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Written by Robert William Service |

The Ghosts

 Smith, great writer of stories, drank; found it immortalized his pen;
Fused in his brain-pan, else a blank, heavens of glory now and then;
Gave him the magical genius touch; God-given power to gouge out, fling
Flat in your face a soul-thought -- Bing!
Twiddle your heart-strings in his clutch.
"Bah!" said Smith, "let my body lie stripped to the buff in swinish shame, If I can blaze in the radiant sky out of adoring stars my name.
Sober am I nonentitized; drunk am I more than half a god.
Well, let the flesh be sacrificed; spirit shall speak and shame the clod.
Who would not gladly, gladly give Life to do one thing that will live?" Smith had a friend, we'll call him Brown; dearer than brothers were those two.
When in the wassail Smith would drown, Brown would rescue and pull him through.
When Brown was needful Smith would lend; so it fell as the years went by, Each on the other would depend: then at the last Smith came to die.
There Brown sat in the sick man's room, still as a stone in his despair; Smith bent on him his eyes of doom, shook back his lion mane of hair; Said: "Is there one in my chosen line, writer of forthright tales my peer? Look in that little desk of mine; there is a package, bring it here.
Story of stories, gem of all; essence and triumph, key and clue; Tale of a loving woman's fall; soul swept hell-ward, and God! it's true.
I was the man -- Oh, yes, I've paid, paid with mighty and mordant pain.
Look! here's the masterpiece I've made out of my sin, my manhood slain.
Art supreme! yet the world would stare, know my mistress and blaze my shame.
I have a wife and daughter -- there! take it and thrust it in the flame.
" Brown answered: "Master, you have dipped pen in your heart, your phrases sear.
Ruthless, unflinching, you have stripped naked your soul and set it here.
Have I not loved you well and true? See! between us the shadows drift; This bit of blood and tears means You -- oh, let me have it, a parting gift.
Sacred I'll hold it, a trust divine; sacred your honour, her dark despair; Never shall it see printed line: here, by the living God I swear.
" Brown on a Bible laid his hand; Smith, great writer of stories, sighed: "Comrade, I trust you, and understand.
Keep my secret!" And so he died.
Smith was buried -- up soared his sales; lured you his books in every store; Exquisite, whimsy, heart-wrung tales; men devoured them and craved for more.
So when it slyly got about Brown had a posthumous manuscript, Jones, the publisher, sought him out, into his pocket deep he dipped.
"A thousand dollars?" Brown shook his head.
"The story is not for sale, " he said.
Jones went away, then others came.
Tempted and taunted, Brown was true.
Guarded at friendship's shrine the fame of the unpublished story grew and grew.
It's a long, long lane that has no end, but some lanes end in the Potter's field; Smith to Brown had been more than friend: patron, protector, spur and shield.
Poor, loving-wistful, dreamy Brown, long and lean, with a smile askew, Friendless he wandered up and down, gaunt as a wolf, as hungry too.
Brown with his lilt of saucy rhyme, Brown with his tilt of tender mirth Garretless in the gloom and grime, singing his glad, mad songs of earth: So at last with a faith divine, down and down to the Hunger-line.
There as he stood in a woeful plight, tears a-freeze on his sharp cheek-bones, Who should chance to behold his plight, but the publisher, the plethoric Jones; Peered at him for a little while, held out a bill: "NOW, will you sell?" Brown scanned it with his twisted smile: "A thousand dollars! you go to hell!" Brown enrolled in the homeless host, sleeping anywhere, anywhen; Suffered, strove, became a ghost, slave of the lamp for other men; For What's-his-name and So-and-so in the abyss his soul he stripped, Yet in his want, his worst of woe, held he fast to the manuscript.
Then one day as he chewed his pen, half in hunger and half despair, Creaked the door of his garret den; Dick, his brother, was standing there.
Down on the pallet bed he sank, ashen his face, his voice a wail: "Save me, brother! I've robbed the bank; to-morrow it's ruin, capture, gaol.
Yet there's a chance: I could to-day pay back the money, save our name; You have a manuscript, they say, worth a thousand -- think, man! the shame.
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.
" Brown with his heart pain-pierced the while, with his stern, starved face, and his lips stone-pale, Shuddered and smiled his twisted smile: "Brother, I guess you go to gaol.
" While poor Brown in the leer of dawn wrestled with God for the sacred fire, Came there a woman weak and wan, out of the mob, the murk, the mire; Frail as a reed, a fellow ghost, weary with woe, with sorrowing; Two pale souls in the legion lost; lo! Love bent with a tender wing, Taught them a joy so deep, so true, it seemed that the whole-world fabric shook, Thrilled and dissolved in radiant dew; then Brown made him a golden book, Full of the faith that Life is good, that the earth is a dream divinely fair, Lauding his gem of womanhood in many a lyric rich and rare; Took it to Jones, who shook his head: "I will consider it," he said.
While he considered, Brown's wife lay clutched in the tentacles of pain; Then came the doctor, grave and grey; spoke of decline, of nervous strain; Hinted Egypt, the South of France -- Brown with terror was tiger-gripped.
Where was the money? What the chance? Pitiful God! .
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the manuscript! A thousand dollars! his only hope! he gazed and gazed at the garret wall.
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Reached at last for the envelope, turned to his wife and told her all.
Told of his friend, his promise true; told like his very heart would break: "Oh, my dearest! what shall I do? shall I not sell it for your sake?" Ghostlike she lay, as still as doom; turned to the wall her weary head; Icy-cold in the pallid gloom, silent as death .
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at last she said: "Do! my husband? Keep your vow! Guard his secret and let me die.
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Oh, my dear, I must tell you now -- the women he loved and wronged was I; Darling! I haven't long to live: I never told you -- forgive, forgive!" For a long, long time Brown did not speak; sat bleak-browed in the wretched room; Slowly a tear stole down his cheek, and he kissed her hand in the dismal gloom.
To break his oath, to brand her shame; his well-loved friend, his worshipped wife; To keep his vow, to save her name, yet at the cost of what? Her life! A moment's space did he hesitate, a moment of pain and dread and doubt, Then he broke the seals, and, stern as fate, unfolded the sheets and spread them out.
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On his knees by her side he limply sank, peering amazed -- each page was blank.
(For oh, the supremest of our art are the stories we do not dare to tell, Locked in the silence of the heart, for the awful records of Heav'n and Hell.
) Yet those two in the silence there, seemed less weariful than before.
Hark! a step on the garret stair, a postman knocks at the flimsy door.
"Registered letter!" Brown thrills with fear; opens, and reads, then bends above: "Glorious tidings! Egypt, dear! The book is accepted -- life and love.
"

