Manvotional: “Yellow” by Robert W. Service

by Brett & Kate McKay on July 10, 2010 · 50 comments

in A Man's Life, Manvotionals

Yellow

By: Robert W. Service

One pearly day in early May I walked upon the sand
And saw, say half a mile away, a man with gun in hand.
A dog was cowering to his will as slow he sought to creep
Upon a dozen ducks so still they seemed to be asleep.

When like a streak the dog dashed out, the ducks flashed up in flight.
The fellow gave a savage shout and cursed with all his might.
Then as I stood somewhat amazed and gazed with eyes agog,
With bitter rage his gun he raised and blazed and shot the dog.

You know how dogs can yelp with pain; its blood soaked in the sand,
And yet it crawled to him again, and tried to lick his hand.
“Forgive me Lord for what I’ve done,” it seemed as if it said,
But once again he raised his gun — this time he shot it dead.

What could I do? What could I say? ‘Twas such a lonely place.
Tongue-tied I watched him stride away, I never saw his face.
I should have bawled the bastard out, a yellow dog he slew.
But worse, he proved beyond a doubt that – I was yellow too.

{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Garrett July 11, 2010 at 12:00 am

Well… Ruined my night…

2 Robert July 11, 2010 at 12:10 am

Man. Wow. Terribly convicting and apropos. Last night I was at a baseball game with my two young sons. A group of very drunk men were yelling extremely vulgar and insulting things throughout the game. I wanted to say something. I kept telling myself to say something. But I didn’t. I felt like, well, a coward. I want to be a man who isn’t yellow and I guess I’m still working on it.

3 John July 11, 2010 at 12:15 am

I could have gone my whole life without reading that.

4 Bob July 11, 2010 at 1:03 am

That was heartbreaking.

5 Rick Jamez July 11, 2010 at 1:27 am

Let’s be practical here folks. You don’t want to start an argument with a guy who has a gun in the middle of nowhere =) You’ll end up with the dog!

@robert: Your number one priority as a man is to protect your children. Picking an argument with 2-3 drunks would put your children in jeopardy. Remember, picking an argument with a drunk is pointiess, logic does not apply. You got your boys home safe that night, and I’m glad for it.

6 Sergiu July 11, 2010 at 2:55 am

Well, this made me sad

7 Native Son July 11, 2010 at 3:16 am

Gentlemen,
Robert W. Service is best known for his comic (but long) poetry, He was the author of The Shooting of Dan McGrew, The Cremation of Sam Magee, and The Ballad of Bessie’s Boil.
Serivce also wrote a lot of introspective poetry, focusing on a man’s relationship with God, moral courage, and a philosophic bent.
His Collected Verse are still in print (three volumes), and all are well worth a reading.
Several of his better known works are great to memorize for Scout camps and the like.

Service saw combat on the Western Front in the Great War.

8 Louis July 11, 2010 at 6:13 am

I agree with Robert. Being around louts who desperately need dressing down and not doing something does leave me feeling impotent and angry. But I agree with Rick Jamez more: I have a daughter and a wife who need me whole, not lying in a hospital. My need to teach someone a lesson is never outweighed by their need for a thinking, rational man.

9 AE July 11, 2010 at 6:23 am

I think there are other angles to this blow-to-the-stomach piece: It is about taking responsibility, appreciate devotion…It’s about “Who is a hero? He who conquers his passions.”
I “judged” the hunter more than the observer…

10 CW Flatt July 11, 2010 at 8:30 am

@AE

I would call him the “shooter” not a hunter. The picture with the post is misleading. Most hunters I know have respect for wildlife and especiallly “man’s best friend”.

There are lot’s of theme’s in this poem, the dog begging for forgiveness is the touching part to me.

But I would be yellow to in this case I imagine. But in my mind I would want the same punishment for the “shooter” as he gave the dog. You cannot punish a dog for being a dog. You can punish a human (notice I did not say MAN) for being cruel.

