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.
There was Claw-fingered Kitty and Windy Ike living the life of shame, When unto them in the Long, Long Night came the man-who-had-no-name; Bearing his prize of a black fox pelt, out of the Wild he came.
His cheeks were blanched as the flume-head foam when the brown spring freshets flow; Deep in their dark, sin-calcined pits were his sombre eyes aglow; They knew him far for the fitful man who spat forth blood on the snow.
“Did ever you see such a skin?” quoth he; “there’s nought in the world so fine– Such fullness of fur as black as the night, such lustre, such size, such shine; It’s life to a one-lunged man like me; it’s London, it’s women, it’s wine.
“The Moose-hides called it the devil-fox, and swore that no man could kill; That he who hunted it, soon or late, must surely suffer some ill; But I laughed at them and their old squaw-tales. Ha! Ha! I’m laughing still.
“For look ye, the skin–it’s as smooth as sin, and black as the core of the Pit. By gun or by trap, whatever the hap, I swore I would capture it; By star and by star afield and afar, I hunted and would not quit.
“For the devil-fox, it was swift and sly, and it seemed to fleer at me; I would wake in fright by the camp-fire light, hearing its evil glee; Into my dream its eyes would gleam, and its shadow would I see.
“It sniffed and ran from the ptarmigan I had poisoned to excess; Unharmed it sped from my wrathful lead (’twas as if I shot by guess); Yet it came by night in the stark moonlight to mock at my weariness.
“I tracked it up where the mountains hunch like the vertebrae of the world; I tracked it down to the death-still pits where the avalanche is hurled; From the glooms to the sacerdotal snows, where the carded clouds are curled.
“From the vastitudes where the world protrudes through clouds like seas up-shoaled, I held its track till it led me back to the land I had left of old– The land I had looted many moons. I was weary and sick and cold.
“I was sick, soul-sick, of the futile chase, and there and then I swore The foul fiend fox might scathless go, for I would hunt no more; Then I rubbed mine eyes in a vast surprise–it stood by my cabin door.
“A rifle raised in the wraith-like gloom, and a vengeful shot that sped; A howl that would thrill a cream-faced corpse–and the demon fox lay dead. . . . Yet there was never a sign of wound, and never a drop he bled.
“So that was the end of the great black fox, and here is the prize I’ve won; And now for a drink to cheer me up–I’ve mushed since the early sun; We’ll drink a toast to the sorry ghost of the fox whose race is run.”
Now Claw-fingered Kitty and Windy Ike, bad as the worst were they; In their road-house down by the river-trail they waited and watched for prey; With wine and song they joyed night long, and they slept like swine by day.
For things were done in the Midnight Sun that no tongue will ever tell; And men there be who walk earth-free, but whose names are writ in hell– Are writ in flames with the guilty names of Fournier and Labelle.
Put not your trust in a poke of dust would ye sleep the sleep of sin; For there be those who would rob your clothes ere yet the dawn comes in; And a prize likewise in a woman’s eyes is a peerless black fox skin.
Put your faith in the mountain cat if you lie within his lair; Trust the fangs of the mother-wolf, and the claws of the lead-ripped bear; But oh, of the wiles and the gold-tooth smiles of a dance-hall wench beware!
Wherefore it was beyond all laws that lusts of man restrain, A man drank deep and sank to sleep never to wake again; And the Yukon swallowed through a hole the cold corpse of the slain.
The black fox skin a shadow cast from the roof nigh to the floor; And sleek it seemed and soft it gleamed, and the woman stroked it o’er; And the man stood by with a brooding eye, and gnashed his teeth and swore.
When thieves and thugs fall out and fight there’s fell arrears to pay; And soon or late sin meets its fate, and so it fell one day That Claw-fingered Kitty and Windy Ike fanged up like dogs at bay.
“The skin is mine, all mine,” she cried; “I did the deed alone.” “It’s share and share with a guilt-yoked pair”, he hissed in a pregnant tone; And so they snarled like malamutes over a mildewed bone.
And so they fought, by fear untaught, till haply it befell One dawn of day she slipped away to Dawson town to sell The fruit of sin, this black fox skin that had made their lives a hell.
She slipped away as still he lay, she clutched the wondrous fur; Her pulses beat, her foot was fleet, her fear was as a spur; She laughed with glee, she did not see him rise and follow her.
The bluffs uprear and grimly peer far over Dawson town; They see its lights a blaze o’ nights and harshly they look down; They mock the plan and plot of man with grim, ironic frown.
The trail was steep; ’twas at the time when swiftly sinks the snow; All honey-combed, the river ice was rotting down below; The river chafed beneath its rind with many a mighty throe.
And up the swift and oozy drift a woman climbed in fear, Clutching to her a black fox fur as if she held it dear; And hard she pressed it to her breast–then Windy Ike drew near.
She made no moan–her heart was stone–she read his smiling face, And like a dream flashed all her life’s dark horror and disgrace; A moment only–with a snarl he hurled her into space.
She rolled for nigh an hundred feet; she bounded like a ball; From crag to crag she carromed down through snow and timber fall; . . . A hole gaped in the river ice; the spray flashed–that was all.