Written by Robert William Service |

Courage

 Today I opened wide my eyes,
And stared with wonder and surprise,
To see beneath November skies
An apple blossom peer;
Upon a branch as bleak as night
It gleamed exultant on my sight,
A fairy beacon burning bright
Of hope and cheer.
"Alas!" said I, "poor foolish thing, Have you mistaken this for Spring? Behold, the thrush has taken wing, And Winter's near.
" Serene it seemed to lift its head: "The Winter's wrath I do not dread, Because I am," it proudly said, "A Pioneer.
"Some apple blossom must be first, With beauty's urgency to burst Into a world for joy athirst, And so I dare; And I shall see what none shall see - December skies gloom over me, And mock them with my April glee, And fearless fare.
"And I shall hear what none shall hear - The hardy robin piping clear, The Storm King gallop dark and drear Across the sky; And I shall know what none shall know - The silent kisses of the snow, The Christmas candles' silver glow, Before I die.
"Then from your frost-gemmed window pane One morning you will look in vain, My smile of delicate disdain No more to see; But though I pass before my time, And perish in the grale and grime, Maybe you'll have a little rhyme To spare for me.
"

Written by Robert William Service |

Why Do Birds Sing?

 Let poets piece prismatic words,
Give me the jewelled joy of birds!

What ecstasy moves them to sing?
Is it the lyric glee of Spring,
The dewy rapture of the rose?
Is it the worship born in those
Who are of Nature's self a part,
The adoration of the heart?

Is it the mating mood in them
That makes each crystal note a gem?
Oh mocking bird and nightingale,
Oh mavis, lark and robin - hail!
Tell me what perfect passion glows
In your inspired arpeggios?