11 Bob Geary July 11, 2010 at 8:59 am

Driving home in the city one summer night with my young son and daughter,I stopped at a red light.A car with 3 young men slowly pulled up beside us and stopped as well.The passenger looked at me hard while he drew on his cigarette,then he proceeded to flick his lit cigarette onto my windshield.I held his gaze,and he opened his car door and placed a foot on the hot pavement as a challenge.I am not a small man in size,but I felt small and angry as the light changed and I drove away,having done nothing.Only when I got home and tucked my kids safely into bed that night,did I realize how easy it would have been to give in and leave the car.The hard decision for me,as I crushed the steering wheel with a death grip,cut to the bone.In the end,it was nothing more than a toss of a lit cigarette…

12 Sjefke July 11, 2010 at 11:19 am

I always cheer when in an ‘accident’ a hunter gets shot by a fellow hunter – nothing better than to get rid of cowards from the genepool – unfortunately it doesn’t happen enough. And no, it is not a ‘manly’ thing, as the odds are completely against the game: high-powered rifles with scopes? Hunters deserve the same respect as pedophiles: they are only targeting the defenseless.

13 Jason Sooter July 11, 2010 at 11:30 am

I have a hard time seeing the correlation to manliness in this story. Sounds like a jerk killed a dog that didn’t deserve to be shot. And that some unarmed guy saw it that didnt also want to be shot buy a crazy off the handle idiot.

I look forward to next weeks. I thoroughly enjoyed last weeks

14 Jonathan Wyant July 11, 2010 at 11:52 am

@ Sjefke: To celebrate the injury or death of another human being who has done no wrong to you, but was injured or killed in the pursuit of a perfectly legal activity that you happen to not agree with is the mark of a insolent and thoughtless catamite, and most certainly not that of a real man. Moral Coward, I accuse thee.

15 Randy July 11, 2010 at 11:57 am

“I always cheer when in an ‘accident’ a hunter gets shot by a fellow hunter – nothing better than to get rid of cowards from the genepool – unfortunately it doesn’t happen enough.”

A little sadistic, aren’t we, Sjefke? Extra props for not having the guts to actually put your name to the comment. Seriously, what purpose did your comment serve?

16 Sjefke July 11, 2010 at 12:28 pm

@ Jonathan: it’s not about doing anything wrong to me: it’s about killing an animal for nothing more than leisure, in a balance that is completely tipped – when was the last time a hunter got preyed on by a pheasant with a rifle? And just because it is the law makes it right? A few hundred years ago women were burnt at stakes – per the law. But I figure you agreed with that then as well… Maybe these much wiser people can make you contemplate it a bit: http://www.quotegarden.com/a-rights.html

@ Randy – just because you don’t know any other names than English, doesn’t make me a coward for posting my first name – just like you do…

17 shane July 11, 2010 at 12:34 pm

@Sjefke.While i agree hunting with a high powered rifle is not sporting.I use a bow,you sir are nothing more than a little twit.To revel at the thought of some innocent man getting shot accidentaly, whether you agree with his beliefs or not, is by far the sign of an irrational mind.You should seek help.

18 dave wormington July 11, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Poignant, powerful, and a stirring life’s lesson. This elicited incisive, heartfelt and perhaps provocative email responses from your website clients. Given the vile, killing nature of the shooter, it is my opinion that a case can be made that after carefully measuring the siutation, some men would have ( and should have in my opinion) broken his jaw and left him in his killing fields. Again, a man needs the skill set,temperment and experience in dealing with bullies and psychotics to address this in such fashion.

. Personally, I aver that a severe beating was and IS in order as long as it is done without jeapordizing family or friends as borne out by the kind, humanitarian email responses I referenced in the above paragraph. The disturbing part of this is that the shooter would not mend his ways regardless. The best bet would be jailtime after a beating that was provoked by the shooter. Scarier still, a body of emperical psychological evidence and legal case law bears out the fact that shooters that abuse animals oftentime abuse family members and women. Where is my opinion flawed?

Salutations to the men who are worried about being yellow. Avoidance of violence is always best, then again, I would personnaly see the shooter beaten and jailed. Your absolution is found in the fact that you care and can profit from this experience and help us all give thought to truly important matters of life and death.

Sincerely,
Dave Wormington

19 JJ July 11, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Hmmm, another week where I loved the Manvotional and then felt completely dismayed by the comments left under it. I have to wonder if I’m on the right site, this is the Art of Manliness, correct?

