'Bessie 's Boil' by Robert W. Service

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A Lancashire Ballad

Says I to my Missis: "Ba goom, lass! you've something, I see, on your mind."
Says she: "You are right, Sam, I've something. It 'appens it's on me be'ind.
A Boil as 'ud make Job be jealous. It 'urts me no end when I sit."
Says I: "Go to 'ospittel, Missis. The might 'ave to coot it a bit"
Says she: "I just 'ate to be showin' the part of me person it's at."
Says I: "Don't be fussy; them doctors sees sight far more 'orrid that that."

So Missis goes off togged up tasty, and there at the 'ospittel door
They tells 'er to see the 'ouse Doctor, 'oose office is Room Thirty-four.
So she 'unts up and down till she finds it, and knocks and a voice says: "Come in,"
And there is a 'andsome young feller, in white from 'is 'eels to 'is chin.
"I've got a boil," says my Missis. "it 'urts me for fair when I sit,
And Sam (that's me 'usband) 'as asked me to ask you to coot it a bit."
Then blushin' she plucks up her courage, and bravely she shows 'im the place,
And 'e gives it a proper inspections, wi' a 'eap o' surprise on 'is face.
The 'e says wi' and accent o' Scotland: "Whit ye hae is a bile, Ah can feel,
But ye'd better consult the heid Dockter; they caw him Professor O'Neil.
He's special for biles and carbuncles. Ye'll find him in Room Sixty-three.
No charge, Ma'am. It's been a rale pleasure. Jist tell him ye're comin from me."

So Missis she thanks 'im politely, and 'unts up and down as before,
Till she comes to a big 'andsome room with "Professor O'Neil" on the door.
Then once more she plucks up her courage, and knocks and a voice says: "All right."
So she enters, and sees a fat feller wi' whiskers, all togged up in white.
"I've got a big boil," says my Missis, "and if ye will kindly permit,
I'd like for to 'ave you inspect it; it 'urts me like all when I sit."
So blushin' as red as a beet-root she 'astens to show 'im the spot,
And 'e says wi'a look o' amazement: "Sure, Ma'am, it must hurrt ye a lot."
Then 'e puts on 'is specs to regard it, and finally says wi' a frown:
"I'll bet it's a sore as the divvle, espacially whin ye sit down.
I think it's a case for the Surgeon; ye'd better consult Doctor Hoyle.
I've no hisitation in sayin' yer boil is a hill of a boil."

So Missis she thanks 'im for sayin' her boil is a hill of a boil,
And 'unts all around till she comes on a door that is marked: "Doctor Hoyle."
But by now she 'as fair got the wind up, and trembles in every limb;
But she thinks: "After all 'e's a Doctor. Ah moosn't be bashful wi' 'im."
She's made o' good stoof is the Missis, so she knocks and a voice says: "'Oos there?"
"It's me," says ma Bessie, an' enters a room which is spacious and bare.
And a wise-lookin' old feller greets 'er, and 'e too is togged up in white.
"It's the room where they coot ye," think Bessies; and shakes like a jelly wi' fright.
"Ah got a big boil," begins Missis, "and if ye are sure you don't mind,
I'd like ye to see it a moment. It 'urts me, because it's be'ind."
So thinkin she'd best get it over, she 'astens to show 'im the place,
And 'e stares at 'her kindo surprised like, an' gets very red in the face.
But 'e looks at it most conscientious, from every angle of view,
Then 'e says wi' a shrug o' 'is shoulders: "Pore Lydy, I'm sorry for you.
It wants to be cut, but you should 'ave a medical bloke to do that.
Sye, why don't yer go to the 'orsespittel, where all the Doctors is at?
Ye see, Ma'am, this part o' the buildin' is closed on account o' repairs;
Us fellers is only the pynters, a-pyntin' the 'alls and the stairs."

Editor 1 Interpretation

Bessie's Boil by Robert W. Service: A Literary Masterpiece

Oh, what a gem of a poem is Robert W. Service's "Bessie's Boil"! It is a classic example of Service's ability to capture the essence of human nature in his poetry. Service was a master of narrative verse, and "Bessie's Boil" is a prime example of his expertise in this area.

The poem tells the story of a woman named Bessie, who has a boil on her neck that causes her great discomfort. Service describes Bessie's plight with vivid detail, using humor and irony to create a sense of empathy in the reader.

Structure and Form of The Poem

The poem is written in the form of a narrative, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. It is divided into eight stanzas, each composed of four lines, with a consistent rhyme scheme of ABAB. The poem's structure is simple, yet effective, allowing Service to convey the story in a clear and concise manner.

