A beggar in the street I saw, Who held a hand like withered claw, As cold as clay; But as I had no silver groat To give, I buttoned up my coat And turned away.
And then I watched a working wife Who bore the bitter load of life With lagging limb; A penny from her purse she took, And with sweet pity in her look Gave it to him.
Anon I spied a shabby dame Who fed six sparrows as they came In famished flight; She was so poor and frail and old, Yet crumbs of her last crust she doled With pure delight.
Then sudden in my heart was born For my sleek self a savage scorn,– Urge to atone; So when a starving cur I saw I bandaged up its bleeding paw And bought a bone.
For God knows it is good to give; We may not have so long to live, So if we can, Let’s do each day a kindly deed, And stretch a hand to those in need, Bird, beast or man.
Robert William Service (1874 – 1958) was a British-Canadian poet and writer, often called “the Bard of the Yukon”. Born in Lancashire of Scottish descent, he was a bank clerk by trade, but spent long periods travelling in Western America and Canada, often in some poverty. When his bank sent him to the Yukon, he was inspired by tales of the Klondike Gold Rush, and wrote two poems “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” and “The Cremation of Sam McGee“, which enjoyed immediate popularity. Encouraged by this, he quickly wrote more poems on the same theme, which were published as Songs of a Sourdough (re-titled The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses in the US.), and achieved a massive sale. When his next collection Ballads of a Cheechak proved equally successful, Service could afford to travel widely and live a leisurely life, basing himself in Paris and the French Riviera. Partly because of their popularity, and the speed with which he wrote them, his works were dismissed as doggerel by the critics, who were tending to say the same of Kipling, with whom Service was often compared. This did not worry Service, who was happy to classify his work as “verse, not poetry”.