It’s unbelievable how modern men have completely rationalized away courage-it used to mean standing up for what was right, regardless of the consequences. Men used to fight duels to the death over honor. Now we have men who think you should remain completely passive if there’s any chance of you being harmed. The new definition of courage is preserving your own skin above all else I guess. Where would the world be if these kind of men had lived in the past? No Jesus, no Ghandi, no MLK, no saints who chose death rather than recant their faith. Here is Exhibit A of why our society today lacks civility-men no longer have the balls to say, “Stop. That isn’t right.”

Now granted, perhaps confronting a man with a gun alone in the woods might not be too wise or important, but poems are meant to be symbolic-it’s the theme that’s important here. Are we really saying we shouldn’t say anything to vulgar men at a baseball game? That it is preferable to let our sons sit though hours of profanity and show them that Dad is passive in the face of wrong-doing, because of the slim possibility of getting hurt? If we can’t stand up for ourselves at a baseball game, in a public place, with security around, when would we ever stand up for ourselves? People might say, well the baseball game isn’t important, but then when do we draw the line? If a woman is being assaulted or someone is stuck in a burning building, should we walk on by because it’s more important to preserve our safety for our family? Is courage only for single men with nothing to lose?

And don’t get me started on a twit like Jason Sooter who appears to be unfamiliar with reading poetry and believes the world should revolve around him. Me no like this! Give me something that I like!

Seriously, can we get some more actual men reading this site?

20 Brucifer July 11, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Modern men are seemingly stuck between two faux ideals of courage. Thus, most of us blow it. We either habitually get in another mans’ face for any real or perceived slights … “disrespecting.” Or, we totally eschew confrontation in order to be perceived as ‘civilized.’ The middle ground is hard to find. In any case, in this day and age, litigation is the weapon of choice for many. Therefore, a man who stands-up against the boorish or even menacing behavior of another, can expect as much trouble from the police and the courts as the lout who caused the problem in the first place. I’m now often at the notion that our society, because of its social mores’ and legal attitudes, is hell-bent on feminizing men and breeding fear of confrontation in them. (at least in middle-class and upper-class men. the bottom-feeders are somehow allowed their vulgar and violent behavior ) Thus, our social condition is that even if a man is not ‘yellow,’ there is still hell-to-pay, should he act to prove it. The cards are fast becoming stacked, gentlemen….

21 Elizabeth July 11, 2010 at 3:29 pm

From a story told in the back of Walter de la Mare’s excellent anthology, _Come Hither_:

‘One day [. . . ] a certain abbot [. . . ] [talked to St. Anselm] of the boys that were brought up in the cloister [:] “What, pray, can we do with them? They are perverse and incorrigible; day and night we cease not to chastise them, yet they grow daily worse and worse.”
‘Whereat Anselm marvelled, and said, “Ye cease not to beat them? And when they are grown to manhood, of what sort are they then?” “They are dull and brutish,” said the other.
‘Then said Anselm, “With what good profit do ye expend your substance in nurturing human beings till they become brute beasts? [ . . . ] So be it, then; yet is there no way but that of stripes and scourges for shaping them to good?”‘

22 Terry July 11, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Something I’m surprised no one picked up on gives insight into the character of the poacher in the very first line of the poem. The man is shooting ducks in May. That’s out of season folks and in fact the ducks are brooding young and some are possibly already going into molt so that they can’t fly. So this fellow is a real low life from the word go and any self-respecting hunter would have called the law on him given the chance.

As to those holier-than-thou types who think it repugnent to shoot deer with a rifle, here in Oklahoma we have families who have or have not on the dinner table depending on Dad’s skill with a riifle. So back off the pontificating. You really don’t know what you’re talking about.

23 David M July 11, 2010 at 5:35 pm

I think there is a quality of courage in being willing to bear witness. I am a man who started life as an abused kid. My dad drank and, when he drank to drunkenness, he hit me and there were a couple of times when I went to school and told my phys ed teacher than I fell off my bike to explain the bruising I carried.

In the years since I have tried to make sense not so much of my father, who died without ever really confronting what he had done, but the other people; my mom, my teachers, my coaches who could have (or in the case of my mom, knew explicitly) known or suspected what was happening and still did nothing.

