ExtendedPublished by Webmaster on 07/21/2003 (45093 reads)
Heart trouble interrupted his novel writing, but led to a health book, published eventually. Why Not Grow Young? Or, Living for Longevity (London: Ernest Benn, 1928). He returned to thrillers with The Master of the Microbe. A Fantastic Romance (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1926), about a novelist who visits the underworld of Paris for material. His last novel, The House of Fear. A Novel (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1927), dripping with murder in the French countryside, is dedicated to his mother.
Service became increasingly interested in the Marxist movement through the thirties. He himself had acquired capital by writing about labor. He would dress down and stand at the edge of leftist demonstrations in Paris. In 1937 he took a government tour of the Soviet Union, and went again in 1938. The second trip was interrupted by news of the Hitler-Stalin pact. Service fled across Poland, Latvia, Estonia and the Baltic to Stockholm. He wintered in Nice with his family, then fled France for Canada. The Germany Army arrived at his home in Lancieux not far behind him, looking specifically for the poet who had mocked Hitler in newspaper verse.
After greeting friends and family across Canada, Service settled the family in Hollywood in December, 1940. The Collected Vers of Robert Service (London: Ernest Benn, 1930) had already appeared, and The Complete Poems of Robert Service (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1933). Though he would write and publish verse until his death, he was in a period of retrospection. Twenty Bath-Tub Ballads (London: Francis, Day and Hunter, 1939) and Bar-Room Ballads (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1940) are miscellanies of stray verse, not the reasoned collections he had written since Ballads of a Cheechako.
He made personal and radio appearances, and even appeared as "The Poet" in a Klondike movie, The Spoilers (Universal Pictures, 1940. Produced by Frank Lloyd, directed by Ray Enright, screenplay by Lawrence Hazard and Tom Reed from the novel by Rex Beach). He was thrilled to play a scene with Marlene Dietrich. But his energies went into his memoir, Ploughman of the Moon. An Adventure into Memory. (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1945). The book deals only with his youth, the forty years up to the time he left Dawson.
The Services hurried back to France four months after the victory in Europe, on an empty troop ship returning for more soldiers. They found their Paris apartment safe, but the house at Lancieux was demolished. They rebuilt. Service summered there, and wintered at his villa in Monte Carlo, until he died of a heart attack at Lancieux on September 11, 1958. He was buried nearby.
The poet's last years were full of writing. He published a second memoir, Harper of Heaven. A Record of Radiant Living (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1948), that ends with the return to his shattered home. Then came a series of poetry collections: Songs of a Sun-Lover. A Book of Light Verse (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1949.) Rhymes of Roughneck. A Book of Verse (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1950), Lyrics of a Lowbrow. A Book of Verse (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1951.), Rhymes of a Rebel. A Book of Verse (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1952), Songs for my Supper (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1953), Carols of an Old Codger (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1955), Rhymes for My Rags (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1956). These are gathered in More Collected Verse (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1955) and Later Collected Verse (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1960).
The poems for which Robert William Service is now remembered are all contained in his first book, Songs of a Sourdough, available within the Collected Poems of Robert Service. His life story is best told in his own two memoirs, Ploughman of the Moon and Harper of Heaven. Inaccuracies and gaps in these accounts are dealt with in Carl F. Klinck's Robert Service: A Biography (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1976.) Klinck, an historian of Canadian literature, also offers a bibliography that sorts out Service's first editions in Canada, England, and the United States.
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