Robert William Service

(16 January 1874 - 11 September 1958 / Preston)

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A Hero


Three times I had the lust to kill,
To clutch a throat so young and fair,
And squeeze with all my might until
No breath of being lingered there.
Three times I drove the demon out,
Though on my brow was evil sweat. . . .
And yet I know beyond a doubt
He'll get me yet, he'll get me yet.

I know I'm mad, I ought to tell
The doctors, let them care for me,
Confine me in a padded cell
And never, never set me free;
But Oh how cruel that would be!
For I am young - and comely too . . .
Yet dim my demon I can see,
And there is but one thing to do.

Three times I beat the foul fiend back;
The fourth, I know he will prevail,
And so I'll seek the railway track
And lay my head upon the rail,
And sight the dark and distant train,
And hear its thunder louder roll,
Coming to crush my cursed brain . . .
Oh God, have mercy on my soul!

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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  • Freshman - 2,025 Points Savita Tyagi (7/13/2014 4:30:00 PM)

    A dramatic portrayal of an emotionally disturbed person. mind plays with all kind of thoughts. Only link between murder and suicide can be when rational is totally defeated. (Report) Reply

  • Freshman - 1,214 Points Jayatissa K. Liyanage (7/13/2014 10:48:00 AM)

    Very well versed to bring the reader to a climax in sentiments of a depressed heart. Hope the writing by itself was successful in flushing off the demon within. Great poem. (Report) Reply

  • Freshman - 1,214 Points Cambridge Keenan (7/13/2013 7:02:00 PM)

    How precious are your words with deep emotion...I could see the picture you painted...I could feel your very breath! ! thank you for sharing (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 0 Points Sylva Portoian (7/13/2013 5:07:00 AM)

    William...I can sing with you, , , Robert the Hero
    Your poem is a real true...
    I can sing with you...
    And pray not to do what you poeted...! ! ! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 0 Points Terence George Craddock (7/13/2012 9:29:00 AM)

    The dramatic monologue of 'A Hero' by Robert William Service is a rapid paced exciting read. The expected hero the title foreshadows, immediately twists in the first lines, with a confession of the lust to kill, the speaker describes. The interesting description of the mental battle in the mind between good and evil thoughts extends into the second stanza.
    The speaker is mad, 'Three times' already he has driven 'the lust to kill' out, but he knows 'beyond a doubt' the demon desire to kill will get him yet. The dilemma extends; confess to madness, let doctors care for him, confined 'in a padded cell/ And never, never set me free'. The speaker is young and cannot face a life imprisoned in an insane asylum, thus 'there is but one thing to do.'
    Excitement builds within the tension mounting abab end rhyme scheme. The speaker grips the reader with 'Three times I beat the foul fiend back; / The fourth, I know he will prevail'. The suicide scene is described like the script in an action packed cinematic silent movie screen; the train sighted in the distance, his head laid upon the rail, the thunder of the trains approach roars in his ears, the train coming to crush his 'cursed brain... '. The fear expressed in the desperate scream 'Oh God, have mercy on my soul! '
    The poem is written to entertain yet the title intrigues. It plays upon the concept of what is a hero and justified suicide, contrasted with the Biblical suicide as a sin. Does insanity pardon suicide? Surely proven insanity must yet, the plea to God to save his soul, implies the speaker fears and knows what he is doing. His suicide saves the lives of those he would have killed in his insanity, heroes save lives, the intrigue in the dramatic ending continues. A quite exceptional poem. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 0 Points Jacob Bearer (7/13/2012 7:26:00 AM)

    ''Verse, not poetry, is what I was after... something the man in the street would take notice of and the sweet old lady would paste in her album; something the schoolboy would spout and the fellow in the pub would quote. Yet I never wrote to please anyone but myself; it just happened. I belonged to the simple folks whom I liked to please'' (Robert William Service) . (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 0 Points Herman Chiu (7/16/2010 1:14:00 AM)

    Many a hero having heard too much and understood too little, staring romantically at the moon and dark sky.
    Such sacrifice should run incomparable in all the land, only as unexplored.

    If it were you, do you see yourself in his place? (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 0 Points Ian Fraser (7/15/2010 10:30:00 AM)

    I agree it's a topic worth exploring but I found the poem a little too contrived and pat. I doubt if many of the mentally disturbed are as analytical as the Hero. It's also not quite clear why Service considers him a hero - the fact that he committed suicide before murder? This needs more explanation. Service was an unusual writer; many of his best poems are really short stories in verse. I suspect had he been forced to write this in prose, he would have quickly found a lot of complications which he has surpressed in this condensed version. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 156 Points Sujit Sinha (7/13/2009 2:13:00 PM)

    Gives a clue why some people commit suicide. It is a violent act motivated by love for mankind and not hate. A very deep poem.
    S. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 156 Points Michael Pruchnicki (7/13/2009 7:32:00 AM)

    What reader in his right mind thinks 'A Hero' represents Robert W. Service? Of course, it's a dramatic monologue on the order of a poem by Robert Browning, a fictional rendering of a character lost in madness! Compare Service's poem to Browning's 'Porphyria's Lover, ' and note the difference in skill and poetic power - Browning takes first place with most readers! And technically, 'A Hero' is NOT a soliloquy, a term usually restricted to the stage. And the ideas expressed are the creation of the poet, though put in the mouth of his character. (Report) Reply

Read all 33 comments »

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