I get the notion that standing up to bullies or louts or whatever needs to be weighed with our responsibilities to our loved ones. I definitely get that. But in my opinion, those considerations don’t get us off the hook for doing SOMETHING – and something might mean calling for help from the people in our society who are empowered and trained to deal with these sorts of things. It means having the courage to GET INVOLVED, even if that doesn’t mean the courage of getting in their faces ourselves.

About a year and half or so I was running some errands and in a parking lot I saw a heavyset man and a little boy next to a van about four spaces down from where I parked my car. The kid was about ten or so, I guess and the man I understood to be his dad or at least a guardian or some sort was screaming at him – and I mean every swear word in the book. The he tells the kid to open the van door and when the kid doesn’t move quickly enough, he slammed him into the side of the car, hard. Then when the door opened, he kicked the boy as he got into the car. Then the man saw me watching them and screamed “what the f*** are you looking at, m*****f*****! and started to come my way. Well, at that point my heart was beating a mile a minute but he stopped about ten feet from me.
“Well,” he demanded.
“I saw you,” I quietly replied.
“Saw me what?”
“I saw you slam that child into that car and I saw you kick him,” I said. “Further,” I held up my cell phone. “I have called 911.”
“Fuck you, asshole” he said and when I didn’t reply he turned on his heel, and stalked back to his van, got in and drove away. I noted the license number on the van and then called 911 to report what I saw. I don’t know what ever happened. The police came and took a statement and my information, but I don’t know that the boy’s life became any better. But at least he might have seen that the abuse he suffered did not go unnoticed and he might have left a little bit less like he was alone in this situation without any hope of help.

Edmund Burke once wrote that all it takes for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing. We have a middle ground between leaping into the fray and risking our lives and remaining merely passive observers. We can care, we can get involved, we can bear witness, we can call to account. We can give a damn. So louts in the stadium might not me in their face, but they might see stadium security doing their job and escorting them out after I and other who might be emboldened by seeing me do it, complained about their behavior. Courage doesn’t only mean taking on the burden of protection alone. Sometimes courage means just the willingness to do what we can to help and to actually do it.

24 Stuart July 11, 2010 at 6:57 pm

One more good reason not to go hunting. Nothing manly about taking pleasure in death.

25 Frank July 11, 2010 at 10:32 pm

I would never have confronted the man, if I beat him up, he will be none the better for it and I will be nothing more than a vigilante and just like him. No, grace can still be had in this situation by locating a small spot of earth and deliberately digging a grave. Then gently wrapping Yellow Dog in my t-shirt or the paper I was reading and then laying him to rest, forever free of the lost man.

If I was there at Calvery, would I be a coward for not saving the Man or for failing to avenge His death at the hands of the Centurians? Or, what if I donated my tomb and laid him to rest, giving respect to the body.

26 Judd July 11, 2010 at 10:38 pm

I don’t know anyone who hunts just for leisure. We eat what we kill. And the steak you got at Outback or the chicken you got at KFC was once just as alive as the deer in the woods, you’re just more removed for it.
On the note of the manvotional: very good, and very sad.

27 Jason Sooter July 11, 2010 at 10:55 pm

@JJ

The poem was fine. I still don’t see the correlation to manliness even with the comments but I am glad you liked it and found it useful. Your comment does somewhat equate manliness with lacking wisdom,good judgement, and ignoring practical living but maybe I am misunderstanding you.

In your opinion, in one sentence, What is the point of this poem?

Thanks

28 Brett McKay July 11, 2010 at 11:46 pm

I’m pleased to see the vigorous debate about this one!

@Terry-

I think I should point out that the poem was written in the early 1900′s before there were laws about duck season and such. I do wonder though if there were unwritten but understood rules back then on not hunting when the ducks were brooding.

29 Mark July 11, 2010 at 11:50 pm

I see one man performing introspect…

The ‘hunter’ was not there to kill the ducks (“pearly day in early May”, it was not duck season). Rather, he was there to test the dog.

The dog leaped after the ducks without command: “upon a dozen ducks so still they seemed to be asleep, when like a streak the dog dashed out”.

The ‘hunter’ shot the dog, as it failed it’s test.

The ‘observer’ was disgusted with himself, not the ‘hunter’, for the observer and hunter are the same individual. He was ‘yellow’ for not even trying to teach the dog, rather dismiss it as it didn’t fit his model of how the dog should have behaved.

