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Songs of a Sourdough

Robert W. Service


Songs of a Sourdough is a collection of poems written in 1907 by Robert W. Service while he was working as a bank teller in Whitehorse, Yukon. The best-known poems are those describing life during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1890s, especially his ballads “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” and the “Cremation of Sam McGee.”

While some of Service’s work had previously appeared in newspapers and periodicals, Songs of a Sourdough was his first book. Publishers initially questioned the “moral tone” of the work with its bawdy poems depicting not just the hard lives and isolation of Yukon prospectors but also the drinking, gambling, and prostitution that was prevalent in Dawson City. However, despite these reservations, the book was an immediate success. In Canada, there were ten printings and more than 12,000 copies sold in the first year alone. Dozens of additional printings followed in subsequent years, including editions issued in Britain and the United States.

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