The Wood-Cutter

Robert William Service 1874 – 1958

The sky is like an envelope,
  One of those blue official things;
  And, sealing it, to mock our hope,
  The moon, a silver wafer, clings.
  What shall we find when death gives leave
  To read--our sentence or reprieve?

I'm holding it down on God's scrap-pile, up on the fag-end of earth;
  O'er me a menace of mountains, a river that grits at my feet;
Face to face with my soul-self, weighing my life at its worth;
  Wondering what I was made for, here in my last retreat.

Last! Ah, yes, it's the finish. Have ever you heard a man cry?
  (Sobs that rake him and rend him, right from the base of the chest.)
That's how I've cried, oh, so often; and now that my tears are dry,
  I sit in the desolate quiet and wait for the infinite Rest.

Rest! Well, it's restful around me; it's quiet clean to the core.
  The mountains pose in their ermine, in golden the hills are clad;
The big, blue, silt-freighted Yukon seethes by my cabin door,
  And I think it's only the river that keeps me from going mad.

By day it's a ruthless monster, a callous, insatiate thing,
  With oily bubble and eddy, with sudden swirling of breast;
By night it's a writhing Titan, sullenly murmuring,
  Ever and ever goaded, and ever crying for rest.

It cries for its human tribute, but me it will never drown.
  I've learned the lore of my river; my river obeys me well.
I hew and I launch my cordwood, and raft it to Dawson town,
  Where wood means wine and women, and, incidentally, hell.

Hell and the anguish thereafter. Here as I sit alone
  I'd give the life I have left me to lighten some load of care:
(The bitterest part of the bitter is being denied to atone;
  Lips that have mocked at Heaven lend themselves ill to prayer.)

Impotent as a beetle pierced on the needle of Fate;
  A wretch in a cosmic death-cell, peaks for my prison bars;
'Whelmed by a world stupendous, lonely and listless I wait,
  Drowned in a sea of silence, strewn with confetti of stars.

See! from far up the valley a rapier pierces the night,
  The white search-ray of a steamer. Swiftly, serenely it nears;
A proud, white, alien presence, a glittering galley of light,
  Confident-poised, triumphant, freighted with hopes and fears.

I look as one looks on a vision; I see it pulsating by;
  I glimpse joy-radiant faces; I hear the thresh of the wheel.
Hoof-like my heart beats a moment; then silence swoops from the sky.
  Darkness is piled upon darkness. God only knows how I feel.

Maybe you've seen me sometimes; maybe you've pitied me then--
  The lonely waif of the wood-camp, here by my cabin door.
Some day you'll look and see not; futile and outcast of men,
  I shall be far from your pity, resting forevermore.

My life was a problem in ciphers, a weary and profitless sum.
  Slipshod and stupid I worked it, dazed by negation and doubt.
Ciphers the total confronts me. Oh, Death, with thy moistened thumb,
  Stoop like a petulant schoolboy, wipe me forever out!

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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Robert William Service

Robert William Service was a poet and writer sometimes referred to as the Bard of the Yukon He is best-known for his writings on the Canadian North including the poems The Shooting of Dan McGrew The Law of the Yukon and The Cremation of Sam McGee His writing was so expressive that his readers took him for a hard-bitten old Klondike prospector not the later-arriving bank clerk he actually was Robert William Service was born 16 January 1874 in Preston England but also lived in Scotland before emigrating to Canada in 1894 Service went to the Yukon Territory in 1904 as a bank clerk and became famous for his poems about this region which are mostly in his first two books of poetry He wrote quite a bit of prose as well and worked as a reporter for some time but those writings are not nearly as well known as his poems He travelled around the world quite a bit and narrowly escaped from France at the beginning of the Second World War during which time he lived in Hollywood California He died 11 September 1958 in France Incidentally he played himself in a movie called The Spoilers starring John Wayne and Marlene Dietrich more…

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    "The Wood-Cutter" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2020. Web. 29 Oct. 2020. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/32694/the-wood-cutter>.

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