Sunday, January 24, 2010
Our Heroes in Red
Clancy of the Mounted Police
(On a rescue mission for a crazed miner stranded by Winter's worst)
...Said the Wild, "I will crush this Clancy, so fearless and insolent;
For him will I loose my fury, and blind and buffet and beat;
Pile up my snows to stay him; then when his strength is spent,
Leap on him from my ambush and crush him under my feet.
"Him will I ring with my silence, compass him with my cold;
Closer and closer clutch him unto mine icy breast;
Buffet him with my blizzards, deep in my snows enfold,
Claiming his life as my tribute, giving my wolves the rest."
Clancy crawled through the vastness; o'er him the hate of the Wild;
Full on his face fell the blizzard; cheering his huskies he ran;
Fighting, fierce-hearted and tireless, snows that drifted and piled,
With ever and ever behind him singing the crazy man.
"Sing hey, sing ho, for the ice and snow,
And a heart that's ever merry;
Let us trim and square with a lover's care
(For why should a man be sorry?)
A grave deep, deep, with the moon a-peep,
A grave in the frozen mould.
Sing hey, sing ho, for the winds that blow,
And a grave deep down in the ice and snow,
A grave in the land of gold."
Day after day of darkness, the whirl of the seething snows;
Day after day of blindness, the swoop of the stinging blast;
On through a blur of fury the swing of staggering blows;
On through a world of turmoil, empty, inane and vast.
Night with its writhing storm-whirl, night despairingly black;
Night with its hours of terror, numb and endlessly long;
Night with its weary waiting, fighting the shadows back,
And ever the crouching madman singing his crazy song.
Cold with its creeping terror, cold with its sudden clinch;
Cold so utter you wonder if 'twill ever again be warm;
Clancy grinned as he shuddered, "Surely it isn't a cinch
Being wet-nurse to a looney in the teeth of an arctic storm."
The blizzard passed and the dawn broke, knife-edged and crystal clear;
The sky was a blue-domed iceberg, sunshine outlawed away;
Ever by snowslide and ice-rip haunted and hovered the Fear;
Ever the Wild malignant poised and panted to slay.
The lead-dog freezes in harness -- cut him out of the team!
The lung of the wheel-dog's bleeding -- shoot him and let him lie!
On and on with the others -- lash them until they scream!
"Pull for your lives, you devils! On! To halt is to die."
There in the frozen vastness Clancy fought with his foes;
The ache of the stiffened fingers, the cut of the snowshoe thong;
Cheeks black-raw through the hood-flap, eyes that tingled and closed,
And ever to urge and cheer him quavered the madman's song.
Colder it grew and colder, till the last heat left the earth,
And there in the great stark stillness the bale fires glinted and gleamed,
And the Wild all around exulted and shook with a devilish mirth,
And life was far and forgotten, the ghost of a joy once dreamed.
Death! And one who defied it, a man of the Mounted Police;
Fought it there to a standstill long after hope was gone;
Grinned through his bitter anguish, fought without let or cease,
Suffering, straining, striving, stumbling, struggling on.
Till the dogs lay down in their traces, and rose and staggered and fell;
Till the eyes of him dimmed with shadows, and the trail was so hard to see;
Till the Wild howled out triumphant, and the world was a frozen hell --
Then said Constable Clancy: "I guess that it's up to me."
Far down the trail they saw him, and his hands they were blanched like bone;
His face was a blackened horror, from his eyelids the salt rheum ran;
His feet he was lifting strangely, as if they were made of stone,
But safe in his arms and sleeping he carried the crazy man.
So Clancy got into Barracks, and the boys made rather a scene;
And the O. C. called him a hero, and was nice as a man could be;
But Clancy gazed down his trousers at the place where his toes had been,
And then he howled like a husky, and sang in a shaky key:
"When I go back to the old love that's true to the finger-tips,
I'll say: 'Here's bushels of gold, love,' and I'll kiss my girl on the lips;
'It's yours to have and to hold, love.' It's the proud, proud boy I'll be,
When I go back to the old love that's waited so long for me."
(Portion of a long narrative poem by Robert Service in Ballads of a Cheechako)