“All good things must come to an end” appears to be the motif in Robert Service’s Good-Bye, Little Cabin, a memorable poem that is perhaps one of his more grounded works, based in his own world — in reality — rather than the creation of a story that was rather based on what he saw around him. It is also one of his more emotional pieces, and serves as a solid way of demonstrating that he very much knew his way around poetic devices; his strong command of verse is good enough to make the reader care both about the narrator and the inanimate object being described! This poem showcases many of Service’s strengths as a poet and creates a clear understanding in the reader of the powerful pull that can be created even by one little cabin.
Good-Bye, Little Cabin Analysis
Verse by Verse
O dear little cabin, I’ve loved you so long,
And now I must bid you good-bye!
I’ve filled you with laughter, I’ve thrilled you with song,
And sometimes I’ve wished I could cry.
Your walls they have witnessed a weariful fight,
And rung to a won Waterloo:
But oh, in my triumph I’m dreary to-night —
Good-bye, little cabin, to you!
In the first verse, we meet what might be described as the two central “characters” of the poem, namely the narrator and the cabin. While describing the cabin as a character might seem unusual, its personification throughout the poem makes it clear that the narrator is close to this particular space. From the first two lines of the verse, it is clear that the narrator feels great affection for this place; the use of a phrase like “dear little cabin” is clear enough, and even something as simple as using an exclamation point after the declaration that the narrator is leaving is indicative of great emotion. From here, the history of the narrator is given in relation to the cabin; they begin reminiscing about all of the good and bad things that have happened to them in life from within their home here. The last few lines also indicate that the narrator is leaving for a good reason — a triumph of some sort is calling them away, but on this, their last night in the cabin, they have become dreary and nostalgic.
Your roof is bewhiskered, your floor is a-slant,
Your walls seem to sag and to swing;
I’m trying to find just your faults, but I can’t —
You poor, tired, heart-broken old thing!
I’ve seen when you’ve been the best friend that I had,
Your light like a gem on the snow;
You’re sort of a part of me — Gee! but I’m sad;
I hate, little cabin, to go.
This verse describes the cabin as being old and well-used, suggesting that the narrator has both lived there for many years; there are issues with the roof, the floor, and the walls of the cabin, which paints the picture of a building that most would likely prefer not to live in. Despite this, the narrator declares that there is nothing at all wrong with the cabin — the affection he holds seems to personify the cabin into an elderly, almost grandfatherly figure. If it were a person, the cabin would be old, tired, and broken-hearted, but the love remains clear. The narrator has lived here for long enough that the cabin feels as though it is a part of him, and it makes him sad to know that he has to leave it now.
Below your cracked window red raspberries climb;
A hornet’s nest hangs from a beam;
Your rafters are scribbled with adage and rhyme,
And dimmed with tobacco and dream.
“Each day has its laugh”, and “Don’t worry, just work”.
Such mottoes reproachfully shine.
Old calendars dangle — what memories lurk
About you, dear cabin of mine!
From this verse, the primary thing we learn is that the narrator has lived within their cabin for many years. The rafters are described as being covered in proverbs (“adage”) and rhymes, suggesting that the narrator has learned many life lessons, and lived through a great deal during his years (indicated by the fact that there are several old calendars lying around) living here.
I hear the world-call and the clang of the fight;
I hear the hoarse cry of my kind;
Yet well do I know, as I quit you to-night,
It’s Youth that I’m leaving behind.
And often I’ll think of you, empty and black,
Moose antlers nailed over your door:
Oh, if I should perish my ghost will come back
To dwell in you, cabin, once more!
The language in this verse suggests that the narrator has also been isolated from other people for quite some time. The imagery of a cabin suggests that the narrator is perhaps in “cottage country;” far away from cities or towns and living on his own. That the cry from their own kind is “hoarse” suggests that they have been isolated for quite some time, perhaps even ignoring opportunities that arise in favour of remaining at the cabin. We also learn that while the cabin itself is filled with fond memories, what the narrator will miss the most is the aspect of their life that they spent in the cabin; their youth is what they are losing, and now they must return to the world and live in it, the same as everyone else. No matter where they go from here, no matter what happens now, the cabin will always be home.
How cold, still and lonely, how weary you seem!
A last wistful look and I’ll go.
Oh, will you remember the lad with his dream!
The lad that you comforted so.
The shadows enfold you, it’s drawing to-night;
The evening star needles the sky:
And huh! but it’s stinging and stabbing my sight —
God bless you, old cabin, good-bye!
Most of the last verse is clear enough to stand on its own, and reiterates the idea that the narrator is going to miss his time as a youth in this cabin as much (or possibly more so) than the cabin itself. The third and fourth line suggest that the narrator will leave behind the memory of their younger self, and once again personifies the cabin as an old friend who can remember and be remembered by the fleeing speaker. As night falls, the final day for the cabin finishes, and the stars are almost painful to behold as the bright light highlights the tears in the speaker’s eyes as the final farewell is spoken to close off the poem.
Good-bye, Little Cabin was published in Robert Service’s 1907 volume, Songs of a Sourdough, a work famous for highlighting the time that Service himself spent living in Whitehorse and Dawson City, both in the Yukon. At the time this verse was written, Service was still living in the Yukon, and so if he did live in a little cabin, it seems likely that this work was inspired by the thought of leaving it, rather than the actual act. Alternatively, it’s worth pointing out that many of Service’s stories that were assumed to be from his own point of view — his verses about the gold rush in particular — were in fact inspired by the world around him, rather than having been actually lived. As a result, it’s difficult to say how much of Service’s own experience can be found in this poem, as he did not leave the Yukon himself until several years after its publication.