A bird sang for the joy of spring, so piercing sweet and frail; And blinding bright the land was dight in gay and glittering mail; And with a wondrous black fox skin a man slid down the trail.
A wedge-faced man there was who ran along the river bank, Who stumbled through each drift and slough, and ever slipped and sank, And ever cursed his Maker’s name, and ever “hooch” he drank.
He travelled like a hunted thing, hard harried, sore distrest; The old grandmother moon crept out from her cloud-quilted nest; The aged mountains mocked at him in their primeval rest.
Grim shadows diapered the snow; the air was strangely mild; The valley’s girth was dumb with mirth, the laughter of the wild; The still, sardonic laughter of an ogre o’er a child.
The river writhed beneath the ice; it groaned like one in pain, And yawning chasms opened wide, and closed and yawned again; And sheets of silver heaved on high until they split in twain.
From out the road-house by the trail they saw a man afar Make for the narrow river-reach where the swift cross-currents are; Where, frail and worn, the ice is torn and the angry waters jar.
But they did not see him crash and sink into the icy flow; They did not see him clinging there, gripped by the undertow, Clawing with bleeding finger-nails at the jagged ice and snow.
They found a note beside the hole where he had stumbled in: “Here met his fate by evil luck a man who lived in sin, And to the one who loves me least I leave this black fox skin.”
And strange it is; for, though they searched the river all around, No trace or sign of black fox skin was ever after found; Though one man said he saw the tread of HOOFS deep in the ground.
I sit at the computer here at night with a window open behind me. It was rather strange last night, as I finished my last drink and closed the laptop to get ready to go to sleep, suddenly the smell of woodsmoke on the air came gently wafting in the window, and the poem below literally popped into my head, and I sat back and wrote it down before I forgot it..I changed a couple of words this morning, but it is almost verbatim.
I sit inside this wooded night
Surrounded by the bright starlight
Watching as smoke gently curls
And into the wooded night unfurls
The starlight gleams, in fact, it seems
That fall is at the door.
Winter whispers in the crisp air
Of summer dying without a care
The leaves though green have lost their glow
As the sun sinks lower and drops below
The river steams and taunts me so
It speaks of sooner flying snow
My shadow it lengthens on the Trail
As the scent of dying leaves inhale
Fall indeed is nigh
Striding into the starlit sky
And I sit inside this wooded night
With the smoke lifting high into the stark starlight.
A somewhat obscure, but decent poem written by Robert Service . The text of the poem is below.
There’s a four-pronged buck a-swinging in the shadow of my cabin,
And it roamed the velvet valley till to-day;
But I tracked it by the river, and I trailed it in the cover,
And I killed it on the mountain miles away.
Now I’ve had my lazy supper, and the level sun is gleaming
On the water where the silver salmon play;
And I light my little corn-cob, and I linger, softly dreaming,
In the twilight, of a land that’s far away.
Far away, so faint and far, is flaming London, fevered Paris,
That I fancy I have gained another star;
Far away the din and hurry, far away the sin and worry,
Far away — God knows they cannot be too far.
Gilded galley-slaves of Mammon — how my purse-proud brothers taunt me!
I might have been as well-to-do as they
Had I clutched like them my chances, learned their wisdom, crushed my fancies,
Starved my soul and gone to business every day.
Well, the cherry bends with blossom and the vivid grass is springing,
And the star-like lily nestles in the green;
And the frogs their joys are singing, and my heart in tune is ringing,
And it doesn’t matter what I might have been.
While above the scented pine-gloom, piling heights of golden glory,
The sun-god paints his canvas in the west,
I can couch me deep in clover, I can listen to the story
Of the lazy, lapping water — it is best.
While the trout leaps in the river, and the blue grouse thrills the cover,
And the frozen snow betrays the panther’s track,
And the robin greets the dayspring with the rapture of a lover,
I am happy, and I’ll nevermore go back.
For I know I’d just be longing for the little old log cabin,
With the morning-glory clinging to the door,
Till I loathed the city places, cursed the care on all the faces,
Turned my back on lazar London evermore.
So send me far from Lombard Street, and write me down a failure;
Put a little in my purse and leave me free.
Say: “He turned from Fortune’s offering to follow up a pale lure,
He is one of us no longer — let him be.”
I am one of you no longer; by the trails my feet have broken,
The dizzy peaks I’ve scaled, the camp-fire’s glow;
By the lonely seas I’ve sailed in — yea, the final word is spoken,
I am signed and sealed to nature. Be it so.
I want you to hear the rush of wind. The whisper of legends and stories untold. I want you to know the ancient one, this land, whose voice is likened to a thousand spirits chanting.
“Tales of Sunkhaze”
A recent trip through a city and driving in traffic reminded me (I even recited some of it I think) of this poem, another one of my favorites by Robert Service. For any fans of the poem for the recitation I left off the “forming good habits” last line – for me I just think it sounds better to have it end with “Goodbye for its safer up there.” The text of the poem is below.
