'Bindle Stiff' by Robert Service

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Lyrics of a Low BrowWhen I was brash and gallant-gay
Just fifty years ago,
I hit the ties and beat my way
From Maine to Mexico;
For though to Glasgow gutter bred
A hobo heart had I,
And followed where adventure led,
Beneath a brazen sky.And as I tramped the railway track
I owned a single shirt;
Like canny Scot I bought it black
So's not to show the dirt;
A handkerchief held all my gear,
My razor and my comb;
I was a freckless lad, I fear,
With all the world for home.Yet oh I thought the life was grand
And loved my liberty!
Romance was my bed-fellow and
The stars my company.
And I would think, each diamond dawn,
"How I have forged my fate!
Where are the Gorbals and the Tron,
And where the Gallowgate?"Oh daft was I to wander wild,
And seek the Trouble Trail,
As weakly as a wayward child,
And darkly doomed to fail . . .
Aye, bindle-stiff I hit the track
Just fifty years ago . . .
Yet now . . .

Editor 1 Interpretation

"Bindle Stiff" by Robert Service: A Poem of the Road

Are you familiar with the term "bindle stiff"? It's a term used to describe a transient worker or hobo, someone who travels from place to place with all their belongings in a bundle or "bindle" on a stick. It's a term that was popularized in the early 20th century, and it's also the title of a poem written by Robert Service. Service was a Canadian poet who wrote about the rugged life of the Yukon during the Gold Rush era, and his poem "Bindle Stiff" is a prime example of his ability to capture the spirit of the road.

The Road Less Traveled

The first thing that strikes me about "Bindle Stiff" is the sense of freedom and adventure that it evokes. The speaker of the poem is a hobo, a man who has "roamed the wide world over," and he speaks of the road as his home. He describes the beauty of the open countryside, the thrill of the railroad tracks, and the camaraderie of his fellow travelers. He sings, "Oh, the road is a ribbon of moonlight / Over the purple moor," and you can almost hear the wind whistling through the trees and feel the dust on your face.

But the road is not just a place of beauty and adventure; it's also a place of danger and hardship. The speaker describes the hunger and exhaustion that come with life on the road, as well as the prejudice and hostility that hobos face from the settled population. He tells of how he's been "clubbed and beaten and starved," and how he's been chased out of towns with dogs and guns. Yet despite all this, he remains unbroken and undaunted, determined to keep on traveling.

The Poetry of the Road

One of the things that makes "Bindle Stiff" such a powerful poem is the way that Service captures the language and rhythms of the road. The poem is written in a loose, rolling form that mimics the movement of a train or a hobo walking down a dusty road. Service uses slang and colloquial language to give the poem an authentic feel, and he peppers it with references to hobo culture, like "the jungle" (a term for a hobo camp) and "the Big Smoke" (a slang term for a big city).

But what really stands out in "Bindle Stiff" is the way that Service uses repetition and rhyme to create a hypnotic effect. The poem is full of repeated phrases, like "I'm a roving gambler," "I'm a tramp," and "I'm a pilgrim on the road." These phrases become like refrains, echoing through the poem and reinforcing the speaker's identity as a wanderer. Service also uses end rhyme and internal rhyme to give the poem a musical quality, and he uses slant rhyme to create a sense of tension and uncertainty. The poem is full of lines like "And it's ho for the West again, boys, ho!" and "And the world is a hell for a bum like me," that stick in your head long after you've read the poem.

The Meaning of the Road

So what is "Bindle Stiff" really about? On the surface, it's a poem about the life of a hobo, a celebration of the freedom and adventure of the road. But I think there's more to it than that. To me, "Bindle Stiff" is a poem about the human need for freedom and self-determination. It's a poem about the struggle to live life on your own terms, even in the face of hardship and oppression.

The speaker of the poem is a man who has chosen to live outside of society's norms, to reject the conventional path of work and family and settle down. He's a man who has embraced the uncertainty and danger of the road, who has found a sense of community and identity among his fellow travelers. And in doing so, he's become a symbol of resistance and rebellion against the forces of conformity and control.

But the poem is also a reminder that the road is not an easy path to follow. The hobo's life is one of hardship and danger, and the speaker of the poem is fully aware of the risks he's taking. He knows that he's an outsider, that he's looked down upon by the settled population, and that his life is at the mercy of the elements and the whims of fate. Yet he continues to travel, driven by a restless spirit and a desire for something more than what society has to offer.


In the end, "Bindle Stiff" is a poem that speaks to the heart of the human condition. It's a poem about the search for freedom and self-determination, about the struggle to live life on your own terms. It's a poem that celebrates the beauty and adventure of the road, but also acknowledges the risks and dangers that come with that life. Robert Service was a master of capturing the spirit of the Yukon, and "Bindle Stiff" is a classic example of his ability to weave together language, rhythm, and meaning to create a powerful work of art.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Bindle Stiff: A Classic Poem by Robert Service

If you are a lover of poetry, then you must have come across the name Robert Service. He is a renowned poet who is known for his unique style of writing. His poems are characterized by their simplicity, humor, and vivid imagery. One of his most famous poems is the "Poetry Bindle Stiff." In this article, we will take a closer look at this classic poem and analyze its meaning and significance.

The poem is about a man who is a "bindle stiff," a term used to describe a homeless person who carries all his belongings in a bundle or bindle. The bindle stiff in the poem is a poet who wanders from place to place, looking for inspiration for his poetry. He is a man who is passionate about his craft and is willing to endure the hardships of life to pursue his dream.

The poem begins with the bindle stiff walking along a dusty road, carrying his bindle on his back. He is described as a man who is "gaunt and gray and ghostly," with "eyes that blaze like fire." This description sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is full of vivid imagery and powerful emotions.

As the bindle stiff walks along the road, he comes across a group of people who are gathered around a fire. They are singing and dancing, and the bindle stiff is drawn to their joyous energy. He joins in the festivities, and for a moment, he forgets about his troubles and his quest for inspiration.

However, the bindle stiff soon realizes that he cannot stay with the group forever. He must continue on his journey, searching for the inspiration that he needs to write his poetry. He bids farewell to the group and sets off once again, his bindle on his back.

The rest of the poem is a reflection on the bindle stiff's life as a poet. He talks about the hardships that he has endured, the rejection that he has faced, and the sacrifices that he has made. He speaks of the beauty that he has seen and the joy that he has felt, but also of the loneliness and despair that he has experienced.

Despite all of this, the bindle stiff remains committed to his craft. He knows that he is a poet, and he cannot imagine doing anything else. He is willing to endure the hardships of life because he knows that they are necessary for him to create his art.

The poem ends with the bindle stiff walking off into the distance, his bindle on his back. He is still searching for inspiration, still pursuing his dream. The final lines of the poem are some of the most powerful:

"Yet there's a joy in the proving, A thrill in the fight, And the poet is king of the homeless, And he sleeps in the streets at night."

These lines capture the essence of the poem. They speak to the passion and dedication that the bindle stiff has for his craft, and the sacrifices that he is willing to make to pursue it. They also speak to the power of poetry itself, and the way that it can transcend the hardships of life.

In conclusion, the "Poetry Bindle Stiff" is a classic poem that speaks to the power of poetry and the dedication of those who pursue it. It is a poem that is full of vivid imagery and powerful emotions, and it captures the essence of Robert Service's unique style of writing. If you are a lover of poetry, then this is a poem that you must read.

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