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The Smoking Frog -- Robert Service

Guest poem sent in by Dave Mueller
(Poem #1137) The Smoking Frog
 Three men I saw beside a bar,
 Regarding o'er their bottle,
 A frog who smoked a rank cigar
 They'd jammed within its throttle.

 A Pasha frog it must have been
 So big it was and bloated;
 And from its lips the nicotine
 In graceful festoon floated.

 And while the trio jeered and joked,
 As if it quite enjoyed it,
 Impassively it smoked and smoked,
 (It could not well avoid it).

 A ring of fire its lips were nigh
 Yet it seemed all unwitting;
 It could not spit, like you and I,
 Who've learned the art of spitting.

 It did not wink, it did not shrink,
 As there serene it squatted'
 Its eyes were clear, it did not fear
 The fate the Gods allotted.

 It squatted there with calm sublime,
 Amid their cruel guying;
 Grave as a god, and all the time
 It knew that it was dying.

 And somehow then it seemed to me
 These men expectorating,
 Were infinitely less than he,
 The dumb thing they were baiting.

 It seemed to say, despite their jokes:
 "This is my hour of glory.
 It isn't every frog that smokes:
 My name will live in story."

 Before its nose the smoke arose;
 The flame grew nigher, nigher;
 And then I saw its bright eyes close
 Beside that ring of fire.

 They turned it on its warty back,
 From off its bloated belly;
 It legs jerked out, then dangled slack;
 It quivered like a jelly.

 And then the fellows went away,
 Contented with their joking;
 But even as in death it lay,
 The frog continued smoking.

 Life's like a lighted fag, thought I;
 We smoke it stale; then after
 Death turns our belly to the sky:
 The Gods must have their laughter.
-- Robert Service

My favorite Robert Service poem: Without pretense, he simply, sardonically
documents three men at a bar enjoying an inconsequential diversion. But how
do we, the victim in this saga, endure our fate? Pleased, because our
importance and the glory of our death ensures that our name will live on?
Nope; Service tells us it is a 'Pasha' frog, and documents its suffering --
but, what was its name? Instead we stoically proceed to our ridiculous
destiny for the horribly mundane reason that we cannot avoid it.  In this
poem, I think more than any other, Service skewers the concept of the
benevolent Sunday-school God.


[Martin adds]

While the last verse is clearly inspired by Shakespeare's

 As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods,
 They kill us for their sport

from King Lear, I actually find Service's use of "laughter" more effective
than the bard's "sport".

43 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

mc said...

Reminds me of a line I remember from Jr. High School:

"Though boys throw stones at frogs in sport, the frogs die not in sport but in earnest."

I think it's from a classical Greek poet, Bion of Smyrna.

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Jeanne Ikerd said...

The Smoking Frog was my first memorized performance piece for school 30 yrs ago & has stuck with me. As a native Alaskan & a child of the pre-tourism development, Mr. Service spoke a language I understood then and still hold dear.Although he was expressing the Yukon, he told stories that I saw in the people (& their sensibilities) around me. His format may sometimes be archaic but in that, I find comfort.

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