A thrush is thrilling as I write
Its obligato of delight;
And in its fervour, as in mine,
I fathom tenderness divine,
And pity those of earthy ear
Who cannot hear .
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who cannot hear.
Let poets pattern pretty words: For lovely largesse - bless you, Birds!

Written by Robert William Service |

The Joy Of Little Things

 It's good the great green earth to roam,
Where sights of awe the soul inspire;
But oh, it's best, the coming home,
The crackle of one's own hearth-fire!
You've hob-nobbed with the solemn Past;
You've seen the pageantry of kings;
Yet oh, how sweet to gain at last
The peace and rest of Little Things!

Perhaps you're counted with the Great;
You strain and strive with mighty men;
Your hand is on the helm of State;
Colossus-like you stride .
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and then There comes a pause, a shining hour, A dog that leaps, a hand that clings: O Titan, turn from pomp and power; Give all your heart to Little Things.
Go couch you childwise in the grass, Believing it's some jungle strange, Where mighty monsters peer and pass, Where beetles roam and spiders range.
'Mid gloom and gleam of leaf and blade, What dragons rasp their painted wings! O magic world of shine and shade! O beauty land of Little Things! I sometimes wonder, after all, Amid this tangled web of fate, If what is great may not be small, And what is small may not be great.
So wondering I go my way, Yet in my heart contentment sings .
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O may I ever see, I pray, God's grace and love in Little Things.
So give to me, I only beg, A little roof to call my own, A little cider in the keg, A little meat upon the bone; A little garden by the sea, A little boat that dips and swings .
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Take wealth, take fame, but leave to me, O Lord of Life, just Little Things.

Written by Robert William Service |

My Dentist

 Sitting in the dentist's chair,
Wishing that I wasn't there,
To forget and pass the time
I have made this bit of rhyme.
I had a rendez-vous at ten; I rushed to get in line, But found a lot of dames and men Had waited there since nine; I stared at them, then in an hour Was blandly ushered in; But though my face was grim and sour He met me with a grin.
He told me of his horse of blood, And how it "also ran", He plans to own a racing stud - (He seems a wealthy man.
) And then he left me there until I growled: "At any rate, I hope he'll not charge in his bill For all the time I wait.
" His wife has sables on her back, With jewels she's ablaze; She drives a stately Cadillac, And I'm the mug who pays: At least I'm one of those who peer With pessimistic gloom At magazines of yester-year In his damn waiting room.
I am a Christian Scientist; I don't believe in pain; My dentist had a powerful wrist, He tries and tries in vain To make me grunt or groan or squeal With probe or rasp or drill.
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But oh, what agony I feel When HE PRESENTS HIS BILL! Sitting in the dental chair, Don't you wish you weren't there: Well, your cup of woe to fill, Just think of his infernal bill.

Written by Robert William Service |

The Living Dead

 Since I have come to years sedate
I see with more and more acumen
The bitter irony of Fate,
The vanity of all things human.
Why, just to-day some fellow said, As I surveyed Fame's outer portal: "By gad! I thought that you were dead.
" Poor me, who dreamed to be immortal! But that's the way with many men Whose name one fancied time-defying; We thought that they were dust and then We found them living by their dying.
Like dogs we penmen have our day, To brief best-sellerdom elected; And then, "thumbs down," we slink away And die forgotten and neglected.
Ah well, my lyric fling I've had; A thousand bits of verse I've minted; And some, alas! were very bad, And some, alack! were best unprinted.
But if I've made my muse a bawd (Since I am earthy as a ditch is), I'll answer humbly to my God: Most men at times have toyed with bitches.
Yes, I have played with Lady Rhyme, And had a long and lovely innings; And when the Umpire calls my time I'll blandly quit and take my winnings.
I'll hie me to some Sleepydale, And feed the ducks and pat the poodles, And prime my paunch with cakes and ale, And blether with the village noodles.
And then some day you'll idly scan The Times obituary column, And say: "Dear me, the poor old man!" And for a moment you'll look solemn.
"So all this time he's been alive - In realms of rhyme a second-rater .
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But gad! to live to ninety-five: Let's toast his ghost - a sherry, waiter!"