“Forgive me Lord for what I’ve done” wasn’t good enough for this person, he shot the dog dead. He left his wife. He abandoned his family. He drank more alcohol. He scored another bag. He gambled another paycheck. He found another mistress. He beat another of his children.

The observer noticed that this is cowardice, in my opinion, himself. Leadership is hard, patient work. Dismissing everything around you until your world meets your preconceived criteria is much, much easier… if you don’t die in pursuit a lonely, bitter death.

30 Rockwolf July 12, 2010 at 1:09 am

In response to Stuart, and others decrying hunting:
“Nothing manly about taking pleasure in death.”

I absolutely agree – and I say that as a hunter. I hunt for two reasons – pest control, and for food. Do I need to shoot that animal to ensure I have dinner tonight? Absolutely not – but unless you’re a vegetarian, you can’t make the stand that the steak in your supermarket is somehow better than that rabbit I took.

Furthermore, there is no pleasure in the taking of life. It’s necessary for something to die so that each of us may live. I prefer to know where my meat comes from, to not have that mental disconnect that so many children have these days. Steak does not come vacuum-wrapped from the factory, there is no sausage tree to pick from, those fish on the ice suffocated when they were pulled from the water. The blood on my hands as I skin an animal is a brutal reminder with what I’ve done – and I prefer it that way. It keeps me grounded.

Every time I kill an animal, I take the time to thank it for it’s sacrifice.

I’d normally let something like this slide, but I felt that last point had to be made. Not all hunters are blood-thirsty killers.

Lindsay.

31 Splashman July 12, 2010 at 2:29 am

@David M.:

Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree with you; the specifics of how we get involved is open to debate, but doing nothing is unacceptable.

In my life I have been in four situations similar to the one you describe, where I confronted a man who was doing something immoral (if not illegal). In all four, my heart was beating so hard and fast I almost felt ill; in all four, the ‘tough-talking bully’ acted as though he would attack me; in all four, I calmly challenged the man, stood my ground and maintained eye contact; in all four the man came close but never touched me and eventually backed off. I don’t claim these experiences as virtue; I merely want to encourage people to stand up for what’s right without being provocative. It’s not fun (I threw up in my car after one incident), but the alternative would be much worse for everyone in the long run. And the long run is important.

Regarding the poem, I don’t know what I would do in that situation. With the dog dead, there is no ‘intervention’ to be done. And a man in a rage (with or without a gun) is not a person to reason with. Avoiding confrontation merely to avoid risk is not particularly virtuous, but neither is pointless confrontation.

32 AJs July 12, 2010 at 2:32 am

@Mark – excellent reflection of the poem!! When thought of that way it really causes you to stop and think about it.

33 Wulfgar July 12, 2010 at 3:59 am

Wow. This one hits hard.

Particularly hard, I suspect, because we’ve all been in a situation where we wanted to do something-anything-more than just stand there and watch.

I’ve read cogent and thoughtful reasons for confronting the shooter, and for not confronting the shooter.

In the end, I truly don’t know what I would do, or what I should do.

Is it more manly to confront the bastard? Or is it more manly to ensure that I don’t leave my children fatherless, and instead walk away and see to it that the authorities make him pay for his crimes?

I think that we each need to make this judgment for ourselves. The important point is that a man should DO SOMETHING. Take action, in whatever form you think appropriate. As David M said, bear witness, get involved, and do what we can.

I believe that when we have the courage to act, we’re real men.

34 BonzoGal July 12, 2010 at 3:32 pm

I witnessed my father get beat up by a motorcycle gang when I was seven. We were at a public park. One of the gang members had taken a leak in a creek near where my brother and I were playing. My dad yelled at the guy and got so badly beat he ended up in the hospital. My brother and I were also hospitalized for shock. My stepmom saved my dad from a more severe beating by pleading with one of the biker chicks nearby to help us kids. The biker chick stepped in; my stepmom took us to the hospital. I am 46 now and still think of that event with horror.

So to those dads who wonder if they’re being “yellow” by not standing up to bad behavior when their kids are around- I wish my dad had just put us in the car, driven away, and explained why this man’s behavior was wrong. If a gang member had threatened violence to his kids or wife it would have been a different story, but rude behavior isn’t worth jeapordizing anyone.

