Robert Service and the Battle of the Bulge

“The Arctic trails have their secret tales that would make your blood run cold.” — Robert Service

Bust of Robert Service. Public domain.

Last week Medium writer and playwright Steve Newman (no relation) published a brief account of the life of Robert Service. A contemporary of Jack London, though from different sides of the Atlantic, both men had experiences in the Yukon during the gold rush heyday, thereby providing fodder for stories as well as insights about human nature.

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Image for post
Public domain.

It brought to mind a book of poems by Robert Service that I’d read several decades ago, and birthed the notion that it might be interesting to share a poem by the man.

The Poetry Foundation has a wonderful website for fans of poetry, by the way. Nearly every poet of significance is catalogued here, with a brief bio and selections from their works. Robert Burns, Robert Browning, Henry Timrod, Thoreau, Keats, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Langston Hughes, etc. etc. etc.

If you’re familiar with Robert Service even just a little you’ll know he has a comic side that is bubbling with wit. To be honest, however, I’d pretty much forgotten him other than I associated his name with good feelings. That is, the specific memories were long ago washed into the sea but the feeling of having enjoyed reading him was left behind like shells on a beach.

So, I found his page at The Poetry Foundation site and read the titles of his poems, looking for somewhere to begin. One of the first my eye spied was The Battle of the Bulge. My grandfather’s younger brother Jesse was wounded in that battle during WWII. A piece of shrapnel sliced his face. He was only 20 and a long way from home.

Because of this memory (actually a fond one because when I knew him he was a cheerful, good-hearted older man) I decided to read first the Robert Service poem The Battle of the Bulge, which wasn’t about WWII at all.

The Battle of the Bulge

This year an ocean trip I took, and as I am a Scot
And like to get my money’s worth I never missed a meal.
In spite of Neptune’s nastiness I ate an awful lot,
Yet felt as fit as if we sailed upon an even keel.
But now that I am home again I’m stricken with disgust;
How many pounds of fat I’ve gained I’d rather not divulge:
Well, anyway, I mean to take this tummy down or bust,
So here I’m suet-strafing in the
Battle of the Bulge.

No more will sausage, bacon, eggs provide my breakfast fare;
On lobster I will never lunch, with mounds of mayonnaise.
At tea I’ll Spartanly eschew the chocolate éclair;
Roast duckling and pêche melba shall not consummate my days.
No more nocturnal ice-box raids, midnight spaghetti feeds;
On slabs of pâté de foie gras I vow I won’t indulge:
Let bran and cottage cheese suffice my gastronomic needs,
And lettuce be my ally in the
Battle of the Bulge.

To hell with you, ignoble paunch, abhorrent in my sight!
I gaze at your rotundity, and savage is my frown.
I’ll rub you and I’ll scrub you and I’ll drub you day and night,
But by the gods of symmetry I swear I’ll get you down.
Your smooth and smug convexity, by heck! I will subdue,
And when you tucker in again with joy will I refulge;
No longer of my toes will you obstruct my downward view …
With might and main I’ll fight to gain the
Battle of the Bulge.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj

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