My favorite poet of snow and cold is Robert Service, whose poems my dad enjoyed and read while in the Navy in 1945, the year of my birth. I discovered Service's The Spell of the Yukon on Dad's bookshelf--the only volume of poetry to be found there other than A.E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad. I knew even then that Service was not a great poet, but I couldn't get enough of "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" or "The Cremation of Sam McGee," which begins with these haunting lines:
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Legarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
I loved the word "moil," which sounded so much more desperate than "toil"--and the word "marge" as a kind of combination between "margin" and "verge." Mostly, I just liked the grimness of story set against the rollicking rhythm and pitch-perfect rhyme. Doggerel, perhaps, but not bad. When I took a poetry course with James Dickey, I was pleased when he mentioned Service as one of his favorite "bad poets."
My first wife once gave me a first edition of The Spell of the Yukon (1907), which I still cherish. I see online that booksellers are getting upwards of $150 for those now. When my sister-in-law writes from Fairbanks that the temperature is 30 below, I'm glad I'm not there. I'll take my sub-zero weather in the form of Robert Service's verse.