Study Guide

Recuerdo

Recuerdo Summary

Two people have one of those nights that you remember forever – and this poem captures that memory. They travel back and forth on a ferry all night, taking time to grab dinner, lie on a hill and look at the stars, and huddle up by a fire.

As they ride the ferry, the sun starts to come up. They share fruit that they've bought along their journey. They meet a poor woman on the road, buy a paper from her, and give her their fruit. When she blesses them for the gift, they give her everything they have (except for the subway fare they need to get home).

  • Stanza 1

    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!
  • Stanza 2

    Lines 7-8

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

    • Wait, we've heard this before, haven't we? Six lines ago, to be precise.
    • Repeating the first two lines of the first stanza allows St. Vincent Millay to create a sort of emotional center within her poem. Sure, the speaker is unraveling memories at a break-neck pace. Sure, every line's going to have some sort of new action. But these first two lines become the starting point of each of those memories.
    • It's sort of like when you and your friends start telling stories that begin with the phrase, "Remember that time when…." This is "that time when we spent the night on the ferry." Interestingly, though, what the speaker emphasizes is not the action (the ferry-riding) but the emotions – the tiredness and merriness make this night memorable for her.
    • If you've ever had a moment which just feels good, chances are that you'll remember it. They're the moments that call for big, sweeping musical accompaniment in movies. But in real life, they tend to be built out of tiny, trivial details. It's not important, really, what the moment is. It's how you feel while you re-live it that counts. At least, that's what our speaker thinks.

    Lines 9-10

    And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
    From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;

    • Speaking of trivial details: they eat fruit. How much more mundane can you get? Our speaker, however, seems perfectly thrilled to be eating pears and apples on a night ferry. Hey, there's no accounting for taste!
    • This is the first time, though, that we get a better sense of who the poem's "we" could be. "We" turns out to be two people: the speaker and "you," someone who accompanies the speaker on her nighttime rambles.

    Lines 11-12

    And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
    And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.

    • Here's where the poem takes off on a fanciful flight of the imagination. You can almost see the transition into cartoon-like colors from the dull, cold, uncomfortable world of yesterday. It's like that moment in The Wizard of Oz when we suddenly switch from black and white to the wonders of Technicolor.
    • We get the sense that our speaker knows just how over-the-top her description actually is. After all, a "dripping" sun and a "bucketful of gold" draw attention to the oozy, schmoozy language of the speaker as much as they serve to describe the sunrise.
    • Still, if this is going to be a night to remember for the rest of our speaker's life, she might as well use language that will make it memorable!
  • Stanza 3

    Lines 13-14

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

    • All right, all right. We get it already! Repeating the same lines has an incantatory feel (see line 7-8). Hey, maybe the third time's the charm!

    Lines 15-18

    We hailed, "Good morrow, mother!" to a shawl-covered head,
    And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;
    And she wept, "God bless you!" for the apples and pears,
    And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

    • You know how your mother always told you that sharing would make you happier? It never seemed to work when you had to split your Oreos with the snotty-faced kid next door, did it? Chances are you even started to doubt the ultimate authority of your parental units.
    • This time, though, it seems like our speaker might just have found the perfect way to capitalize upon an already-perfect night: to share the bounty of that night with someone who's less fortunate than she is. There's something really spontaneous and lovely about their gesture. After all, when was the last time that you emptied out your pockets for the homeless guy on the corner?
    • Notice, though, that there's still an ounce of pragmatism in their generosity. It's not like they're totally empting out their pockets. First they take the time to remove the $2.57 it'll take to get themselves home. We're not saying anything about their generosity – it's still pretty incredible to pass on the love the way they're doing. We're just saying that they're not about to go overboard with their happiness. A girl's gotta get home somehow.