The Theme of Suffering

The theme of suffering is central to "Bessie's Boil." Service uses Bessie's physical pain to explore the human experience of suffering. He portrays Bessie as a sympathetic character, whose suffering is not only physical but also emotional. Bessie's pain is not only caused by the boil on her neck but also by the ridicule and mockery she faces from her neighbors.

Service's portrayal of Bessie's suffering is not only realistic but also humorous. He uses irony to create contrast between the seriousness of Bessie's condition and the lightheartedness of the poem. For instance, he describes Bessie's pain as "a cross twixt Hell and Hades" (line 7), which is a humorous way of describing her agony.

The Role of Community

The poem also explores the role of community in times of suffering. Service portrays Bessie's neighbors as unsympathetic and mocking, which highlights the importance of compassion and empathy in human relationships. Bessie is isolated and alone, with no one to turn to for comfort or support.

However, the poem also suggests that even in the face of ridicule and mockery, Bessie remains resilient. She refuses to let her suffering define her and instead maintains her dignity and strength.

The Use of Language

Service's use of language is another standout aspect of the poem. He uses vivid imagery and metaphors to describe Bessie's condition, such as "her neck was like a rainbow" (line 3) and "her boil was like a cherry" (line 13). These descriptions not only add to the humor of the poem but also create a sense of empathy in the reader.

The poem also features Service's signature use of colloquial language and dialect, which gives the poem a sense of authenticity and realism. The use of colloquial language also adds to the humor of the poem, as Service uses humorous expressions and turns of phrase throughout the poem.


In conclusion, Robert W. Service's "Bessie's Boil" is a literary masterpiece that uses humor and irony to explore the theme of suffering. The poem's structure and form are simple yet effective, allowing Service to convey the story in a clear and concise manner. The poem highlights the importance of compassion and empathy in human relationships, while also portraying the resilience and strength of the human spirit. Overall, "Bessie's Boil" is a timeless classic that continues to resonate with readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Bessie's Boil: A Classic Poem by Robert W. Service

If you're a fan of classic poetry, then you've probably heard of Robert W. Service. He was a Canadian poet and writer who became famous for his ballads and poems about the Yukon and the Klondike Gold Rush. One of his most popular poems is "Bessie's Boil," a humorous and satirical piece that pokes fun at the medical profession and the superstitions of the time.

The poem tells the story of Bessie, a young woman who has a boil on her neck. She goes to see the doctor, who prescribes various treatments, but none of them work. Bessie then turns to a local healer, who gives her a potion made from various herbs and roots. The potion works, and the boil disappears. However, the doctor is not happy about this and accuses the healer of being a fraud.

The poem is written in Service's signature style, which is characterized by its simple language, rhyming couplets, and catchy rhythm. It's easy to read and understand, but it also has a deeper meaning that is worth exploring.

At its core, "Bessie's Boil" is a commentary on the state of medicine in the early 20th century. At the time, doctors were still using outdated and ineffective treatments, such as bloodletting and leeches. They also relied heavily on superstition and folklore, often prescribing remedies that had no scientific basis.

Service was clearly critical of this approach, and he uses Bessie's story to highlight the absurdity of it all. The doctor in the poem is portrayed as a bumbling fool who has no idea how to treat Bessie's boil. He prescribes everything from ointments to poultices to hot compresses, but nothing works. He even suggests that Bessie should have the boil lanced, which was a painful and dangerous procedure at the time.

In contrast, the healer is portrayed as a wise and knowledgeable figure who knows exactly what to do. He gives Bessie a potion made from various herbs and roots, which cures the boil almost instantly. The implication is clear: the medical profession is full of charlatans and quacks, while the real healers are to be found among the common people.

Of course, this is a simplistic view of things, and it's not entirely fair to the medical profession of the time. While it's true that many doctors were still using outdated treatments, there were also many who were making significant advances in medicine and science. However, Service's point is not to provide a nuanced analysis of the medical profession, but rather to use humor and satire to make a broader point about the dangers of superstition and ignorance.

Another interesting aspect of the poem is its use of dialect. Service was known for his ability to capture the speech patterns and idioms of the people he wrote about, and "Bessie's Boil" is no exception. The poem is written in a Scottish dialect, which adds to its charm and humor. For example, Bessie is described as having a "sneck" (a sore) on her neck, and the healer is said to have "canny" (clever) hands. These little touches help to bring the characters to life and make the poem more engaging.

Overall, "Bessie's Boil" is a classic poem that still resonates today. Its humor and satire are timeless, and its message about the dangers of superstition and ignorance is still relevant. If you haven't read it before, I highly recommend giving it a try. It's a quick and enjoyable read that will leave you with a smile on your face and a deeper appreciation for the power of poetry.

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