Treasure Island

Robert William Service

(16 January 1874 - 11 September 1958 / Preston)

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"Fighting Mac"

A Life Tragedy

A pistol shot rings round and round the world;
In pitiful defeat a warrior lies.
A last defiance to dark Death is hurled,
A last wild challenge shocks the sunlit skies.
Alone he falls, with wide, wan, woeful eyes:
Eyes that could smile at death -- could not face shame.

Alone, alone he paced his narrow room,
In the bright sunshine of that Paris day;
Saw in his thought the awful hand of doom;
Saw in his dream his glory pass away;
Tried in his heart, his weary heart, to pray:
"O God! who made me, give me strength to face
The spectre of this bitter, black disgrace."

* * * * *

The burn brawls darkly down the shaggy glen;
The bee-kissed heather blooms around the door;
He sees himself a barefoot boy again,
Bending o'er page of legendary lore.
He hears the pibroch, grips the red claymore,
Runs with the Fiery Cross, a clansman true,
Sworn kinsman of Rob Roy and Roderick Dhu.

Eating his heart out with a wild desire,
One day, behind his counter trim and neat,
He hears a sound that sets his brain afire --
The Highlanders are marching down the street.
Oh, how the pipes shrill out, the mad drums beat!
"On to the gates of Hell, my Gordons gay!"
He flings his hated yardstick away.

He sees the sullen pass, high-crowned with snow,
Where Afghans cower with eyes of gleaming hate.
He hurls himself against the hidden foe.
They try to rally -- ah, too late, too late!
Again, defenseless, with fierce eyes that wait
For death, he stands, like baited bull at bay,
And flouts the Boers, that mad Majuba day.

He sees again the murderous Soudan,
Blood-slaked and rapine-swept. He seems to stand
Upon the gory plain of Omdurman.
Then Magersfontein, and supreme command
Over his Highlanders. To shake his hand
A King is proud, and princes call him friend.
And glory crowns his life -- and now the end,

The awful end. His eyes are dark with doom;
He hears the shrapnel shrieking overhead;
He sees the ravaged ranks, the flame-stabbed gloom.
Oh, to have fallen! -- the battle-field his bed,
With Wauchope and his glorious brother-dead.
Why was he saved for this, for this? And now
He raises the revolver to his brow.

* * * * *

In many a Highland home, framed with rude art,
You'll find his portrait, rough-hewn, stern and square;
It's graven in the Fuyam fellah's heart;
The Ghurka reads it at his evening prayer;
The raw lands know it, where the fierce suns glare;
The Dervish fears it. Honor to his name
Who holds aloft the shield of England's fame.

Mourn for our hero, men of Northern race!
We do not know his sin; we only know
His sword was keen. He laughed death in the face,
And struck, for Empire's sake, a giant blow.
His arm was strong. Ah! well they learnt, the foe
The echo of his deeds is ringing yet --
Will ring for aye. All else . . . let us forget.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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Comments about this poem ("Fighting Mac" by Robert William Service )

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  • * Sunprincess * (1/22/2014 2:49:00 PM)

    ......even today many of the armed service members commit suicide...even more so than previously I imagine...and they say suicide runs in may not be a sickness of the body, but a sickness of the soul itself...which causes people to give up their life...and go into the mysterious unknown... (Report) Reply

  • Sadiqullah Khan (1/22/2010 11:15:00 PM)

    The poor warrior
    Hired to protect the booty
    Of the company of traders
    From west to east
    Plunder and plunder
    And follows the gospel
    Anointed holy
    Crown and cross
    With sacks full
    The warrior returns
    To the north land
    For many an avarice
    His head without pride
    So he commits suicide
    “The echo of his deeds is ringing yet -
    Will ring for aye. All else... let us forget” (Report) Reply

  • Michael Pruchnicki (1/22/2010 12:03:00 PM)

    Please spare us the usual whine full of the current fashionable political correctness and the garbled grammar of twisted logic!

    First of all, Service makes clear that the poem expresses the tragedy of one man's life! The suicide was committed by a soldier whose king was proud to shake his hand (doubtless after pinning the Victoria Cross on his Highlander's scarlet tunic!) and princes of the realm called him friend. What was the world that Service alludes to but the British Empire before its post-WW2 decline into a welfare state! The ever-present taint of 'racism' (the only sin recognized in the modern welfare state) makes its way into a 'first class poem with great lines' (thank you for the left-handed compliment) ! Why in the world cannot his 'disgrace' be simply his failure to die in battle, as a loyal soldier of his country might well long for? (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh T A (1/22/2010 12:54:00 AM)

    Poetic stanzas are perfect in execution! Bravery of old story might inspire the present soldiers at wars! But those days are gone! Now in the modern world war no bravery is needed as all fight with great protection without any risk at all thanks to new technological inventions in war machines! (Report) Reply

  • Michael Pruchnicki (1/22/2009 2:50:00 PM)

    The Empire ends with a single round to the head! And it's still rocking. says the bard of the stereotypical response to everything that he reads here and everywhere from the highland hills to the desert sands of the Bedouin warrior!
    Whatever that means, you tell me! IS IT POETRY? he signs off but never reveals his innermost thoughts on the subject, except that 'it's still rocking'!

    I think he means that the end for a warrior is always violent. You live by the sword, etc. Save the last bullet for yourself, etc. You like its history? It lifts the spirits of present-day knights in shining, etc. Here's to you, Robert W. Service and the likes of Dan McGrew! (Report) Reply

  • Is It Poetry (1/22/2009 10:20:00 AM)

    While lying such transposed the world of his from start to finish flew from eye to mind the lot of warrior lives...) it(s still rocking.... (Report) Reply

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