“When the Ice Worms Nest Again”


"There's a dusky husky maiden in the Arctic, And she waits for me but it is not in vain, For some day I'll put my mukluks on and ask her If she'll wed me when the ice-worms nest again." There follows a description of a wedding feast in an igloo


Often associated with Robert W. Service (who did publish the song), Fowke thinks this piece "may date back to the Klondike gold rush of 1898." It was apparently first published in 1938, by the "Yellowknife Prospector" (which credited it to four men working along the Yukon River around 1919) and by Service in "Bath-Tub Ballads." Service reported that he wrote it in Dawson in 1911 -- but Fowke reports his version shows significant differences from the "common" text and tune.

"Ice worms" seemingly first appeared in "ice worm cocktails" (a term which may go back to Service). They were simply strands of pasta with eyes drawn on -- but the legend goes that they were used to intimidate inexperienced travellers who visited the Yukon, and who thought they were actual living things.

To be sure, there are actual creatures called "ice worms" (creatures that live on glaciers, coming out mostly at night, and somehow are able to increase their metabolism as temperatures go down. It is feared that global warming will render them extinct). But, based on a National Public Radio report at the end of 2005, even now, no one knows how these creatures reproduce, or how long they live; the author of this poem probably didn't know the real creatures even existed. - RBW


  • Wilf Carter, "When the Ice Worms Nest Again" (Bluebird [Canada] 58-0129, c. 1950)
  • Loewen Orchestra, "When the Iceworms Nest Again" (on SaskMan1)


  1. Fowke/Johnston, pp. 186-188, "When the Ice Worms Nest Again" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Fowke/Mills/Blume, pp. 189-191, "When the Ice Worms Nest Again" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Silber-FSWB, p. 169, "When the Iceworms Nest Again" (1 text)
  5. Roud #4537
  6. BI, FJ186


Author: unknown (various copyright claims)
Earliest date: 1938
Found in: US(Alaska) Canada(NW,West)