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The Ballad of Yukon Jake -- Edward E Paramore Jr

Guest poem sent in by EB
(Poem #1171) The Ballad of Yukon Jake
Begging Robert W. Service's Pardon

 Oh the north countree is a hard countree
 That mothers a bloody brood;
 And its icy arms hold hidden charms
 For the greedy, the sinful and lewd.

 And strong men rust, from the gold and the lust
 That sears the Northland soul,
 But the wickedest born, from the Pole to the Horn,
 Is the Hermit of Shark Tooth Shoal.

 Now Jacob Kaime was the Hermit's name
 In the days of his pious youth,
 Ere he cast a smirch on the village Church
 By betraying a girl named Ruth.

 But now men quake at "Yukon Jake,"
 The Hermit of Shark-Tooth Shoal,
 For that is the name that Jacob Kaime
 Is known by from Nome to the Pole.

 He was just a boy and the parson's joy
 (Ere he fell for the gold and the muck),
 And had learned to pray, with the hogs and the hay
 On a farm near Keokuk.

 But a Service tale of illicit kale --
 And whisky and women wild --
 Drained the morals clean as a souptureen
 From this poor but honest child.

 He longed for the bite of a Yukon night
 And the Northern Light's weird flicker,
 Or a game of stud in the frozen mud,
 And the taste of raw red licker.

 He wanted to mush along in the slush,
 With a team of husky hounds;
 And to fire his gat at a beaver hat
 And knock it out of bounds.

 So he left his home for the hell-town Nome,
 On Alaska's ice-ribbed shores,
 And he learned to curse and to drink, and worse --
 Till the rum dripped from his pores.

 When the boys on a spree were drinking it free
 In a Malamute saloon,
 And Dan Megrew and his dangerous crew
 Shot craps with the piebald coon;

 When the Kid on his stool banged away like a fool
 At a jag-time melody,
 And the barkeep vowed, to the hard-boiled crowd,
 That he'd cree-mate Sam McGee --

 Then Jacob Kaime, who had taken the name
 Of Yukon Jake, the Killer,
 Would rake the dive with his forty-five
 Till the atmosphere grew chiller.

 With a sharp command he'd make 'em stand
 And deliver their hard-earned dust;
 Then drink the bar dry, of rum and rye,
 As a Klondike bully must.

 Without coming to blows he would tweak the nose
 Of Dangerous Dan Megrew,
 And becoming bolder, throw over his shoulder
 The lady that's known as Lou.

 Oh, tough as a steak was Yukon Jake --
 Hard-boiled as a picnic egg.
 He washed his shirt in the KIondike dirt,
 And drank his rum by the keg.

 In fear of their lives (or because of their wives)
 He was shunned by the best of his pals;
 An outcast he, from the comradery
 Of all but wild animals.

 So he bought him the whole of Shark-Tooth Shoal,
 A reef in the Bering Sea,
 And he lived by himself on a sea lion's shelf
 In lonely iniquity.

 But, miles away, in Keokuk, Ia.,
 Did a ruined maiden fight
 To remove the smirch from the village Church
 By bringing the heathen Light.

 And the Elders declared that all would be squared
 If she carried the holy words
 From her Keokuk home to the hell-town Nome
 To save those sinful birds.

 So, two weeks later, she took a freighter,
 For the gold-cursed land near the Pole,
 But Heaven ain't made for a lass that's betrayed --
 She was wrecked on Shark-Tooth Shoal!

 All hands were tossed in the Sea, and lost --
 All but the maiden Ruth,
 Who swam to the edge of the sea lion's ledge
 Where abode  the love of her youth.

 He was hunting a seal for his evening meal
 (He handled a mean harpoon)
 When he saw at his feet, not something to eat,
 But a girl in a frozen swoon,

 Whom he dragged to his lair by her dripping hair,
 And he rubbed her knees with gin, --
 To his great surprise, she opened her eyes
 And revealed -- his Original Sin!

