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The Rover -- Robert Service

Guest poem submitted by Jeff Huo:

With your indulgence, I would like to present the commentary first, and then
the poem:


References from multiple on-line sources, available upon request.

To just one day ditch the 9-to-5 grind and drive off in pursuit of
adventure. To toss the staid, predicable, tie-and-pressed shirt routine to
the wind and go off into the unknown. Most of us have entertained those
fantasies at one time or another. Robert William Service did it.

Robert Service had started out following in his father's footsteps, working
in banking.  For years he put in his 9:30 to 4:00 at the Commercial Bank of
Scotland with diligence, earning promotions and an ever-increasing salary.
The ordinary, predictable, respectable life of the middle class professional
was what he lived. Up until the day in 1896 he resigned from his bank job,
took his carefully amassed savings, and headed out for the wild, undeveloped
Canadian frontier.

No impulsive fancy was this -- it was the culmination of many years of
aspirations and planning.  His imagination had been fired by the works of
Kipling and Stevenson and other adventurers and world travellers.  He saved
money carefully to fund the journey. He exercised to build up his physical
condition. And most of all, he developed the habits of hard work and mental
discipline necessary to succeed in such a journey. Even as he put in his
hours at the office, to an ultimate goal of leaving that ordinary office
life he worked.  And finally after years of work, he set his plans in
motion,  crossed almost halfway around the world, across the Atlantic and
then across the entire Canadian landmass, to pursue the life of adventure on
the frontier he had thought about for so long.

Over the next many years, Robert travelled from Vancouver to Seattle to San
Francisco.  He worked as a farmhand, a cow herder, a miner, a road worker,
even a handyman in a bordello.  Eventually, up to the Yukon Gold country he
found his way. And it was while up there that Robert Service, based on the
stories he heard around him and the stories he had lived, wrote the poems --
"The Cremation of Sam McGee" [Poem #698], "The Law of the Yukon" [Poem
#781], "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" [Poem #1126] and many others -- that
first made him both famous and wealthy.

By the age of thirty-nine, Robert Service had lived as much as a dozen
ordinary men. He had been end to end repeatedly across the North American
continent, from Cuba to California to the Klondike. He had braved the wild
Edmonton Trail.  He had done almost everything one could think of in the
wildernesses of the North and captured the wild spirit of those lands in
poetry.  And he had won acclaim as the unofficial poet laureate of the
Canadian high north, both by the world at large and, perhaps more
importantly, by his fellows who lived there with him.  And it was at the age
of thirty-nine, in 1913, that after half a lifetime of adventure and travel,
bouncing from mining camp to boomtown, Robert Service found both love and a
permanent home.

He had gone to Europe in 1912 as a war correspondent. While there, in 1913
he met -- and married -- a French lady named Germaine Bourgoin.  He
purchased a home at Lancieux, on the Emerald Coast of Brittany, just west of
Dinard.  Robert Service's adventures weren't quite over -- he drove an
ambulance during the fighting at Verdun, he reported from many of the
battlefield fronts of World War I, he made movies in Hollywood.  But
largely, the remaining forty-six years of his life he would spend there in
France, until he died in 1958, surrounded by family, at the home on the
ocean he came to call "Dream Haven".

And it is that context that I think frames the poem I would like to present,
"The Rover", from his collection "Rhymes of a Rolling Stone". Two parts the
poem is: the first half glorifying the wild life of adventure with nothing
to tie one down; the second half wistful for the comforts of a place to call
one's own and the love of a lady to welcome one there. Both these things
Robert Service lived; both these things Robert knew.  He had lived the wild
life of excitement.  He was later blessed with the joys of loving family and
warm home.  When one considers this poem against the narrative of the life
of the poet who wrote it, it seems almost a perfect encapsulation of all
that he felt and all that drove him: and in the very last few lines, you can
easily imagine that the poet is speaking, heartfelt, for himself -- and for
so many of us.

(Poem #1638) The Rover
 Oh, how good it is to be
 Foot-loose and heart-free!
 Just my dog and pipe and I, underneath the vast sky;
 Trail to try and goal to win, white road and cool inn;
 Fields to lure a lad afar, clear spring and still star;
 Lilting feet that never tire, green dingle, fagot fire;
 None to hurry, none to hold, heather hill and hushed fold;
 Nature like a picture book, laughing leaf and bright brook;
 Every day a jewel bright, set serenely in the night;
 Every night a holy shrine, radiant for a day divine.

       Weathered cheek and kindly eye, let the wanderer go by.
       Woman-love and wistful heart, let the gipsy one depart.
       For the farness and the road are his glory and his goad.
       Oh, the lilt of youth and Spring! Eyes laugh and lips sing.

    Yea, but it is good to be
    Foot-loose and heart-free!

 Yet how good it is to come
 Home at last, home, home!
 On the clover swings the bee, overhead's the hale tree;
 Sky of turquoise gleams through, yonder glints the lake's blue.
 In a hammock let's swing, weary of wandering;
 Tired of wild, uncertain lands, strange faces, faint hands.

       Has the wondrous world gone cold? Am I growing old, old?
       Grey and weary . . . let me dream, glide on the tranquil stream.
       Oh, what joyous days I've had, full, fervid, gay, glad!
       Yet there comes a subtile change, let the stripling rove, range.
       From sweet roving comes sweet rest, after all, home's best.
       And if there's a little bit of woman-love with it,
       I will count my life content, God-blest and well spent. . . .

    Oh but it is good to be
    Foot-loose and heart-free!
    Yet how good it is to come
    Home at last, home, home!
-- Robert Service

Thank you,

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