Biography Robert William Service

Robert William Service

photo of Robert William Service
  • Time Period 1874 - 1958
  • Place Preston
  • Country England
Poems of Robert William Service Poets of England

Poet Biography

Robert William Service (January 16, 1874 - September 11, 1958) was a poet born into a Scottish family while they were living in Preston, England. He moved to Canada at the age of 21 when he gave up his job working in a Glasgow bank and travelled to Vancouver Island with his Buffalo Bill outfit and dreams of becoming a cowboy. Hired by the Canadian Bank of Commerce, he was posted to the bank's branch in Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory. Inspired by the vast beauty of the Yukon wilderness, Service started writing his poetry about the things he saw. Service became known for his work about the West, and the Yukon gold miners. Such works as "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" and "The Cremation of Sam McGee" made him famous around the world. After having collected enough poems for a book, Service offered a publisher $100 of his own money to publish the work, but the publisher was so sure that the works would be popular (he had already taken 1700 offers for sale off the galley proofs), he returned Service's money and offered him a contract. Soon after The Songs of a Sourdough came out in 1907, Service became rich. He became known as the "Canadian Kipling". Within two years he was able to quit his job at the bank, and to travel -- to Paris, the French Riviera, to Hollywood, and beyond. From 1912 to 1913 he was a correspondent for the Toronto Star during the Balkan Wars. During World War I he was a driver for the American Field Service and a war correspondent for the Canadian government. Robert W. Service married a woman from Paris and they purchased a summer home in the Brittany Region of France. At the outbreak of World War II he was in Poland and fled the country, going back to North America

and on to Hollywood, California where he remained until the war's end, at which time he returned to his home in Brittany, France. Service wrote two volumes of autobiography - Ploughman of the Moon and Harper of Heaven. He died in Lancieux, Cфtes-d'Armor, in Brittany and is buried there in the local cemetery. Robert W. Service has been honored with a school named for him in Anchorage, Alaska, in Dawson City in the Yukon and in Toronto, Ontario. He was also honored on a Canadian postage stamp in 1976. Author and Canadian historian, Pierre Berton was a childhood neighbour to the poet.

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