Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Day Lady Died” is a visionary poem, one in which the ordinary world is pulled away to reveal something much larger. The poem becomes a poem about how disparate things, people, and events are all interconnected, even when they apparently have no connection whatsoever.

This sense of interconnectedness is foreshadowed by the title. Many have asked, or been asked, where they were or what they were doing when some great world event occurred; O’Hara, in his title, seems to be pointing to that question.

In the poem, however, he does not leave himself and Holiday as separate entities the way one normally would do. Rather, he connects himself to her, not only by focusing on the day itself and by remembering her singing, but also by depicting a moment of epiphany. In this moment, the ordinary concept of time is pulled away to reveal an eternal present, and ordinary, concrete reality is pulled away to reveal something extraordinary, something much larger than one’s ordinary senses reveal.

This world behind the world is paralleled to Holiday’s ability as a singer to “stop time,” or to make people forget their bodies. In that moment, Holiday herself is an instrument of transcendence, able to take people beyond the ordinary. In this sense, the poem is O’Hara’s hymn of praise to the singer.

Yet it would be a mistake to leave the poem at that most literal reading. For what O’Hara is ultimately doing is showing...

(The entire section is 496 words.)