The WomenPublished by Webmaster on 07/21/2003 (8524 reads)
The Women in Robert's Poems
by Art Ude
From Lady Lou and Gumboot Sue to Montreal Maree,
Those gals in writ like Klondike Kit or, tragically, Florrie,
Those dames whereof I've come to love (sans immorality),
Whose fame and shame and name you'll find in Robert's poetry.
Ladies of the "Sisterhood of Shame"
It is probably his "ladies of the sisterhood of shame" that brought you to this page (you'll find a list at the bottom) but it would be unfair not to examine all of Robert's women. In his later years Service wrote several poems on children and his granddaughter. These are flattering, nostalgic, and sentimental. An example is Balloon from Rhymes For My Rags.
I bought my little grandchild Ann
A bright balloon, And I was such a happy man
To hear her croon.
She laughed and babbled with delight,
So gold its glow,
As by a thread she held it tight,
Then - let it go.
As if it gloried to be free.
It climbed the sky;
But oh how sorrowful was she,
And sad was I!
And when at eve with sobbing cry
She saw the moon,
She pleaded to the pensive sky
For her balloon.
Oh Little One, I pray that you
In years to be,
Will hold a tiny baby too,
And know its glee;
That yours will always be the thrill
And joy of June,
And that you never, never will
Cry for the moon.
But even in these poems written near the end of his career we can find the Service of old. Take a look at The Pretty Lady on a train also from Rhymes For My Rags.
It can be claimed that Service had a chauvinistic attitude toward women. There is ample evidence of this. In the first half of the 20th century this view could easily be described as "traditional" or, at worst, "old fashioned." What liberated women of today would find satisfaction in Cinderella from Rhymes of a Roughneck or The Mother from Rhymes of a Rolling Stone. Or try these two from Rhymes of a Roughneck and Songs For My Supper
| The Spinster |
With him I loved I might have wed
He had the choice between us two,
And he a slattern has for keeps,
The Girls of Long Ago
I rate the girls of long ago
At home how gladly they would wait
My mother was that kind of girl,
And there is also the noble side that Robert dramatizes so well in these two from Rhymes of a Red Cross Man: Cocotte and Fleurette.
However it is in the early ballads and verse that we find the women we have come to love best. These are a salty lot, Lady Lou from Dangerous Dan being the most famous. When questioned by a deacon of the church who had found his wife reading one of Service's book, as to why he only wrote about bad women of the town, and said nothing of the good ones? James Mackay in his biography Vagabond of Verse relates the following: "Robert responded mildly that we took the good ones for granted, adding that vice had more colour than virtue, 'I write to please the public, and, though I have nothing against virtue, I frequently remarked that a lot of people look on it as rather a bore.'"
Certainly Robert did not bore us with his women, but I think there was more to it than that. He knew that the worst of them were not all bad, and the best were not all good. My Madonna typifies this, as does this from Songs For My Supper.
I knew a women powerful bad
In parson's view;
For frequently affairs she had,
And love-nights knew.
But ailing mothers she would tend,
Their bairnies feed,
And her last penny she would spend
For friend in need.
Another dame I knew who walked
In pious ways
And would have been profoundly shocked
At these my lays;
A spinster and a virgin. sure
In grace to dwell,
Who deemed that every evil-doer
Should suffer hell.
Though these two women sisters were,
They did not speak;
One steeled her heart to those who err,
One braced the weak...
Yet if a Judgement Day befall,
I wonder which
The Head of Heaven's Court will call
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