Rhymes of a Rolling Stone


Robert W. Service

    On the ragged edge of the world I'll roam,
    And the home of the wolf shall be my home,
    And a bunch of bones on the boundless snows
    The end of my trail . . . who knows, who knows!

    I'm dreaming to-night in the fire-glow, alone in my study tower,
    My books battalioned around me, my Kipling flat on my knee;
    But I'm not in the mood for reading, I haven't moved for an hour;
    Body and brain I'm weary, weary the heart of me;
    Weary of crushing a longing it's little I understand,
    For I thought that my trail was ended, I thought I had earned my rest;
    But oh, it's stronger than life is, the call of the hearthless land!
    And I turn to the North in my trouble, as a child to the mother-breast.

    Here in my den it's quiet; the sea-wind taps on the pane;
    There's comfort and ease and plenty, the smile of the South is sweet.
    All that a man might long for, fight for and seek in vain,
    Pictures and books and music, pleasure my last retreat.
    Peace! I thought I had gained it, I swore that my tale was told;
    By my hair that is grey I swore it, by my eyes that are slow to see;
    Yet what does it all avail me? to-night, to-night as of old,
    Out of the dark I hear it -- the Northland calling to me.

    And I'm daring a rampageous river that runs the devil knows where;
    My hand is athrill on the paddle, the birch-bark bounds like a bird.
    Hark to the rumble of rapids! Here in my morris chair
    Eager and tense I'm straining -- isn't it most absurd?
    Now in the churn and the lather, foam that hisses and stings,
    Leap I, keyed for the struggle, fury and fume and roar;
    Rocks are spitting like hell-cats -- Oh, it's a sport for kings,
    Life on a twist of the paddle . . . there's my "Kim" on the floor.

    How I thrill and I vision! Then my camp of a night;
    Red and gold of the fire-glow, net afloat in the stream;
    Scent of the pines and silence, little "pal" pipe alight,
    Body a-purr with pleasure, sleep untroubled of dream:
    Banquet of paystreak bacon! moment of joy divine,
    When the bannock is hot and gluey, and the teapot's nearing the boil!
    Never was wolf so hungry, stomach cleaving to spine. . . .
    Ha! there's my servant calling, says that dinner will spoil.

    What do I want with dinner? Can I eat any more?
    Can I sleep as I used to? . . . Oh, I abhor this life!
    Give me the Great Uncertain, the Barren Land for a floor,
    The Milky Way for a roof-beam, splendour and space and strife:
    Something to fight and die for -- the limpid Lake of the Bear,
    The Empire of Empty Bellies, the dunes where the Dogribs dwell;
    Big things, real things, live things . . . here on my morris chair
    How I ache for the Northland! "Dinner and servants" -- Hell!!

    Am I too old, I wonder? Can I take one trip more?
    Go to the granite-ribbed valleys, flooded with sunset wine,
    Peaks that pierce the aurora, rivers I must explore,
    Lakes of a thousand islands, millioning hordes of the Pine?
    Do they not miss me, I wonder, valley and peak and plain?
    Whispering each to the other: "Many a moon has passed . . .
    Where has he gone, our lover? Will he come back again?
    Star with his fires our tundra, leave us his bones at last?"

    Yes, I'll go back to the Northland, back to the way of the bear,
    Back to the muskeg and mountain, back to the ice-leaguered sea.
    Old am I! what does it matter? Nothing I would not dare;
    Give me a trail to conquer -- Oh, it is "meat" to me!
    I will go back to the Northland, feeble and blind and lame;
    Sup with the sunny-eyed Husky, eat moose-nose with the Cree;
    Play with the Yellow-knife bastards, boasting my blood and my name:
    I will go back to the Northland, for the Northland is calling to me.

    Then give to me paddle and whiplash, and give to me tumpline and gun;
    Give to me salt and tobacco, flour and a gunny of tea;
    Take me up over the Circle, under the flamboyant sun;
    Turn me foot-loose like a savage -- that is the finish of me.
    I know the trail I am seeking, it's up by the Lake of the Bear;
    It's down by the Arctic Barrens, it's over to Hudson's Bay;
    Maybe I'll get there, -- maybe: death is set by a hair. . . .
    Hark! it's the Northland calling! now must I go away. . . .

    Go to the Wild that waits for me;
    Go where the moose and the musk-ox be;
    Go to the wolf and the secret snows;
    Go to my fate . . . who knows, who knows!

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