Written by Robert William Service |

The Call Of The Wild

 Have you gazed on naked grandeur where there's nothing else to gaze on,
 Set pieces and drop-curtain scenes galore,
Big mountains heaved to heaven, which the blinding sunsets blazon,
 Black canyons where the rapids rip and roar?
Have you swept the visioned valley with the green stream streaking through it,
 Searched the Vastness for a something you have lost?
Have you strung your soul to silence? Then for God's sake go and do it;
 Hear the challenge, learn the lesson, pay the cost.
Have you wandered in the wilderness, the sagebrush desolation, The bunch-grass levels where the cattle graze? Have you whistled bits of rag-time at the end of all creation, And learned to know the desert's little ways? Have you camped upon the foothills, have you galloped o'er the ranges, Have you roamed the arid sun-lands through and through? Have you chummed up with the mesa? Do you know its moods and changes? Then listen to the Wild -- it's calling you.
Have you known the Great White Silence, not a snow-gemmed twig aquiver? (Eternal truths that shame our soothing lies.
) Have you broken trail on snowshoes? mushed your huskies up the river, Dared the unknown, led the way, and clutched the prize? Have you marked the map's void spaces, mingled with the mongrel races, Felt the savage strength of brute in every thew? And though grim as hell the worst is, can you round it off with curses? Then hearken to the Wild -- it's wanting you.
Have you suffered, starved and triumphed, groveled down, yet grasped at glory, Grown bigger in the bigness of the whole? "Done things" just for the doing, letting babblers tell the story, Seeing through the nice veneer the naked soul? Have you seen God in His splendors, heard the text that nature renders? (You'll never hear it in the family pew.
) The simple things, the true things, the silent men who do things -- Then listen to the Wild -- it's calling you.
They have cradled you in custom, they have primed you with their preaching, They have soaked you in convention through and through; They have put you in a showcase; you're a credit to their teaching -- But can't you hear the Wild? -- it's calling you.
Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us; Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
There's a whisper on the night-wind, there's a star agleam to guide us, And the Wild is calling, calling .
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let us go.

Written by Robert William Service |

Making Good

 No man can be a failure if he thinks he's a success;
he may not own his roof-tree overhead,
He may be on his uppers and have hocked his evening dress -
(Financially speaking - in the red)
He may have chronic shortage to repay the old home mortgage,
And almost be a bankrupt in his biz.
, But though he skips his dinner, And each day he's growing thinner, If he thinks he is a winner, Then he is.
But when I say Success I mean the sublimated kind; A man may gain it yet be on the dole.
To me it's music of the heart and sunshine of the mind, Serenity and sweetness of the soul.
You may not have a brace of bucks to jingle in your jeans, Far less the dough to buy a motor car; But though the row you're hoeing May be grim, ungodly going, If you think the skies are glowing - Then they are.
For a poor man may be wealthy and a millionaire may fail, It all depends upon the point of view.
It's the sterling of your spirit tips the balance of the scale, It's optimism, and it's up to you.
For what I figure as success is simple Happiness, The consummate contentment of your mood: You may toil with brain and sinew, And though little wealth is win you, If there's health and hope within you - You've made good.

Written by Robert William Service |

My Will

 I've made my Will.
I don't believe In luxury and wealth; And to those loving ones who grieve My age and frailing health I give the meed to soothe their ways That they may happy be, And pass serenely all their days In snug security.
That duty done, I leave behind The all I have to give To crippled children and the blind Who lamentably live; Hoping my withered hand may freight To happiness a few Poor innocents whom cruel fate Has cheated of their due.
A am no grey philanthropist, Too humble is my lot Yet how I'm glad to give the grist My singing mill has brought.
For I have had such lyric days, So rich, so full, so sweet, That I with gratitude and praise Would make my life complete.
I'VE MADE MY WILL: now near the end, At peace with all mankind, To children lame I would be friend, And brother to the blind .
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And if there be a God, I pray He bless my last bequest, And in His love and pity say: "Good servant,--rest!"

