‘A Memory’ by Lola Ridge is a three-stanza poem separated into two sets of seven lines and one set of five. Ridge has not chosen to structure this piece with a consistent pattern of rhyme. Although, there are several distinct moments of repetition. These appear at the beginning of lines, (with words such as “And” or “The”), and at the end of lines with words like, “town,” “night” and “sea.” The repetition of the end words, in particular, works to craft a mood of peace and serenity within the text.
It is important to note before beginning this piece that all the scenes described by the poet are recollections. They all fall under the “memory” that the title alludes to. This fact decreases the perfect nature of the scene in that a reader is constantly aware the night has already ended.
Summary of A Memory
The poem begins with the speaker stating that she remembers the sounds of a town. Her relationship with this place is unclear, but she describes it in vivid detail. The surf is compared to physical “fumbling” on a beach and the “yellow” as resembling “sulphur.” These choices paint the landscape as being deeply personal to the speaker. She has her own connections to the place that influence how she sees it.
The following lines expand on the physical landscape that surrounds the speaker and her companion. She recalls their moments together underneath the ever-present nature of the moon, and around the flinging sea. Their time together is temporary, a fact which is presented through the passage of the night, tides, and the past tense structure of the piece.
Analysis of A Memory
The crackle of the palm trees
Over the mooned white roofs of the town…
The shining town…
And the tender fumbling of the surf
On the sulphur-yellow beaches
As we sat…a little apart…in the close-pressing night.
In the first stanza, the speaker begins with the phrase, “I remember.” These words are placed at the start of the text in order to ensure a reader understands that everything which follows is a memory. The speaker’s recollections are not made up of distinct experiences, rather is outlined by its emotional connections and associations. The first that comes to mind is the “crackle of the palm trees.” One can imagine this sound as being created by the palm fronds brushing together. It is somewhat melodic and soothing in this context.
These sounds occur “Over” the “white roofs of the town.” When Ridge’s speaker describes the roofs she sees them as being similar in color to the moon. This connects the physical world to the celestial and adds a deeper quality to the description.
She goes on to speak of the town as being “shining.” This is in reality likely to do with the reflective nature of buildings, but the locations also seems to hold something special for her. The shining is also connected to the memories that took place in the surrounding areas.
In the next lines, the speaker comes to a description of the “tender fumbling of the surf.” A reader should take note of this type of description. This phrase, specifically the words “tender” and “fumbling” are more related to a physical relationship between two people than to the movements of the surf. Ridge has chosen to personify the “surf” with the experiences her speaker enjoyed there. This choice will make more sense as the poem continues.
The final two lines of this section introduce the listener to the speaker’s memories. This person accompanied the speaker on the beach. Together they “sat,” not quite touching, in a night that is said to be “close-pressing.” That particular night encouraged a closeness the two were quite ready to embark on. Even without physical intimacy, the moment is important to the speaker as the two grew close emotionally.
The moon hung above us like a golden mango,
And the moist air clung to our faces,
Warm and fragrant as the open mouth of a child
And we watched the out-flung sea
Rolling to the purple edge of the world,
Yet ever back upon itself…
In the second stanza of ‘A Memory’, the speaker goes on to describe the scene in greater detail. First, there is another reference to the moon, a feature that is brought up in each of the three stanzas. It is clear, as the speaker returns to these moments, that the moon plays a prominent role as an onlooker in her memories.
She speaks of the moon as hanging above the scene. It seems to be suspended there like a “golden mango.” It feels very tangible to the speaker, even in her recollections. In fact, every natural element of the scene is enhanced. This holds true in the next line when she describes the “moist air” that “clung” to their “faces.” The experience was a very physical one. The air was as “Warm and fragrant” as a child’s open mouth. This choice of simile is also interesting. A reader might question what it was that made the speaker relate the weather to a child.
From where the speaker and his listener sat, they were able to “watch…the out-flung sea.” It is constantly moving and seems to fling itself around with only a single sense of order. The water is revealing the “edge of the world.” Ridge’s speaker is using this description in the hope of sufficiently conveying what she felt then. It was as if she was having something grand revealed to her, and then covered up again. The water moved “back upon itself” every time it “flung” out.
The final lines of this section ends with an ellipse. The speaker’s words drift off just as the water does she is so entranced by. The water is folding back “upon itself” like the speaker states, “we” are. The emotional relationship she maintains with this unknown listener has the same qualities as the water. It is constantly moving, fluidly in and out.
And mooned white memory
Of a tropic sea…
How softly it comes up
Like an ungathered lily.
The last stanza contains only five lines. She begins her conclusion with the phrase “inadequate night.” The time the two shared was not enough for them. Now, as she looks back, she feels as if there was more they could’ve had.
The image of the moon resurfaces in the second line of this section. Her memory is now being spoken of as being “mooned white.” It is structured and tinted by the moon, which has served as an ever-present observer to the actions of the night. This comparison also brings to mind the idea of subtleties being “white[d]” out. She may or may not be recalling everything as clearly as she could, or she has perhaps enhanced her memories— making them purer and more poignant.
In addition to the poignancy, there is also a softness to the moments. They are enhanced by the “tropic sea” and the way it “comes up” to the shore. The water has a purity inherent to its presence that calls to mind an “ungathered” or untouched or picked, “lily.” It does not matter to this speaker whether her members of this night are precise though. The speaker is happy to recall them, and feel once again as she did then.