Here’s an analysis of ‘Comfort’ by Robert Service. Some poems look to tell a story; others try to convey a feeling; some try to inspire. It isn’t too common (relatively speaking) that a poem will attempt to speak directly to its reader, but when it does, it needs to speak in a certain way so as to be able to reach any reader who happens past it. This can be tricky; after all, each individual person will be experiencing something different at the time of reading. In the case of ‘Comfort’ by Robert Service, the target audience is those who can sympathize with feeling defeated, down, or depressed, and offers an optimistic perspective to combat the feeling. It utilizes many poetic devices typical of Service’s work, as well as taking on a healthy perspective with the intention of connecting with inspiring its reader.
Say! You’ve struck a heap of trouble —
Bust in business, lost your wife;
Why, you’ve still the sunshine left you
And the big, blue sky.
‘Comfort’, which can be read in full here, begins in a simple format, with an alternating syllable and rhyming pattern, 8-7-8-7 for syllables and ABAB for rhyming. The poem begins by addressing either the reader or a third party, who is assumed to have fallen on hard times. Despite the rather grim nature of the poem — “No one cares a cent about you, / You don’t care a cent for life” is a particularly dark passage — the syllable and rhyme of the piece gives it a fast pace and an almost song-like quality to it. It reads as almost cheerful, even while the subject matter is dark and unhappy.
The descriptions read out by the narrator are fairly straight-forward; the recipient of the words is assumed to be extremely unhappy, with troubles akin to unemployment, divorce, depression, poor luck, or poor health. The speaker argues, however, that what isn’t missing from their audience’s life is sunshine, “and the big, blue sky.” This last line stands out because it breaks the pattern of the entire verse by being five syllables long, where it should, according to the earlier lines, be seven. The author wants to emphasize the importance of the blue sky, even more so than the importance of the perfect structure he has built thus far.
Sky so blue it makes you wonder
If it’s heaven shining through;
Dancing shadows, green, still meadows —
Don’t you mope, you’ve still got these.
In the speaker’s description, the importance of the sky can be attributed to its beauty. The sky is heavenly, the sunlight is beautiful, there are birds singing and flowers in bloom. This verse relies heavily on sensory information; the brightness of the sun, the blueness of the sky as images; the singing of birds as soothing noise; the fragrance of flowers on the breeze. The Earth is personified in such a way as to suggest it must be smiling and dancing. In strong contrast to the first verse, this one is designed to suggest that all is wonderful in the world. Even the final line’s parting advice — “Don’t you mope, you’ve still got these” — almost feels as though it is making light of the first verse. The contrast of the two verses informs this advice; they offer two distinct perspectives, each one trying to prove the other wrong. The purpose of this verse is to remind that whatever happens in a person’s personal life, in their society, or their politics, or their interpersonal world, the natural world is one untouched by those troubles, and persists despite them, in distracting beauty and welcome isolation.
These, and none can take them from you;
These, and none can weigh their worth.
You’ve got nearly all that matters —
You’ve got God, and God is love.
The final stanza of ‘Comfort’ serves to drive the ultimate point of the poem home: there are two separate perspectives to the world. The first is the one that humans create, the one with societies, cultures, and politics. The second one is the natural world and the divine one. Regardless of what life is like, the speaker preaches, you’re still a very lucky inhabitant of the beautiful planet Earth. For the narrator, being alive and being on Earth is all the richness they could ever have asked for. When they feel depressed or sad, they retreat into the natural world and find within it a sense of purpose, faith, and love. This, to them, is more important than anything else and is what they say to people who have begun to feel like they will never have or find something similar. Regardless of religious affiliation or personal faith, the idea of finding love in nature is a powerful one to keep the spirits high and the mind in pleasure.
Robert William Service was well-known during his lifetime for his verse poetry, which he often claimed was written for himself, rather than anyone else. His commercial success was something he considered more of a happy accident than an intention of his. During the early days of his career in writing, Service spent over a decade of his life living in the Yukon Territory of Canada, where he was able to live in a remote, small-town setting. He eventually acquired a small cabin that he used for writing his poetry, preferring the solitude and saying that the Yukon landscape was inspiring to him. With this in mind, it makes sense that Service would be heavily inspired by the natural world, since it would have consisted of much of his surroundings during the early days of his literary career. Many of his poems deal with the natural world, either directly, or through the attention, he so often paid to the natural sceneries around his characters.