Service With A Smile

My favorite poet has long been Robert Service. I like the meter, I like the Alaskan adventures he wrote about. I especially liked the diary he kept while a young poet in Paris in 1914… hanging out with Paris’s best painters, sculptures and philosophers of the day. Service had a sensitivity to the human condition and a unique ability to put it in a poetic phrase that rang all my bells. So when I picked up his “Later Collected Verse” and began reading it, I was initially shocked and disappointed by his poetic subjects, which were largely feelings of getting old, observing life going by, and (gasp) gardening!

What in hell had happened to my hero of grit, hardship and high adventure? Had he slipped, fallen and hit his head? This book is 477 pages long, with nearly that many poems in it. I read probably a third of the book before putting it down in utter frustration. I just didn’t get it. He had changed up his style of meter, seemed even smoother and more insightful that his earlier works, but his subject matter!! Robert, Robert… where’s the Robert Service I knew and loved so much?


Turns out my Robert was right where he was supposed to be, doing the very best thing he could be doing… being an insightful old man, reflecting on life and humanity in a way that only he could. I am writing this twenty years or more after first purchasing the book, and I (as an old man now) have rediscovered my old writing hero, and how absolutely wonderful his book of Later Collected Verse really is!

Perhaps I should be embarrassed at my lack of understanding or insight on reading this book for the first time. But hell, if that were the dumbest thing I’ve ever done, I’d be dancing in the streets. Knowing how futile it would be to attempt any defense of my rampant ignorance, let me offer his garden poem from this book I once despised.

My Garden

The world is sadly sick, they say,
And plagued by woe and pain.
But look! How looms my garden gay,
With blooms in golden reign!
With lyric music in the air,
Of joy fulfilled in song,
I can’t believe that anywhere
Is hate and harm and wrong.

A paradise my garden is,
And there my day is spent;
I steep myself in sunny bliss,
Incredibly content.
Feeling that I am truly part
Of peace so rapt and still,
There’s not a care within my heart . . .
How can the world be ill?

Aye, though the land be sick they say,
And named unto pain,
My garden never was so gay,
So innocent, so sane.
My roses mock at misery,
My thrushes vie in song . . .
When only beauty I can see,
How can the world be wrong?

Robert  Service

A thousand pardons, Bob, for ever doubting you. With a playful, karmic swat to the back of my head and a ironic wink from the universe, I now realize that you were right all along, and that I now feel exactly the same way! The above Service poem SO encapsulates all I experience in mornings on our deck, and in afternoons in the back yard hammock. When roses mock at misery, when thrushes vie in song, when only beauty can I see, how can the world be wrong?? How indeed!

And yet there is another sad irony to all this. I usually speak on, and advocate seeing the larger picture, for a better understanding of the larger world outside our usually narrow scope. But these days… these days – for me anyway, it has become so difficult to quietly accept what is happening in our country. My “larger view” of the world was beginning to morph into some teeth-grinding and a small, irritating knot in my stomach. I have long known that if I could not change a thing or improve it, then it was time to let it go. I mean really… just let it go. I have learned to do that fairly efficiently, and with the help of my Robert Service, I have (pretty much) let go of our country’s madness, and am content (mostly) to smell our roses, hear the bird songs, enjoy the view of the cove below and appreciate the work Betty has done in our beautiful yard.

























Thank you B, for the yard, for your love of beautiful things and for your energy for bringing order and peace to our cottage. I appreciate the Buddhists for their point of view, the birds for their beautiful music, and Robert Service for reminding me so poetically, what is really important.

“A paradise my garden is
And there my day is spent;
I steep myself in sunny bliss,
Incredibly content.
Feeling I am truly part
Of peace so rapt and still,
There’s not a care within my heart…
How can the world be ill?”

And thank you, Robert Service. I stand corrected.

Steve Hulse

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