The Road Not Taken: a Journal of Formal Poetry - Winter, 2010   

Winter, 2010

  • Joyful Holidays

    A very Merry Christmas and God Bless us all, everyone. (Spoken by Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens)

    As I write this, it is Christmas Eve, to me a time of great hope, a time for peace, a time when the Earth is touched by the divine and all the world is silent.

    The sun has reached it’s southernmost point of travel and begun it’s slow return northward. Shortly, I’ll kick-back with a glass of eggnog and enjoy the rest of the evening. Despite the 30 degree temperature outdoors, it’s warm in my study and I am content with the past year.

    In honor of the extreme cold (single digits) we here in the Pacific Northwest recently endured, and the winter storm currently sweeping the nation, I herewith present one of my favorite cold weather poems by one of my favorite poets, Robert William Service. May you never be as cold as Sam McGee. If you would like to read more of Service’s poetry, visit our index of classic poets we have made available here, and click on his name to read “The Shooting of Dan McGrew.&ldquo

  • Robert William Service (January 16, 1874 – September 11, 1958)


    Robert William Service was a poet and writer, sometimes referred to as the Bard of the Yukon. He is best-known for his writings on the Canadian North, including the poems The Shooting of Dan McGrew, The Law of the Yukon, and The Cremation of Sam McGee. His writing was so expressive that his readers took him for a hard-bitten old Klondike prospector, not the later-arriving bank clerk he actually was.

    In addition to his Yukon works, Service also wrote poetry set in locales as diverse as South Africa, Afghanistan, and New Zealand. His writing has a decidedly British Empire point of view.


    The Cremation of Sam McGee
    by Robert William Service

    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 Lebarge
      I cremated Sam McGee.

    Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.
    Why he left his home in the South to roam ’round the Pole, God only knows.
    He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;
    Though he’d often say in his homely way that he’d sooner live in hell.

    On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail.
    Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail.
    If our eyes we’d close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn’t see;
    It wasn’t much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee.

    And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow,
    And the dogs were fed, and the stars o’erhead were dancing heel and toe,
    He turned to me, and Cap, says he, I’ll cash in this trip, I guess;
    And if I do, I’m asking that you won’t refuse my last request.

    Well, he seemed so low that I couldn’t say no; then he says with a sort of moan:
    It’s the cursèd cold, and it’s got right hold, till I’m chilled clean through to the bone.
    Yet ’tain’t being dead — it’s my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;
    So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you’ll cremate my last remains.

    A pal’s last need is a thing to heed, so I swore I would not fail;
    And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.
    He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;
    And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.

    There wasn’t a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven,
    With a corpse half hid that I couldn’t get rid, because of a promise given;
    It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: You may tax your brawn and brains,
    But you promised true, and it’s up to you, to cremate those last remains.

    Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code.
    In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load.
    In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, while the huskies, round in a ring,
    Howled out their woes to the homeless snows — Oh God! how I loathed the thing.

    And every day that quiet clay seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
    And on I went, though the dogs were spent and the grub was getting low;
    The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;
    And I’d often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.

    Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay;
    It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice it was called the Alice May.
    And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum;
    Then Here, said I, with a sudden cry, is my cre-ma-tor-eum.

    Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;
    Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher;
    The flames just soared, and the furnace roared — such a blaze you seldom see;
    And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

    Then I made a hike, for I didn’t like to hear him sizzle so;
    And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, and the wind began to blow.
    It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don’t know why;
    And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky.

    I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;
    But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;
    I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: I’ll just take a peep inside.
    I guess he’s cooked, and it’s time I looked
    ; … then the door I opened wide.

    And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;
    And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and said: Please close that door.
    It’s fine in here, but I greatly fear, you’ll let in the cold and storm —
    Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.

    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 Lebarge
      I cremated Sam McGee.

  • Now we’ve returned from our walk in the winter woods, let’s curl-up by the fire with a hot drink of choice and enjoy listening to the fine poetry served up by our newest contributors.

