The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Day Lady Died” is written in free verse. It describes Frank O’Hara’s activities on the day he found out that Billie (Lady Day) Holiday had died. Although the poem appears to be a straightforward narrative, the title emphasizes the day itself rather than Holiday’s death or O’Hara’s activities, and thus it hints at something larger, something that perhaps combines both Holiday and O’Hara. It suggests that the poem should also be read as something other than the narrative it may first appear to be.

The poem is written in the first person. Poets often use the first person either to address a particular person or the world, while the reader is a witness rather than the addressee. O’Hara, however, uses the first person differently. One of the striking features of this poem is its conversational tone; combined with the first-person point of view, it creates the impression that the poet is talking directly to his readers, including them in the seemingly innocuous moments of his life.

This effect brings an intimacy to the poem. O’Hara furthers this intimacy by including the names of friends and places that are meaningless to almost anyone who does not know him or his social circle without ever explaining who or what they are or what their significance is to him or his life. He appears to be telling readers about his life as though they already understand all the references; the poem becomes a conversation, O’Hara talking...

(The entire section is 455 words.)