary devices to convey his message. He sets the tone with the oxymoron at the end of the first stanza; “midnight sun” where midnight speaks to cold and sun to warmth. Then again in the first quatrain, he uses a metaphor to tell of how one’s “blood runs cold” in the Arctic. Service employs juxtaposition in the second quatrain when he puts Sam’s home in warm Tennessee “where the cotton blooms and blows” beside his present residence of the Arctic where “He [is] was always cold”.
He utilizes a simile in such a manner that the reader can feel relentless, penetrating cold “Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold, it stabbed like a driven nail”. His use of personification “heavens scowled” and “I wrestled with grisly fear” paints an image of cold so effectively that we can see the dark sky and feel the shiver of fear. Another theme that comes alive through the use of literary devices is peculiar. Service’s first quatrain is peppered with metaphors; “The Arctic trails have their secret tales [and] The Northern Lights have seen queer sights” which set the mood for the strange. Later in the seventh quatrain Service uses a metaphor to emphasize the cold and the darkness of the Arctic he finds himself in with Sam’s corpse: “There wasn’t a breath in that land of death”. The paradox of Sam wishing that “he’d sooner live in hell” is an odd statement for any human.
The imagery Service creates with his word choice allows you to see the narrator “sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin”, “burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and … stuff in Sam McGee” or “there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar”. Whether it is literal or figurative is open to question. One could see a person singing to a corpse but to have the corpse grin back is weird. Now to stuff a corpse into a furnace of glowing coals and then to have the corpse came back to life and enjoy the fiery abode is not something anyone would actually do or witness and thus it takes the reader to a world of peculiar. A final theme to be introduced is that of friendship. An interesting alliance is between the humans and the dogs. The dogs are symbiotic with the men and their actions are relayed to us using internal rhyming and a metaphor “the huskies … howled out their woes to the homeless snows O God! how I loathed the thing” or “And on I went, though the dogs were spent and the grub was getting low”.
Sam and the narrator’s friendship is displayed to us by Service”s love of internal rhyming, “A pal’s last need is a thing to heed” or “The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in. ” He also uses a metaphor to communicate the commitment between them even in death: “Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code”. Robert Service is truly a genius with the written word. His poem The Cremation of Sam McGee creates a timeless tale for past, present, and future generations. The spell casts on its listeners are produced through the placement of the words Service chooses. The Cremation of Sam McGee deserves to be the best poem in the world.
“Literary Devices. ” Literary Devices. N. p. , 2010.
Service, Robert. “RobertWService. Com. ” Robert W Service. com. Tacoma Technologies, 2012.
Team, Shmoop Editorial. “The Cremation of Sam McGee. ” Shmoop. com. Shmoop University Inc., 2010.
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