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by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Stanza 1 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 1-2

We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.

  • Talk about a journey! Frankly, a night's-worth of ferry rides doesn't sound like our idea of a good time. They tend to be pretty slow and cold and, well, less than comfortable. So when our speaker tells us that she's tired, we're inclined to believe her.
  • Merry, though? Seriously. Would you be happy if you'd just spent a night on public transportation? That's sort of like saying you had the best time of your life…at the bus station.
  • Our speaker, though, seems to be sincere in her enthusiasm. Whatever happened on those ferry rides, it must've been good!
  • Notice that the "we" to which our speaker refers isn't described in any way? Are "we" a group of school kids? A pack of rodeo clowns? A band of renegade tuba players? We just don't know. Stay tuned, folks….

Line 3

It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable—

  • OK, did we mention how unappealing public transit can be? Here's a pretty good description. Remember that scene in The Pursuit of Happyness when Will Smith and his son bed down in a BART train station for the night? It's bright and cold and, in general, absolutely miserable.
  • Judging from this description, our speaker feels about the same way. There aren't any cushy seats. Forget about heaters. And then there's that awful smell.
  • Why in the world, then, would she be happy to have spent all night there? Good question, friends.

Lines 4-6

But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.

  • Ah. Now we're getting closer to the heart of the story. As it turns out, these trips on the ferry are woven into a night spent out on a hill-top. Pretty romantic, huh? For a fire and an intimate dinner, we might even start to think about spending some time on the ferry ourselves!
  • Notice how St. Vincent Millay tends to pile action upon action? We learn about the fire-looking – and the table-sitting, and the hill-top-laying. And the whistles blow. And… And…. It's a world of non-stop action. Reading the poem, we start to pick up on the frenetic pace of her life. The speaker never slows down – even during the hours when the rest of the world is asleep.
  • St. Vincent Millay once penned a pretty famous poem declaring, "my candle burns at both ends." We're guessing that she shares this desire to live life to the absolute fullest with the speaker of this poem. There's a lot of energy in these lines!

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