THE MEN WHO DON’T FIT IN
by Robert Service (1874-1958)
There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest.
If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they’re always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.
They say: “Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!”
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake.
And each forgets, as he strips and runs
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It’s the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.
And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that’s dead,
In the glare of the truth at last.
He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
He has just done things by half.
Life’s been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.
Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
He’s a rolling stone, and it’s bred in the bone;
He’s a man who won’t fit in.
…by Robert Service from The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses
Robert Service, an inveterate traveler and adventure seeker, was born in England and grew up in Scotland.
Service yearned to be a cowboy. He arrived in Canada the same year that gold was found in the Klondike, and did hire on as a cowboy for a bit on Vancouver Island. But soon he returned to the job he had trained for—banking— and that work led him eventually to the Yukon, when his bank transferred him there.
There he wrote stories of the prospectors and poems such as “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” and “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” His work met with immediate acclaim and his poetry remains widely read and performed.
Some of the tales he told were colored by his life in the West among cowboys, and the strong rhyme and meter of his work have inspired many cowboy poets.
Find more about him at CowboyPoetry.com.
This 1939 photo by Arthur Rothstein (1915-1985), titled “Cowboy in front of bunkhouse, Quarter Circle U Ranch, Big Horn County, Montana,” is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Rothstein was a student of Roy Styker, who conceived the documentary photography project for the FSA. Find more about Arthur Rothstein here.
(This poem and photo are in the public domain.)