Poetry

Poetry Sunday: “Recuerdo,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

Recuerdo

We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable—
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.

We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.

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

 

A Few Figs from Thistles (1922)

 

Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in Rockland, Maine, on February 22, 1892. Her mother raised her and her two sisters after asking her husband to leave the family home in 1899. All three daughters were encouraged to be ambitious and independent and were taught an appreciation of music and literature. In 1912, Millay’s poem “Renascence” won publication in The Lyric Year, bringing her acclaim and a scholarship to Vassar. In 1917, Millay published her first book, Renascence and Other Poems, and at the request of Vassar’s drama department, wrote her first verse play, The Lamp and the Bell (1921).

After graduating from Vassar, Millay moved to New York City’s Greenwich Village, where she led a Bohemian life and lived by her writing, often trendy fiction penned under a pen name. She joined the Provincetown Players in its early days and befriended writers such as Floyd Dell, one of many men who asked for Millay’s hand in marriage. Openly bisexual, she refused, and the same year published A Few Figs from Thistles (1920), a book of poems that drew much attention for its feminism and frank expressions of female sexuality. In 1923, Millay was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver. In addition to publishing three plays in verse, Millay also wrote the libretto of one of the few American grand operas, The King’s Henchman (1927).

Millay was well-known for her riveting readings and performances, her progressive politics, her frank treatment of sexuality, and her embodiment and description of new kinds of female experience and expression. One biographer called her “the herald of the New Woman,” a sort of It Girl of her time. Millay represents an intriguing duality; on the one hand, modern in what her poems expressed; on the other, traditional in her adherence to poetic conventions such as formal rhyme and meter.

Millay’s popularity declined dramatically in the Thirties, but during her career she was a highly successful and respected poet in America. Like Robert Frost, she is regarded as one of the most skillful writers of the sonnet in the 20th century, and like him, was able to create a unique American poetry fusing modernist attitudes with traditional forms.

[Information from Academy of American Poets and Poetry Foundation]

Join the conversation

  • JoyceP October 23, 2017 at 10:02 am

    Do you think this was the first “I do this/I do that” poem?

    Reply
  • Carolyn Schmidt October 22, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    I’ve just started reading Millay’s biography, Savage Beauty, by Nancy Milford. Based on interviews with Millay’s sister Norma, Edna’s surviving correspondence, and meticulous research, it is a fascinating and comprehensive read.

    Reply