The Call of the Wild

NO, not the 1903 Jack London novel. A different author, and a different literary form. Yet it deals with a similar environment, and it appeared only a few years later, in 1911. “The Call of the Wild” this time comes from Robert W. Service, a fellow most famous for his poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” I am fond of the “Cremation,” of course, for who does not like a little Yukon ghosting? But I think this one is a bit more profound.

Have you gazed on naked grandeur where there’s nothing else to gaze on,
Set pieces and drop-curtain scenes galore,
Big mountains heaved to heaven, which the blinding sunsets blazon,
Black canyons where the rapids rip and roar?
Have you swept the visioned valley with the green stream streaking through it,
Searched the Vastness for a something you have lost?
Have you strung your soul to silence? Then for God’s sake go and do it;
Hear the challenge, learn the lesson, pay the cost.

Have you wandered in the wilderness, the sagebrush desolation,
The bunch-grass levels where the cattle graze?
Have you whistled bits of rag-time at the end of all creation,
And learned to know the desert’s little ways?
Have you camped upon the foothills, have you galloped o’er the ranges,
Have you roamed the arid sun-lands through and through?
Have you chummed up with the mesa? Do you know its moods and changes?
Then listen to the Wild it’s calling you.

Have you known the Great White Silence, not a snow-gemmed twig aquiver?
(Eternal truths that shame our soothing lies).
Have you broken trail on snowshoes? mushed your huskies up the river,
Dared the unknown, led the way, and clutched the prize?
Have you marked the map’s void spaces, mingled with the mongrel races,
Felt the savage strength of brute in every thew?
And though grim as hell the worst is, can you round it off with curses?
Then hearken to the Wild  it’s wanting you.

Have you suffered, starved and triumphed, groveled down, yet grasped at glory, Grown bigger in the bigness of the whole?
“Done things” just for the doing, letting babblers tell the story,
Seeing through the nice veneer the naked soul?
Have you seen God in His splendors, heard the text that nature renders?
(You’ll never hear it in the family pew).
The simple things, the true things, the silent men who do things 
Then listen to the Wild  it’s calling you.

They have cradled you in custom, they have primed you with their preaching,
They have soaked you in convention through and through;
They have put you in a showcase; you’re a credit to their teaching
But can’t you hear the Wild?  it’s calling you.
Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us;
Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
There’s a whisper on the night-wind, there’s a star agleam to guide us,
And the Wild is calling, calling… let us go.

One might read the “family pew” line as a slight on organized religion, but I am inclined to be more gracious. Service merely calls attention to the rather obvious truth than one cannot observe natural beauty whilst enclosed by walls and roofs.  And natural beauty is more than a pretty picture to look at: it is divine revelation. “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation,” the XXXIX Articles rightly say, but “Holy Scripture containeth all things one might possibly learn about God” is the kind of sola scriptura gone wild for which I have little respect. The mountains display the glory of God, and the wilderness sheweth His handywork.

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