Written by Robert William Service |

Birthday

 (16th January 1949)

I thank whatever gods may be
For all the happiness that's mine;
That I am festive, fit and free
To savour women, wit and wine;
That I may game of golf enjoy,
And have a formidable drive:
In short, that I'm a gay old boy
Though I be
 Seventy-and-five.
My daughter thinks.
because I'm old (I'm not a crock, when all is said), I mustn't let my feet get cold, And should wear woollen socks in bed; A worsted night-cap too, forsooth! To humour her I won't contrive: A man is in his second youth When he is Seventy-and-five.
At four-score years old age begins, And not till then, I warn my wife; At eighty I'll recant my sins, And live a staid and sober life.
But meantime let me whoop it up, And tell the world that I'm alive: Fill to the brim the bubbly cup - Here's health to Seventy-and-five!

Written by Robert William Service |

The Dreamer

 The lone man gazed and gazed upon his gold,
His sweat, his blood, the wage of weary days;
But now how sweet, how doubly sweet to hold
All gay and gleamy to the campfire blaze.
The evening sky was sinister and cold; The willows shivered, wanly lay the snow; The uncommiserating land, so old, So worn, so grey, so niggard in its woe, Peered through its ragged shroud.
The lone man sighed, Poured back the gaudy dust into its poke, Gazed at the seething river listless-eyed, Loaded his corn-cob pipe as if to smoke; Then crushed with weariness and hardship crept Into his ragged robe, and swiftly slept.
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Hour after hour went by; a shadow slipped From vasts of shadow to the camp-fire flame; Gripping a rifle with a deadly aim, A gaunt and hairy man with wolfish eyes .
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* * * * * * * The sleeper dreamed, and lo! this was his dream: He rode a streaming horse across a moor.
Sudden 'mid pit-black night a lightning gleam Showed him a way-side inn, forlorn and poor.
A sullen host unbarred the creaking door, And led him to a dim and dreary room; Wherein he sat and poked the fire a-roar, So that weird shadows jigged athwart the gloom.
He ordered wine.
'Od's blood! but he was tired.
What matter! Charles was crushed and George was King; His party high in power; how he aspired! Red guineas packed his purse, too tight to ring.
The fire-light gleamed upon his silken hose, His silver buckles and his powdered wig.
What ho! more wine! He drank, he slowly rose.
What made the shadows dance that madcap jig? He clutched the candle, steered his way to bed, And in a trice was sleeping like the dead.
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Across the room there crept, so shadow soft, His sullen host, with naked knife a-gleam, (A gaunt and hairy man with wolfish eyes.
) .
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And as he lay, the sleeper dreamed a dream.
* * * * * * 'Twas in a ruder land, a wilder day.
A rival princeling sat upon his throne, Within a dungeon, dark and foul he lay, With chains that bit and festered to the bone.
They haled him harshly to a vaulted room, Where One gazed on him with malignant eye; And in that devil-face he read his doom, Knowing that ere the dawn-light he must die.
Well, he was sorrow-glutted; let them bring Their prize assassins to the bloody work.
His kingdom lost, yet would he die a King, Fearless and proud, as when he faced the Turk.
Ah God! the glory of that great Crusade! The bannered pomp, the gleam, the splendid urge! The crash of reeking combat, blade to blade! The reeling ranks, blood-avid and a-surge! For long he thought; then feeling o'er him creep Vast weariness, he fell into a sleep.
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The cell door opened; soft the headsman came, Within his hand a mighty axe a-gleam, (A gaunt and hairy man with wolfish eyes,) .
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And as he lay, the sleeper dreamed a dream.
* * * * * * 'Twas in a land unkempt of life's red dawn; Where in his sanded cave he dwelt alone; Sleeping by day, or sometimes worked upon His flint-head arrows and his knives of stone; By night stole forth and slew the savage boar, So that he loomed a hunter of loud fame, And many a skin of wolf and wild-cat wore, And counted many a flint-head to his name; Wherefore he walked the envy of the band, Hated and feared, but matchless in his skill.
Till lo! one night deep in that shaggy land, He tracked a yearling bear and made his kill; Then over-worn he rested by a stream, And sank into a sleep too deep for dream.
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Hunting his food a rival caveman crept Through those dark woods, and marked him where he lay; Cowered and crawled upon him as he slept, Poising a mighty stone aloft to slay -- (A gaunt and hairy man with wolfish eyes.
) .
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* * * * * * The great stone crashed.
The Dreamer shrieked and woke, And saw, fear-blinded, in his dripping cell, A gaunt and hairy man, who with one stroke Swung a great ax of steel that flashed and fell .
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So that he woke amid his bedroom gloom, And saw, hair-poised, a naked, thirsting knife, A gaunt and hairy man with eyes of doom -- And then the blade plunged down to drink his life .
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So that he woke, wrenched back his robe, and looked, And saw beside his dying fire upstart A gaunt and hairy man with finger crooked -- A rifle rang, a bullet searched his heart .
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* * * * * * The morning sky was sinister and cold.
Grotesque the Dreamer sprawled, and did not rise.
For long and long there gazed upon some gold A gaunt and hairy man with wolfish eyes.