  • Ron Arnold


    I am a freelance writer of poetry and fiction. My poems have been published in the following magazines:

    1. Blueline – Blueberry Patch and In the Wake of the Whiteout (spring 2009, Volume 30)

    2. Capper’s - Bluebirds (January 20, 2004), What I miss (November 9, 2004), Unwrapping Our Hearts (December 2007)

    3. Illya’s Honey - Vacancy in Shangri-la (spring/summer 2007)

    4. Nomad’s Choir – Islands of Wildness (spring 2009)

    5. The Poet’s Pen - Morning Gold and Still Life of a Scarlet Macaw (winter 2005), Backwater Pond..., My Babbling Brook, and Winter Pageant (fall 2006), Shenandoah Sunrise (summer 2008)


    Reign of Innocence
    by Ron Arnold

    Stepping through a tangle
    of broken branches and crumbled crowns
    in a grove of red oak that once rose like kings
    i am surprised to see

    Liquid gold pouring
    through gaps to lift up wildflowers
    and frame swallowtails floating and gliding
    in a surreal fantasy.

    For the kettledrum roll
    of clouds colliding and lightning’s leap
    is all I recall as Nature’s roaring
    breath blew about debris.

    So now I rise above fear
    and leave behind heartbreak and pain
    to be renewed in this moment knowing
    i am a blessed refugee.

  • John Grey


    I have been published recently in the Georgetown Review, Connecticut Review, South Carolina Review and The Pedestal, with work upcoming in Poetry East and The Pinch.


    Taking Her Cure
    by John Grey

    “Look” she pointed, in crisp night air,
    “Be still as stars,” as if star’s glow
    Were ever still, its far light show,
    And twinkling fire, just memory where
    In darkling sky, we hail it there,
    Burned gas, a million years ago
    Now reaching us, and apropos
    Of filling in for hope or care.

    Why not stare at the creaking mill,
    Find sympathy in supermart,
    Or bloodshot houses on the hill
    At sunset, then hear someone start
    On how the stars come down, instill
    Their bright cures in the sick of heart.


    Diary in the Attic
    by John Grey

    The diary pages curl like onions dried,
    Stored as they are in darkness twenty years,
    They crackle in the flash-light, in the tears
    That gather in their cracks, moist, undented,
    Like lint to wounds, still lovingly applied
    To moments and their ghosts, to ancient fears
    Of failure, briefest triumphs, unchecked cheers
    At one small gift or sweet glance or aside.

    Outside the room, snow falls unheard, unseen,
    It stows the house in trunks of purest white,
    Annuls the landscape slowly and serene,
    Its soundless binding shuttering the night
    Like fodder that our times have always been
    For all our futures’ bright inquiring light.

  • Leticia Austria


    Native Texan Leticia Austria is a former operatic coach, pianist, and would-be nun. Her childhood love of writing poetry was rekindled while in the monastery. She now cares for her parents in San Antonio and continues to hone her poetic craft. Her work has appeared in printed journals such as The Lyric, The Eclectic Muse, The Storyteller, WestWard Quarterly, and Time of Singing, and in the online journal The Road Not Taken: A Journal of Formal Poetry. She will be the featured poet in an upcoming issue of Decanto. Ms. Austria has also won top prizes from The Laurel Crown Foundation and Utmost Christian Poets.


    The Rain Lily
    by Leticia Austria

    Beneath this crusted soil I shall await
    the rain. Beneath the weight of withering roots
    of weeds, I’ll bide my time. It is the fate
    allotted me. Inert yet resolute,

    I have the shell of unremitting trust
    in which to sleep, the pearl protection of
    the waiting yet to rise, of those who must
    depend upon the water from above

    to fall and break the drought. For it shall fall
    someday, as surely as this ground is dry:
    it is the compensation for us all.
    The day will come when I shall see the sky.

