ROBERT WILLIAM SERVICE

ROBERT WILLIAM SERVICE (1874-1958)
Muse, Poet, Writer
Known as the “Canadian Kipling”

Ref: Poems on www.mysticalquill.blogspot.com

The photo backdrop above was taken on the Bering Sea, off the coast of Alaska. The young man in the red parka is an extraordinary Muse with the heart and soul of a true Adventurer. His name is Dave. In the mid-1980’s, after receiving a degree in Geology and spending a summer negotiating the treacherous white waters of the awesome Grand Canyon while surveying for the USGS (United States Geological Society); he decided to explore Alaska. As a commercial fisherman, Dave discovered the deepest and most remote parts of this vast, awesomely beautiful wilderness…and himself. We can’t tell you the exact moment that Dave first read Robert W. Service, but we do know that it made quite an impression. Like Dave, Robert Service was an adventurer, handsome and educated. Two men born of “A race that can’t stay still”. They possess seemingly boundless courage, energy and strength. Men willing “to buck the system”, follow their hearts and “climb the mountain’s crest”.

Robert Service was born in Preston, England on 16 January 1874 to a Scottish bank clerk and the daughter of an English factory owner. His family returned to Scotland where he was schooled in Glasgow. At the age of 15, he dutifully followed his father and began working at a Glasgow bank. By the time he was 21 (1896), his dreams of becoming a cowboy seduced him to leave Scotland for Vancouver Island, British Columbia where he joined his younger brother in a ranching “experiment”. This experience was far from Robert’s expectations. After 18 months, he set off to explore California.

Robert’s “walk about” took him the length of the Pacific coast. By 1903, he found himself back in Vancouver, needing an infusion of cash to live. The Canadian Bank of Commerce readily hired him. He eagerly traveled to his new office located in the frontier town of Whitehorse in the remote Yukon Territory. Living in Whitehorse was the realization of Robert’s dream. The expansive solitude of the northern woods inspired him to spend much time thinking and reading. His talent for words emerged and he began writing about the Yukon. As he tells it,
“It was Saturday night, and from the various bars I heard sounds of revelry. The line popped into my mind: “A bunch of boys were whooping it up” and it stuck there. Good enough for a start.”

Looking for a quiet place on that Saturday night, Robert went to his bank to write. The startled bank guard fired a shot at him in alarm and it was this event which gave birth to his famous piece The Shooting of Dan McGrew.

Robert Service’s Muse Mind had come alive. His creative floodgates opened and he wrote several poems in a few short months. He decided to publish them and found a publisher willing to pay a 10% royalty. His work was met with praise and he achieved some measure of financial success. Still working for the bank, Robert was transferred in 1908 to Dawson City, 400 miles to the north. It was here that he composed and published Ballads of a Cheechako.

Having achieved financial success with the publication of THE SPELL OF THE YUKON AND OTHER VERSES, Robert resigned from the bank in 1909 to dedicate himself full-time to his writing. He lived and wrote in a log cabin on 8th Avenue in Dawson City. Robert had decided to focus on a novel about the Gold Rush and traveled along the Klondike River visiting boom towns and famous gold sites to gather facts and interview those who had settled in the area. Upon finishing the novel, he moved to New York City where it was published as THE TRAIL OF 8.

A bit of wander lust ensued and Robert traveled to Paris, the French Riviera, Hollywood, Louisiana, Cuba and back to Alberta. From there he returned to the Yukon by paddling a canoe down the Mackenzie, the longest river in Canada. Back in his “writing studio” (the log cabin in Dawson City) he enjoyed a bohemian lifestyle and the respect and recognition for his creative talent.

In 1912 Robert accepted the Toronto Star’s offer to work as a war correspondent in the Balkan War. During his travels in Europe he met and married Germaine Bougeoin, a Parisian beauty. They bought a home together in the Brittany Region of France.

In the First World War Robert served as an America Ambulance Volunteer and became a war correspondent for the Canadian government. Following the war, he traveled and wrote several novels and two volumes of poetry. At the outbreak of World War II, Robert was in Poland and fled the country to Hollywood, California where he lived in exile until his return to Brittany, France at the end of the war.

Robert Service never returned to his beloved log cabin in the Yukon but it remained a nostalgic centerpiece in his life until his death on 11 September 1958 in Brittany France. He is buried there in the local cemetery.

Over at http://www.mysticalquill.blogspot.com/ you will find two of Robert’s poems. The Men Who Don’t Fit In is the poem that spoke to Dave in Alaska. We have also included the poem Just Think! to remind us of how very precious each moment in life really is.

On a future post, these Museologists will revisit The Men Who Don’t Fit In; particularly the stanza,

“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…”

We don’t agree that this has to be the outcome of “the rolling stones” who have gypsy blood flowing through their veins. Maybe, just maybe “not fitting in” is the secret ingredient to authentic individualism and personal freedom. We like to believe that was Robert Service’s “wake up call” to us all.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Twenty years ago I drove the ALCAN Highway through Whitehorse in the Yukon. There, at at a rustic bookstore, I discovered the work of Robert Service. Thanks for reminding me of my great adventure.

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