35 Jason Sooter July 12, 2010 at 7:11 pm

@Mark

I like the poem from your perspective for sure. Very insightful!

36 Jason July 12, 2010 at 8:44 pm

“We must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of good men.

I’m reminded of the movie Boondock Saints (hence the quote) as I read the above dialogue. I can definitely see both sides of the debate, taking action vs. doing nothing, as Wulfgar posited, ultimately the decision is situational. In some cases, such as the vulgar drunkards at the ball game or the abusive father in the parking lot, it is appropriate to prompt a face-to-face confrontation in order to be courageous. On the other hand, there are also situations that may arise where it is not appropriate to instigate a confrontation when it puts yourself and the others around you at serious risk – such as the situation with the biker gang or with a deranged ‘hunter’ who has just slaughtered his dog where it would be better to look for an alternative way to address the situation, There is a fine line between being courageous and being foolhardy.

Another point to consider is the manner with which you choose to confront the situation. Yelling at a biker surrounded by his gang may not be the best way to confront him, and the anger directed at the gang member may have fueled more anger in return from the gang (no disrespect to your father, BonzoGal). Keeping a cool head when addressing the situation will go a long way towards keeping the situation civil and non-violent, much like the story David M shared. In fact I would go so far as to say that a calm, civil discussion is more manly than giving someone a beating (deserved as it may be) or even yelling and getting irate – and will probably have more of an impact on the ‘bad guy’. Contacting the proper authorities is the safest approach, and in no way should be considered ‘unmanly’.

“A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.” – John Stuart Mill

37 Jeff July 13, 2010 at 2:26 am

It’s interesting that there is such a varied response to this piece, which seems to be pretty straight-forward.

Putting all the application aside, I’ll stick to analyzing the poem. Many of you are rushing to unwarranted conclusions about the author’s message because your personal experiences are causing you to read into the poem ideas and conditions which Service is not presenting, and this is clouding your vision, .

@Mark: I re-read the piece after your comment, and disagree that the narrator and the hunter are the same individual. This isn’t about shame over an act committed; this is shame over an act omitted.

The narrator reporting being “half a mile away” puts the action just a bit out of the narrator’s reach, at least at first; however, the last lines suggest he could have engaged the hunter, but did not, and “never saw his face.” The narrator was capable either of responding or remaining anonymous.

Just considering the physical distances, had the narrator acted immediately after the first shot by closing the distance between the hunter and himself, his mere presence at the scene may have been enough to prevent the second shot (the hunter makes no indication that he knows he is being observed). Further, and assuming he did respond immediately by closing the distance, by making it his business, instead of listening to the inner voice that says “Don’t get involved,” had he been there when the hunter raises the gun the second time, he could have challenged the hunter and likely prevented the dog’s death. This is what the narrator judges himself for: playing the role of Cain, in essence, and rationalizing his inaction with the question “Am I my brother’s keeper?”: by ignoring his responsibility to the community, not just to his own concerns.

The narrator isn’t asking for our judgments of him: he is measuring himself against his own standard of manliness, and he has failed. He doesn’t need our verdict of his actions. And so we are left with only the ability to judge ourselves, whether we use his standard or our own is our business.

To end, I think is very unlikely that the hunter would point his gun at the narrator. Has anyone noticed that all three characters in this little drama are “yellow” in one way or another?: the dog, physically; the hunter is a child who throws a tantrum @ the misbehavior of the dog, instead of patiently training the dog, as has been mentioned; and the narrator implies that he himself is “yellow” or cowardly (or even a “yellow dog” himself) for his inaction. Anyway, I don’t think Service wants us to consider the possibility of the hunter shooting the narrator (and if it’s a double-barrelled shotgun, very likely in his era, it’s empty now, anyway), because it interferes with the main theme: the application of moral courage, at the very least, not turning our faces away from the injustices around us: to live up to our own adopted ideals of manhood. This isn’t about the physical courage needed to take down a brawny mugger.