  • John Byrne


    I live in Albany, Oregon and I write formal verse, short stories and puppet plays. In another life, I worked as an attorney for labor unions and employees. You have been kind enough to publish some of my work in the past. Other poems have appeared in Umbrella Journal, Lucid Rhythms and 14 by 14. Recent work is also scheduled to appear in the next issues of Literary Bohemian and Centrifugal Eye.


    Each Day
    by John Byrne

    Each day, with hand in hand, he walks her home.
    They kiss and murmur secrets by her door
    Until she walks him back half-way or more
    To kiss again, then finally walk alone

    But not without a thousand turnings back.
    All this I know because their to’s and fro’s
    Occur in front of me. I’m older, so
    Invisible — but while it’s true I lack

    An innocence of love, I’m not so old
    To not remember when a gesture made
    Or broke an afternoon and not so cold
    I cannot feel the hand that would persuade
    Another lingering and not so bold
    To not appreciate the one who stayed.

  • Joan M. Howard


    I am a teacher who studied English Literature at the University of Georgia, and I have been published in The Lyric. I currently reside on Lake Chatuge in Hiawassee, Georgia, the inspiration for this poem.


    A Ride in the Boat
    by Joan M. Howard

    Beautiful waters' black diamonds
    Traced golden, dawn's cross currents form,
    Flow under and over all surface;
    Lapped cradle on sun crystals borne.

    So soft, no hand could sense it,
    So clear the transfixing breath,
    So swift descent into silver
    One intricate, infinite death.

  • C. B. Anderson

    C. B. Anderson was the longtime gardener for the PBS television series, "The Victory Garden." His poems have appeared in numerous print and electronic journals, most recently Blue Unicorn, Nassau Review, Innisfree, and Lucid Rhythms. His e-chapbook, A Walk in the Dark, is posted on the website of The New Formalist Press.


    by C.B. Anderson

    Depending on the way you look at things,
    that wholesome face you stroked then later kissed
    repulses or attracts you. Squinting brings
    into fine focus tiny flaws you missed

    in the first flush of love. If longing lets
    your gaze go soft again, those faults you’re sure
    you saw when lust had simmered down are debts
    forgiven, as this quick and painless cure

    for borrowed trouble lends new light. Your stone-
    cold scrutiny, perceiving feet of clay,
    will surely mark the graves of chances blown
    if warming words remain unspoken. Pray

    that memories of the way you were beheld
    on blind and boundless evenings when you chose
    and were the chosen (How contentment welled
    those nights!) will now remind you to compose

    a few short lines of steamy prose for one
    who sought to overlook your gaping cracks
    while lilac music chased the setting sun.
    Command your pressing pupils to relax.


    The Night after Christmas
    by C.B. Anderson

    You better not cry.

    "Deplorable" might be how best to put
    it, just to underscore the gravity
    of chores that border on depravity,
    begriming Santa’s uniform with soot.

    a chimney’s not an option for the Chosen
    if any other path is close at hand,
    and empty hearths are not the Promised Land
    when toes and fingers are completely frozen.

    If nothing else, he’s been a model martyr,
    a sacrificial icon with a gift
    for giving freely — not a slave to thrift,
    an Indian giver, or a man to barter.

    St. Nicholas (or simply Santa Claus)
    is most admired when he’s successful entering
    without the breaking, admiration centering
    on voidance of both Man’s and Nature’s laws.

    It’s hard to say how long he has to live —
    his tenure spans so many generations —
    but everyone from all the Christian nations
    should mind his moral to forgive and give.

    Like him, the rest of us are aging fast —
    but lack for words or deeds of simple kindness,
    received or duly paid. We feign a blindness
    to how each deed and word might be the last.

    When all is said and done, and we’re too old
    to wonder if there really is a Santa,
    it’s time to sit the children down and plant a
    belief in what will help them stand the cold.


    Would you like to see your poems published here?

    We want to publish high quality formal, metric poetry. We are now publishing here online four times each year. If you have some work you’d like to see in this journal send it to: We will try to respond within a month. And thank you.