Robert W. Service Analysis

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Robert W. Service’s novels never achieved any degree of literary significance or even popular acceptance; perhaps fiction simply allowed him some diversion from writing verse. The following titles, however, suggest the relationship between Service’s poetry and his fiction: The Trail of ’98 (1910), The Pretender: A Story of the Latin Quarter (1914), The Poisoned Paradise (1922), The Roughneck (1923), The Master of the Microbe (1926), and The House of Fear (1927). Of greater value to the student are the three major autobiographical pieces, since each helps to cast some light upon both the poet and his work: Why Not Grow Young? Or, Living for Longevity (1928), Ploughman of the Moon: An Adventure into Memory (1945), and Harper of Heaven: A Record of Radiant Living (1948).


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Perhaps the simplest way to come to grips with the poetry of Robert W. Service is to avoid the issue entirely and dismiss the man as little more than a terribly prolific balladeer, the writer of popular frontier verses that rhymed well enough to be memorized by schoolboys and sentimental adults but generally lacked poetic merit. A more reasonable approach would be to read the poetry in the light of Service’s own intentions. Service saw himself as a grand combination of journalist and teller of tales (a twentieth century Scottish bard, if you will), whose medium was verse rather than the newspaper article or the short story. He preferred to roam certain parts of the world in search of characters whose stories had never really been told—or, at least, whose experiences had never reached a wide audience. In a sense, he listened to people who were themselves glad to come upon an eager listener; he transformed the details of those stories into rhythmic ballads for the benefit of still other listeners—his readers.

Apart from his poetry, he desired nothing more from life than to dream, to live as a recluse and a lover of liberty, to gaze in wonder at the beauty of the world, and to observe the complexities and the varieties of the human condition. At the same time, he was a practical man who realized early in life that freedom had to be bought with hard cash; thus, he wrote and worked for that freedom, and in the end he achieved it. His verse remained the natural outlet for his dreams, visions, and observations, the means by which he could share,...

(The entire section is 638 words.)


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Athern, Stanley S. “The Klondike Muse.” Canadian Literature 47 (Winter, 1971): 67-72. Athern encourages critics to examine the Klondike works of Service as a pioneering attempt to mythologize the Canadian gold rush as early environmental history. While not speaking highly of Service’s talents, Athern gives valuable insight into Service’s initial publications.

Berton, Pierre. Prisoners of the North. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2004. Historian Berton looks at some of Canada’s most famous characters, including Service, who earned the money he desired but was saddled with the fame he sought to avoid.

Bucco, Martin. “Folk Poetry of Robert W. Service.” Alaska Review 2 (Fall, 1965): 16-26. Bucco analyzes Service’s Yukon poetry from the viewpoint that it used the search for gold as a metaphor for the quest for self. With this as his overriding theme, Bucco shows how Service created a vivid sense of tradition for the men who sought out the elusive riches buried in the forbidding North.

Burness, Edwina. “The Influence of Burns and Fergusson on the War Poetry of Robert Service.” Studies in Scottish Literature 12 (1986): 135-146. Concentrates only on Service’s war poetry and explores the influences that Robert Burns and Robert Fergusson had on Service. Burness draws interesting parallels...

(The entire section is 424 words.)