This piece reminds me of Martin Niemoller’s quote about the failure to speak out against the liquidation of “enemies of the state” after the rise to power of the Nazi party in Germany:

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

38 Sjefke July 13, 2010 at 9:49 am

Rereading the poem after Mark’s interpretation, I too do not believe hunter and observer are the same person – from what distance do you usually reflect on yourself (I know, no minimum or limit…. but half a mile)?
However, what if that distance stands for ‘time’ – he saw something happening in the past, it’s now a bit blurry and ‘distant’, but he realises he didn’t act – belated guilt?
Native Son commented Service served in WWI – perhaps it is a metaphor: the innocent get shot for no apparent reason – someone happens to carry a gun, ‘so’ he uses it….
That would make it into some anti-war poem? ‘Slaughtered like a dog’? And he was there but didn’t stand up (perhaps a bit naive, as one man doesn’t stop the war) – but then, maybe it was ‘all of us’ – observing, yet not acting?

39 WyoMike July 13, 2010 at 11:09 am

I found myself reflecting on both men in this poem. And interestingly, the one I compared myself to first was the “hunter,” not in the sense that I have killed a dog in a cruel way, but I have acted cruelly and ignored pleas for mercy, whether vocal or not, whether intentionally or not. The shooter clearly did not have respect for his dog’s life, and was using it only as a tool to further his interest, namely hunting ducks. When the dog spooked the ducks, and the shooter’s opportunity to kill the ducks evaporated, the dog’s “utility” also vanished, rendering the “tool” useless, so the man discarded it. He never saw the dog as another being, worthy of life, capable of making mistakes, and needing forgiveness for those mistakes. How many of us have acted in the same way, whether with our wives, children, co-workers, etc? We may not have killed them (God forbid), but we have reduced people that we love to mere “tools” or “objects” that we use to further our interests, and when they make a mistake, we cruelly “kill” their spirit with harmful words or actions, despite the need for forgiveness. I think there are two lessons in being a man in this poem: the need to act righteously at all times, and the need to forgive others for their mistakes.

40 Jack G July 13, 2010 at 1:00 pm

David M got this one right in my opinion. I don’t beleive that we have been stripped of our manlyhood by being encouraged to not resort to personal violence as an immediate measure. Yes, historically men would duel to the death over their honor which might have been brought into question by something as simple as an insult. Nowadays, that would seem quite silly. The real root of the issue is action vs. inaction. Action can take many forms. If something offends your sense of what is right, you do something about it. These days, we have systems in place to regulate this as I am sure not everyone has the exact same barometer of what “right” actually means. If everyone had the duelist mentality, the world would devolve to nothing more than vigilanty justice. A man decides that a woman speaking out of turn is not right; he beats her. Was he just doing his manly duty? You might not think so thanks to your moral compass, which as been adjusted by the accepted liberation of females since the darker ages. Not everyone’s moral compass points to the same north. We therefore have other channels for action – calling the stadium security to deal with the cursing louts in the stands.

41 Royce Koon Jr. July 15, 2010 at 2:05 pm

One of the saddest poems you will ever read. I actually called my dog to me when I first read it and gave her a hug. The poem contains a terrible storyline but Robert Service succeeds in touching your emotion. That is the sign of a great poem and poet…

42 Dan July 15, 2010 at 4:50 pm

how is that motivational?? Im definately going to go home and give my dog a big hug after reading that.

43 Dave July 16, 2010 at 5:15 pm

There comes a time in every man’s life when he has to stand up for something. Himself, his wife, his children, his community, his country. Bullies come in many forms. They can be the drunks shouting obscenities at the ballgame, the 19-year-old guy preying on your teenage daughter, all the way up to masked terrorists hanging a 7-year-old boy because his grandfather wouldn’t kowtow to them (this recently happened in Afghanistan). Bullies do what they do for many reasons, but first they must be stopped, and they’ll only be stopped if someone stands up to them.
As a 9-yar-old I was once terrorized by a group of teenage boys who had it in for my father, the school principal. There were a few incidents that could’ve been very dangerous. They never took on my dad directly, oh no. The incidents stopped when I finally told my dad about it—tearfully, thinking he might consider me a coward for not defending myself better. I’m sure he found them and put the fear of God into them. Years later my parents and I were at a football game and a college guy was shouting profanities at the refs. My dad told him to knock it off and he said, “Cool it, mister.” My dad proceeded to inform him that if any cooling was to be done, the young man was going to be the one to do it. End of story. I was very proud of my father that day, and wished I would’ve had him come and rescue me during even one of those confrontations years earlier.
As a father myself I twice had to confront young men who were showing inappropriate attention to my teenage daughter. One of the young men had no trouble seeing things my way and did what he was told. The other young man told me to f*** off. I proceeded to press my point with him and had to employ what might be called “enhanced” techniques of persuasion. Later on I was shaking with the tension. How could I have been driven to that point? My daughter’s virtue was at stake, and as a father I found myself willing to do whatever it would take to protect her. (And it worked, the guy wound up impregnating some other guy’s daughter.)
I train in the martial arts and we train for these types of situations frequently. Prudence has to play a part—don’t confront a guy with a gun, or a biker gang, for example, when you’re all alone and unarmed, or have children to protect, unless your safety and/or theirs is directly threatened. But dealing with bullies is something we train for, and if everybody did that, there would be a lot less bullying.
As for the poem, I am going to go home now and hug my Yorkie. Anybody who would shoot her is a dead man.

