Recitative

Recitative

by A. E. Stallings

Every night, we couldn’t sleep.
Our upstairs neighbors had to keep
Dropping something down the hall—
A barbell or a bowling ball,

And from the window by the bed,
Echoing inside my head,
Alley cats expended breath
In arias of love and death.

Dawn again, across the street,
Jackhammers began to beat
Like hangovers, and you would frown—
That well-built house, why tear it down?

Noon, the radiator grill
Groaned, gave off a lesser chill
So that we could take off our coats.
The pipes coughed to clear their throats.

Our nerves were frayed like raveled sleeves,
We cherished each our minor griefs
To keep them warm until the night,
When it was time again to fight;

But we were young, did not need much
To make us laugh instead, and touch,
And could not hear ourselves above
The arias of death and love.

Literary Analysis

The major themes of this poem are love and happiness. However, these major themes are intertwined with several other minor themes such as sorrow, grief, and death, depicted as the part of life. The poet has presented the idea that different phases of life depend upon individual behavior, and how someone deals with different experiences during his or her life. The title “Recitative” refers to a long and relatively unmelodic song in an opera, which a solo singer performs between arias to advance the plot.

The speaker is someone who lives in a house with her lover. The poem is set in that house, where the speaker and her partner live downstairs and their neighbors upstairs. The tone progresses from being unsettled to relaxation and satisfaction. The speaker begins the poem with a description of her neighbors who live upstairs. These neighbors keep disturbing the speaker by doing odd activities, which symbolically indicates the internal clamor of their minds. She says clearly, “Every night, we couldn’t sleep. / Our upstairs neighbors had to keep, which the speaker feels as they are “Dropping something down the hall.” Hence, the lovers cannot sleep at night; on the contrary, this provocation is symbolic of some latent hostility in their relationship. At that point, she hears the sounds of cats in the alley, and imagines them to call out full of love or sadness: “In arias of love and death.”

In the next stanza, the speaker describes city life, commenting on “Dawn again, across the street,” where some Jackhammers began to beat.” The simile of “hangovers” implies an impending threat. But she is bewildered by the construction: “why tear it down?”

The weather is so cold in this poem that the speakers turns on their heaters to make them feel warm at noon. She personifies the plumbing to represent the chill:“The pipes coughed to clear their throats. This coldness likewise refers to a rift between the two lovers due to some unknown reasons. However, “lesser chill” symbolizes closeness, since they are sick of this strife.

By the end, the couple seems to resolve their issues, saying they are young, and no special effort was required to remove that rift: “did not need much / To make us laugh instead, and touch.”

Structural Analysis

The poem is in a lyric format and contains six stanzas with four lines in each stanza. This form is called a quatrain. Each stanza has AABB rhyme scheme, as shown here:

Every night, we couldn’t sleep. A
Our upstairs neighbors had to keep   A
Dropping something down the hall— B
A barbell or a bowling ball,   B

The rhyme scheme is regular in this poem, and follows this pattern strictly. Most of the lines are written in trochaic meter (stressed/unstressed) with a few alternating iambic meter asDropping something down the hall—/ A barbell or a bowling ball.Alliteration in the poem adds more rhythm to the lines such as “d” sound in “Dropping, down” and “b” sound in “barbell, ball.” A line is repeated twice, in the second and the last stanza, which is “The arias of death and love.” This repetition helps to accentuate and highlight the duality of life and death. In addition, enjambment in each stanza creates curiosity in the readers to know what is going to happen in the next line, for example: “We cherished each our minor griefs / To keep them warm until the night.” In addition, no internal rhyme is used and end-stopped lines come at the end of most stanzas. The diction is neither simple nor direct; rather, it is connotative due to metaphorical language.

Guidance for Usage of Quotes

“Recitative” is a poem about two young lovers whose relationship is full of tension. A rift has come between them, which is expressed in the imagery of disturbed city life. Since there is some disturbance and conflict that does not let them come closer, they want to sort that out, but some tension in their minds prohibits them. However, their relative youth resolves the tension. Hence, the poem gives couples or young lovers a way to think about resolving their misunderstandings. They can take the following quote from this poem and send it to each other:

“But we were young, did not need much
To make us laugh instead, and touch,
And could not hear ourselves above
The arias of death and love.”

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