 His eight-months beard grew stiff and weird,
 And it felt like a chestnut bur,
 And he swore by his gizzard -- and the Arctic blizzard,
 That he'd do right by her.

 Then the cold sweat froze on the end of her nose
 Till it gleamed like a Tecla pearl,
 While her bright hair fell, like a flame from hell,
 Down the back of the grateful girl.

 But a hopeless rake was Yukon Jake,
 The hermit of Shark Tooth Shoal!
 And the dizzy maid he rebetrayed
 And wrecked her immortal soul!...

 Then he rowed her ashore, with a broken oar,
 And he sold her to Dan McGrew
 For a husky dog and some hot eggnog --
 As rascals are wont to do.

 Now ruthless Ruth is a maid uncouth
 With scarlet cheeks and lips,
 And she sings rough songs to the drunken throngs
 That come from the sealing ships.

 For a rouge-stained kiss from this infamous miss
 They will give a seal's sleek fur,
 Or perhaps a sable, if they are able;
 It's much the same to her.

 Oh, the North Countree is a rough countree,
 That mothers a bloody brood;
 And its icy arms hold hidden charms
 For the greedy, the sinful and lewd.

 And strong men rust, from the gold and the lust
 That sears the Northland soul,
 But the wickedest born from the Pole to the Horn
 Was the Hermit of Shark-Tooth Shoal!
-- Edward E Paramore Jr
The Ballad of Yukon Jake, inspired an eponymous movie starring Ben Turpin
(1926.)  You need to be familiar with the work of Robert Service, at which
this poem pokes gentle fun, to fully appreciate Yukon Jake. 100 years ago
poems were as popular as movies and TV shows are today, and people
entertained themselves by reciting poems, such as Service's, so that a boy
might hear and be influenced by one; and "a Service tale of illicit
kale--and whiskey and women wild--sucked the morals clean as a soup tureen
from this poor but honest child" was a plausible plot turn.

This line illustrates Paramore's great use of rhyme and meter--somehow it's
right, but not quite right, so it's hilarious.  My uncle grew up in the
twilight of that age, and sometimes he would recite this poem with the skill
of a professional actor.  Some poems need to be spoken aloud;  this is one
of them.  Enjoy.


Paramore appears to have been a screenwriter - couldn't find a biography,
but here's his filmography:
  [broken link]

And here are some Service poems, if you're unfamiliar with his work:
  [broken link]

161 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Roger Twito said...

I memorized this poem when I was in high school in 1949 for some obscure reason. Everyone I've recited to thinks it's a Robert Service poem. I wasn't sure, but suspected it worked too hard to sound like Robert Service to really be Robert Service's. It's a kick to know it is not, but the author seems to know who he is trying to do an imitation of.

Anthony Austin said...

My father, Dr. O.L. Austin, Jr. knew this poem from stem to stern, as he
knew most of Service's work. He was a fine piano player and often did "The
Hermit" accompanying himself on the piano. Once, when doing this at a party
in California in the 40's, a man sat down next to him and proceeded to do
the poem with him. When they had finished, Dad turned to him and said, "
you do you know who wrote it?" "I did," the man replied. He was
Edward E. Paramore....

Dave Mead said...

My father recited bits and pieces of The Hermit of Sharktooth Shoal to me when I was a boy of 6 or 7 (around 1950). I've never forgotten his delight, and some of the poem has stayed with me ever since ("He rowed her villains are wont to do.")
Dave Mead, Texas A&M U - Corpus Christi

Toni Paramore said...


I may be a relative and wondered where I got my inspiration for writing poetry.
I am impressed by your poem - you create a character and bring him to life and he's very believable in a certain way. I like it.

Anonymous said...

My uncle, Dr. Roger W. Bouldin knew the Ballad from memory. At the age of 93 he would quote it verbatum. He said that he learned it while attending dental school at UT Memphis in the late 1930's.

Roger R. Landers

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