I’m scared of it all, God’s truth! so I am;
It’s too big and brutal for me.
My nerve’s on the raw and I don’t give a damn
For all the “hoorah” that I see.
I’m pinned between subway and overhead train,
Where automobillies swoop down:
Oh, I want to go back to the timber again –
I’m scared of the terrible town.
I want to go back to my lean, ashen plains;
My rivers that flash into foam;
My ultimate valleys where solitude reigns;
My trail from Fort Churchill to Nome.
My forests packed full of mysterious gloom,
My ice-fields agrind and aglare:
The city is deadfalled with danger and doom –
I know that I’m safer up there.
I watch the wan faces that flash in the street;
All kinds and all classes I see.
Yet never a one in the million I meet,
Has the smile of a comrade for me.
Just jaded and panting like dogs in a pack;
Just tensed and intent on the goal:
O God! but I’m lonesome — I wish I was back,
Up there in the land of the Pole.
I wish I was back on the Hunger Plateaus,
And seeking the lost caribou;
I wish I was up where the Coppermine flows
To the kick of my little canoe.
I’d like to be far on some weariful shore,
In the Land of the Blizzard and Bear;
Oh, I wish I was snug in the Arctic once more,
For I know I am safer up there!
I prowl in the canyons of dismal unrest;
I cringe — I’m so weak and so small.
I can’t get my bearings, I’m crushed and oppressed
With the haste and the waste of it all.
The slaves and the madman, the lust and the sweat,
The fear in the faces I see;
The getting, the spending, the fever, the fret –
It’s too bleeding cruel for me.
I feel it’s all wrong, but I can’t tell you why –
The palace, the hovel next door;
The insolent towers that sprawl to the sky,
The crush and the rush and the roar.
I’m trapped like a fox and I fear for my pelt;
I cower in the crash and the glare;
Oh, I want to be back in the avalanche belt,
For I know that it’s safer up there!
I’m scared of it all: Oh, afar I can hear
The voice of my solitudes call!
We’re nothing but brute with a little veneer,
And nature is best after all.
There’s tumult and terror abroad in the street;
There’s menace and doom in the air;
I’ve got to get back to my thousand-mile beat;
The trail where the cougar and silver-tip meet;
The snows and the camp-fire, with wolves at my feet;
Good-bye, for it’s safer up there.
To be forming good habits up there;
To be starving on rabbits up there;
In your hunger and woe,
Though it’s sixty below,
Oh, I know that it’s safer up there!
My time has come, though I’ve not seen the light
Through the darkness of time.
My past no longer beckons, the future is faltering it’s yearn.
And I’m faced with myself, and the darkness of the night.
Friends won and lost it matters little now. The small towns are forgotten
Yet something remembers.
The bare rocks still stand as they always have and will.
My footprints are just memories for no one to find.
And yet there will be a future on some new rock covered with the
Memories of others. And the rocks stick out, the trees silent sentinels,
And me, just one person in the laughter of many.
My promises are unkept, they are broken like twigs whereas I had built
Them to be unbreaking trees. But alas it must change and as the trees
Fall I turn to stare and a new path is open but travelers beware for
I love this new trail but as I reach out to grasp it is gone with a
Glimpse and none may pass.
Oh for a wish I once wished
Yes I remember distinctly
Lying in a field the sun and sky above
The whisper of the trees
The softness of the meadow
I had not a care in the world
But the world had cares for me.
It seems there’s much more than just lying in a meadow
Though you spend all your days just wanting the
Time to go
Yes but its not right to just lie in a meadown
But the meadow is always there
The world had big plans and I met them full steam
But the world had something uncannily keen
Yes the world could be beaten but it wouldn’t lose
And I still hear the echo of its mirth.
And the meadow is still there though less frequently I lie
And as I lie in it now I think of the wish of a scatterbrained
Boy. And as the leaves blow about and the clouds move across
I lie in the meadow a rebel not beaten
Nay tis I who have won
For my wish came true.
Our voices are now hushed
Snow muffles our steps creaking beneath our feet
The world has become surreal
And here we are now but guests
Silently we pass through the eerie shadows cast
From the moon hanging in the frigid night
There is no sound but our breath to break the cold
Stillness its vapor hanging around our heads like
A shroud before rising in the cold stillness.
I feel so ALIVE the cold coloring my cheeks
Cleans my nose
Reaches for my lungs
My senses become acute
I could see a shadow move
Hear a small twig break
notice the mouse tunneling under the snow
If I saw someone I think I would hide
Melt into the shadows of the night world
I have become a part of
The fresh ice settles under our feet
I feel with all of my senses
Is it safe?
A white patch of snow midstream is out of place
I can feel timeless history move my hands as
The catch is removed
I can hear those that came before. Whispering
In the cold night air.
Block it here
Put a stick there
Nothing breaks the solitude
We shoulder our packs
The miles pass beneath our feet
I want it to go on forever
I want another set to check
But all too soon my eyes are adjusting to the streetlights
And I am learning to drive again
It seems so foreign so wrong
So opposite of where we just were
Running a trapline on a mid -winters night.