Frank O'Hara's The Day Lady Died

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The Day Lady Died is a poem composition that Frank O’Hara writes n memory of the jazz singer Billie Holiday. Frank’s poems are unique since he developed an individual style that does not conform to the technique and form of poetry. In most of his poem, Frank excludes the strict rhythm, philosophy, and intimacy of regular poems to include a natural flow and directness when delivering his message. In this poem, Frank narrates some aspects of his life with New York City as his setting. He gives a detailed account of how he spends his day connecting with the imagination of the audience. Detailed with imagery and precise language, the poem provides a reader with a poetic display of a relatable experience in life. By literary elements, Frank captures the attention of the audience to understand the meaning and mood of the poem.

In the first stanza, the poet uses a lot of imagery language to explain to the reader the contents of the day. He describes the day, the time, and the activities forcing the reader to reflect on the events as they unfold subsequently. Frank chooses to use numerals in his sentences to create emphasis on the date and the time. The stanza contains repetition of particular words to demonstrate the importance of specific actions. For example in verse, Frank consistently reuses the word and to create an emphasis on the action, he is going to do throughout the day and emphasize the sequence of the operations.

Additionally in the poem, Frank focuses on the use of the first person pronoun with the aim of connecting to the poem like part of the process. For instance, he posits, “I go get a shoeshine…I will get off the 4.19…I don’t know the people who feed me.” Frank use of the first person pronoun is deliberate with the aim of connecting on a personal level so the audience will not fill like outsiders in the poem. While reading the poem, it is easy for the audience to relate to the information and compare them with their personal life.

While the poem lacks a general rhyme scheme, the second stanza contains words that create a rhythm when read.  Possibly Frank intentionally fails t include a rhyme scheme to ensure that the audience concentrates on the words in the sentences rather than the melody of the poem. The poem has an irregular meter showing that the poet was more concerned about passing the message to the audience. In the seven, Frank says, “I walk up in the muggy street beginning to the sun and have a hamburger and a malted” (The Day Lady Died by Frank O'Hara). Frank alliterates the words have, and hamburger adds muggy and beginning to sun t describe the day but also the aura o that morning. The air that morning was stifling, but the sun adds warmth and liveliness.

Additionally, the poet affirms that he bought the ugly new world writing.  Frank capitalizes the words new world writing to call attention to the meaning of the words. Before the new word, writing Frank uses the name ugly, to show that even though it is a new phenomenon he does not approve of it. In addition, the name signifies that it is the name of a magazine that contains numerous publications including current information about poets in Ghana’ (The Day Lady Died by Frank O'Hara).

O’Hara in the poem uses both descriptive and narrative forms to explain and describe the surrounding around him.  First, the poem does not contain any form o punctuation showing that he is relating a series of events as they happen in real time. The lack of punctuation also suggests that speed at which activities take place considering the setting is a busy city like New York. Through the narrative form, Frank narrates his life to the audience including the events he does and saves the last part of the poem to reveal the message he was passing. The audience through the narration understands that Frank is narrating the life of the person and how certain events later in the day affected them. The day started as normal however ended on a sad note. The poem also contains the descriptive form as Frank vividly describes the environment around him. He mentions the date, the day of the week and the time, what he takes for dinner and the activities he does that night.  Through the description, the reader envisions the life of the persona and gets to connect with the character.

Language is an essential element in poetry as it helps in the delivery of the message and affects how the audience interprets a message. In the poem, Frank uses a pure language that anyone can understand. However, he adds imagery to the style to help the reader capture the significant element in all the information he gives. The title of the poem state The Day Lady Died, indicating that someone important to the persona passed on three days after the Bastille Day. In the final stanza, Frank asserts that “leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT while she whispered a song along the keyboard to MAL Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing” (The Day Lady Died by Frank O'Hara). In this sentence, Frank shows the importance of the Lady who died, her songs were so touching that it left people breathless and they were sad that she was no longer alive to sing her songs.

Frank’s diction in the poem is gloomy, while he is narrating his daily activities he is detached and his words are quite dull and less livid. While talking about his morning routine, the narrator is slightly separated from the events, and the detachment suggests that he is doing the activities out f obligation than passion. Besides the choice of words show that the narrator is not happy about anything that day. First, he states that “at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner and I don’t know the people who will feed me” (The Day Lady Died by Frank O'Hara). The poet is not even interested in knowing them since his words are more of a statement than a concern.

Additionally, he uses the word muggy to describe the morning indicating that the weather was humid and sultry. When going to but the magazine he uses the word ugly to describe the magazines that give him information about the world. The dull language plays an essential role in the ending of the poem when the reader finally understands why the persona had a negative and sad attitude towards everything.

Frank O’Hara uses literary elements like imagery, to paint the picture of a typical day in the mind of the reader. The diction of the poem accentuates the title of the poem showing that it was a sad day for the persona. The gloomy and sad tone illustrates the disconnect and evokes the feelings of loss at the end of the reader. Frank successfully uses language, form, and diction to write an elegy to Billie Holiday. 

Works Cited

   "The Day Lady Died by Frank O'Hara."Poetry Foundation, 2018,

November 24, 2023

Art Literature

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