44 John July 17, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Another way to look at the poem: maybe the shooter intended to kill the dog from the beginning. That’s why he was there with the gun. Just a thought, but the real point of the poem is hard to miss. I had a chance to say/do something about some kids that were abusing a kitten at a park one time, and I didn’t do it. I’ve regretted that many times in the years since, and wondered how that animal fared in it’s life with them. That opportunity is lost forever, but I have since tried to make up for it every chance I get, from making sure my own cats have a great life, to helping advocate for black bears. Can’t change the past, but every day is a new opportunity to try to do better.

45 Johann July 19, 2010 at 6:45 am

Obviously, someone is not giving the dog his due.
To appraoch the guy who just shot you. That takes balls. A Man should be as Hard as he is Loyal, as Bave as he is Intelligent. The one man was hard; but without loyalty. The other, Intelligent; but, admittedly, without courage.

The Dog wasn’t perfect; but at least had the character to face up to it. He died trying to right his wrong; not lying to himself or anyone else.

Perhaps the lesson for a Man is not in the conduct of those men; but of Dogs. Who often Prove themselves Better than we are in so many ways.

46 Rich July 22, 2010 at 9:47 am

All of these coments are indeed thought provoking. One that stands out to me is “historically men would duel to the death over their honor which might have been brought into question by something as simple as an insult. Nowadays, that would seem quite silly” by JackG. With due respect, this comment misses the mark in todays’ society as evidenced by gang killings over “be-in dissed” and the like. Most of us DO view this as quite silly but never the less, such an attitude is still quite common. All said, I think each of us have ben confronted with a similar situation in a very real phisically and emotionally charged state. Each is indeed situational. However, the bullies of the world that prey on the weak and the defenseless (or even the ones that dare not take a stand) have to be dealt with in sometimes violent ways. Not pretty, not confortable thinking about but necessary. Sometimes being a man means doing the hard right instead of the easy wrong or worse…doing nothing.

47 Johann July 22, 2010 at 10:45 am

I am inclined to agree with Rich. The whole point of the manvotional was as follows: The man who stands back in cowardace and does nothing is as wrong as the perpetrator of the crime.

48 Aaron July 29, 2010 at 4:28 am

Great poem, although my favorite piece by Robert W. Service is still “It’s later than you think.”

49 Rob Jones May 12, 2013 at 3:30 pm

@JJ HEAR, HEAR

50 Jesse November 23, 2013 at 12:42 am

Preface; I understand this is a HUGE thread revive…

A wonderful piece, and written to be understood by few, inciting to many. I also had a wonderful time reading the debate/commentary after. I took something else from this than most (I did not read all comments) and I liken it to being a child when our old Black Lab who had served as one of the finer retrievers you’ve seen for many years was at his last – my grandfather took ‘Cooley’ and I out for one last hustle of the brush, a single out-of-season shell from Grandfather’s Benelli 28- and Cooley retrieving the bird as quickly as he could, which equated to an eternity compared to his former self. There at the edge my grandfather gave Cooley a tranquilizer to dull the senses and a final shot but not before explaining to me his reasoning for feeling that this was the proper exit for a dog born, bred, fed, and bed to retrieve…as opposed to a lethal poke in a brightly lit white room from a stranger.

Sjefke; I for one am pleased as punch to find that you regard hunting with such disdain that you and I will likely never cross paths. You generally feel a danger to yourself and others by merely breathing.

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