Written by Robert William Service |

A Hero

 Three times I had the lust to kill,
To clutch a throat so young and fair,
And squeeze with all my might until
No breath of being lingered there.
Three times I drove the demon out, Though on my brow was evil sweat.
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And yet I know beyond a doubt He'll get me yet, he'll get me yet.
I know I'm mad, I ought to tell The doctors, let them care for me, Confine me in a padded cell And never, never set me free; But Oh how cruel that would be! For I am young - and comely too .
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Yet dim my demon I can see, And there is but one thing to do.
Three times I beat the foul fiend back; The fourth, I know he will prevail, And so I'll seek the railway track And lay my head upon the rail, And sight the dark and distant train, And hear its thunder louder roll, Coming to crush my cursed brain .
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Oh God, have mercy on my soul!

Written by Robert William Service |

My Future

 "Let's make him a sailor," said Father,
"And he will adventure the sea.
" "A soldier," said Mother, "is rather What I would prefer him to be.
" "A lawyer," said Father, "would please me, For then he could draw up my will.
" "A doctor," said Mother, "would ease me; Maybe he could give me a pill.
" Said Father: "Lt's make him a curate, A Bishop in gaiters to be.
" Said Mother: "I couldn't endure it To have Willie preaching to me.
" Said Father: ""Let him be a poet; So often he's gathering wool.
" Said Mother with temper: "Oh stow it! You know it, a poet's a fool.
" Said Farther: "Your son is a duffer, A stupid and mischievous elf.
" Said Mother, who's rather a huffer: "That's right - he takes after yourself.
" Controlling parental emotion They turned to me, seeking a cue, And sudden conceived the bright notion To ask what I wanted to do.
Said I: "my ambition is modest: A clown in a circus I'd be, And turn somersaults in the sawdust With audience laughing at me.
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Poor parents! they're dead and decaying, But I am a clown as you see; And though in no circus I'm playing, How people are laughing at me!

Written by Robert William Service |

Birthdays

 Let us have birthdays every day,
(I had the thought while I was shaving)
Because a birthday should be gay,
And full of grace and good behaving.
We can't have cakes and candles bright, And presents are beyond our giving, But let lt us cherish with delight The birthday way of lovely living.
For I have passed three-score and ten And I can count upon my fingers The years I hope to bide with men, (Though by God's grace one often lingers.
) So in the summers left to me, Because I'm blest beyond my merit, I hope with gratitude and glee To sparkle with the birthday spirit.
Let me inform myself each day Who's proudmost on the natal roster; If Washington or Henry Clay, Or Eugene Field or Stephen Foster.
oh lots of famous folks I'll find Who more than measure to my rating, And so thanksgivingly inclined Their birthdays I'll be celebrating.
For Oh I know the cheery glow| Of Anniversary rejoicing; Let me reflect its radiance so My daily gladness I'll be voicing.
And though I'm stooped and silver-haired, Let me with laughter make the hearth gay, So by the gods I may be spared Each year to hear: "Pop, Happy Birthday.
"

Written by Robert William Service |

Your Poem

 My poem may be yours indeed
In melody and tone,
If in its rhythm you can read
A music of your own;
If in its pale woof you can weave
Your lovelier design,
'Twill make my lyric, I believe,
 More yours than mine.
I'm but a prompter at the best; Crude cues are all I give.
In simple stanzas I suggest - 'Tis you who make them live.
My bit of rhyme is but a frame, And if my lines you quote, I think, although they bear my name, 'Tis you who wrote.
Yours is the beauty that you see In any words I sing; The magic and the melody 'Tis you, dear friend, who bring.
Yea, by the glory and the gleam, The loveliness that lures Your thought to starry heights of dream, The poem's yours.