Friday, October 18, 2013

Poetry Friday: Edna St. Vincent Millay's Ferry Boat

I spent yesterday flaneur-ing my way through the neighborhoods of West Seattle, just looking around at houses, shops, Lincoln Park, views of Puget Sound. What I like most about that corner of Seattle (residents there feel like it's a little village, independent of the big city) are the views of the Sound, and of the ferry boats crossing from the Fauntleroy Dock over to Vashon Island.

Is there anything in the world more calming than the sight of a ferry boat sailing gracefully across water on a sunny autumn day? And then there's the long, low whistle as the ferry comes into dock - more like a moan than a whistle, really - it seems to come from way down deep. It's melancholy but dignified and industrious, that sound. And West Seattle, especially the neighborhood east of Lincoln Park, is configured perfectly for a view, with it's long, high backbone along 35th Avenue. The hillside drops westward from the there, down to the saltwater shore.

Ferry boats, ferry boats. They look like toys out there on the water, especially if Mount Rainier looms somewhere in the background.

I rode on the Staten Island Ferry once - when it still cost a nickel (it wasn't that long ago - the fare was a nickel until 1975, when it was raised to 25 cents round trip. Since 1997,  passengers ride free!)

That orange - so distinctive!
That boat didn't feel calm, probably because it was filtered through a tourist buzz ("There she is! The Statue of Liberty.") It's the ferry boat Edna St. Vincent Millay refers to in her poem "Recuerdo" - which I offer up here for Poetry Friday, in honor of crisp-as-an-apple days...with a water view. 


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.
                                   by Edna St. Vincent Millay
                                   Published in Poetry Magazine, May, 1919
The Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted today by Cathy at Merely Day By Day. Head over there to see what other people have posted.


  1. Always loved ferry boat rides, and Edna's graceful poem. This is a great example of the "song" poem we talked about on Facebook -- I'll have to take a lesson from this and try to sing more in my own writing.

  2. What beautiful pictures. I love Seattle and you make me want to jump on a plane right now.

    Enjoyed the Millay poem --- the second in the round up.


  3. Well it's very fine to arrive here after enjoying Edna's Figs number 1 and 2, pithy and sly at A Year of Reading, to find another Edna, a little punchy and generous and in love on a ferry. Now I just want to BE Edna St Vincent Millay in 1919....

  4. I love this poem. Thanks for sharing it!

  5. Wow! I love the conversational tone in this poem! I always loved ferry rides especially the ferry from Plattsburgh,NY to Grand Isle, VT in the dark!

    Also loved your comment on my guest blog post at LauraSassitales about collaborating with musicians on your poetry. Curious whether they are composing to your poetry or vice verse. Assuming the former! Very interesting! I'd love to hear more about that! My husband, Malcolm Deeley, had a poem set to music by a Swedish composer. Love to talk more about it if you get a chance.

  6. This is also one of my favorite Edna St Vincent Millay poems, thank you for sharing it this week. We were at Staten Island a year ago, such a beautiful experience.

  7. Love that poem. The traveling light mood of it takes me back to university days in Vancouver. Your description of the ferry boat's whistle: "...more like a moan than a whistle, really - it seems to come from way down deep. It's melancholy but dignified and industrious, that sound" is perfect!

  8. Thanks everyone for the generous comments - glad you like that poem.

    B.J., the composer (Dag Gabrielson) has approached me about collaboration three times - each time, the words comes first, then music (and then, sometimes, dance.) but Dag is very specific about what he wants when he has a project in mind.

  9. This is quite fun to read with First and Second Figs still rumbling around in my head. I'm listening to Bill Bryson's new book about all that happened in 1927, and wishing I could time travel back to the '20s and hang around with Ms. Millay and her crowd!

  10. Belatedly reading this -- saving it in my e-poetry journal. Thanks!