Study Guide

Recuerdo Analysis

  • Sound Check

    Remember when you had to sign people's yearbooks? You get a yearbook back that's filled with stuff like "BFF 4Eva" and "You're so cool. Thanks for sitting next to me in study hall." It's all pretty run-of-the-mill stuff, right?

    But then there's that one person – the crazy, cool, not-scared-to-do-anything-or-say-anything friend of yours – who takes up an entire page writing out that story about that one time that the two of you did…well, you know what you did.

    Just turning back to that page is enough to make you smile. And that's what this poem "sounds" like – a private smile as the speaker remembers a really, really good night. You can almost see the poem scrawled across the last page of someone's calendar or tucked into their backpack. It's a personal memory.

    The repetition of the first line in each stanza works almost like an incantation: as you read it, you remember what it was like to feel tired and merry. And as each line rushes into the next, using first words such as "and" to pull us straight into the new line, we feel the excitement of a memory being built, layer by layer.

    Then, just like a yearbook entry, it ends on a happy note – "you" and the speaker did something pretty remarkable, really. And that's as good a place to stop remembering as any!

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Here's the interesting thing about the title – it's not in English. In fact, "recuerdo" means "I remember" in Spanish. That's pretty fitting, all things considered: after all, it's a poem about remembering. But why not just call the poem "Memory" or, well, "I Remember"?

    Well, we won't give you a crash-course in Spanish. That's why you have a high school Spanish teacher. But here's the upshot: "recuerdo" can be either a noun ("a memory") or a conjugated verb ("I remember"). In this particular case, it could be either – and that ambiguity makes us think about just how committed the speaker is to her memory.

  • Setting

    This poem traces the adventures of a couple throughout the night. Jumping on and off of the ferry, they manage to wander through town (stopping for dinner) and ramble through the wilds (making a fire and lying on a hill to star-gaze).

    In some ways, this poem is all about setting. We don't get too much detail about either the speaker or her companion (that's "you," in case you were wondering). Want to know all the dirty little secrets of our speaker's life? Too bad. Find yourself another poem.

    Instead, we move quickly from action to action. As our speaker recounts what happened over the course of the night, we get little snapshots of what her world must look like as she moves through it. It's sort of like Memento. Except it moves in chronological order. Oh, and there aren't any guns. Sorry.

    Instead, it's a pretty magical world – the kind of magic that turns everyday things into wondrous objects and boring actions (like taking the ferry) into a night to remember. When the sun rises like a "bucketful of gold," chances are that things are pretty good. We're betting that this has something to do with the speaker's companion, but we'll say more about that in "Themes."

    So, even though we couldn't tell you exactly where this ferry is, we can tell you how it feels to be on it. And really, isn't that what you want to know?

  • Speaker

    We get the feeling that this is the sort of girl we'd like to spend some time with. For one thing, she's game for all kinds of adventure. She's not the sort to care too much about her curfew. Or her hairstyle. After all, anyone who's willing to stay up all night riding back and forth on a ferry boat isn't exactly high maintenance, if you know what we mean!

    Plus, anyone who cares enough about the tiny details of a night spent with you to write them all down is probably someone who cares a good deal about...you. She seems to believe in that motto, "It's the little stuff that counts." You don't have to buy her diamonds and champagne. She's just as happy with apples and pears. It's pretty cute, really.

    Oh, and to add to our love affair with the speaker: she's more than willing to give everything away to help someone in need.

    We'd say that this woman is too good to be true, but the fact is, she doesn't seem to care that much about what we think. This isn't a poem for a huge outside audience. That's why "you" plays such a big part in it. Our speaker wants to remember her time with one person – and that's all that counts.

  • Tough-O-Meter

    (2) Sea Level

    Because this poem is a quick dive into someone else's memory, it could be a little tough to map out exactly what the two did over the course of the night…but that's not really the point of the poem. We're totally able to capture the mood of the night – and that's what the speaker wants us to remember. So: no tough language, no tricky metaphors. Just straight-up happiness. It's a breeze to read!

  • Calling Card

    Emotional Exuberance

    Edna St. Vincent Millay is well known for living life to the fullest – and writing all about the passions and joys she encounters along the way. This is no poet of the middle of the road – she's at the extremes. Extreme love, extreme madness, extreme sorrow. That's the "calling card" of her life – and her work. This poem fits right into this amped-up emotional space, taking a simple journey and turning it into a night to remember.

  • Form and Meter

    Irregular

    This poem is divided into three six-line stanzas, which gives it every appearance of regularity. In fact, if you only counted the first two lines of each stanza, you'd even say that it has an even number of syllables in each line. (After all, lines one and two each have twelve syllables.) Come to think of it, the first two lines are chock-full of trochees. That's a fancy term for pairs of syllables which couple an accented and an unaccented syllable together to make a DUM-da sound. Here's what we mean. If you read the first line, it would sound something like this:

    WE-were-VER-y-TIR-ed-WE-were-VER-y-MER-ry

    See? There's a regular pattern of accented and unaccented syllables.

    Here's where things get interesting, though: after the first two lines, there's not any regular metrical pattern. Why would Millay set up such a regular system and then forget about it completely?

    Well, here's our best guess: see, the speaker wants to remember this night more than anything. In fact, the most important part of the poem is the fact that she repeats her impression of the night over and over. Making the first lines fit into a regular metrical pattern makes them easier to remember….and after that, she's not so worried about the actual details of the night. That's why the rest of the lines fall into no particular order. It's not what they do that matters – it's the fact that she can remember it that counts.

  • Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay

    Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, Shmoop is here. Check out our "How to Read a Poem" section for a glossary of terms.

    Repetition

    In a poem of eighteen lines, it's pretty amazing that six would say the exact same thing. We're guessing that means that the moment they depict is worth remembering. Or, um, recuerdo-ing. In fact, even though the speaker can't clearly articulate exactly what happened that night, she's certain that she needs to cling to the fact that it happened. Emotions, not events, are the name of this particular game.

    • Lines 1-2: Even though this is the first time we see these lines, the internal repetition of "we were...we were" sets this line up as one that tries to hone in on a particular past moment.
    • Lines 7-8: Here we go again! This time, the lines seem to mark a constant emotion in the whirl of one night's events.
    • Lines 13-14: …and another time. We told you.
    • Line 6: The repetition of "and" in this line makes a progressive series of events into a formal repetition.
    • Sex Rating

      PG

      Sure, this poem doesn't actually talk about sex at all. Heck, it doesn't even bring up love! But a night spent up on a hilltop? Well, that sounds romantic....