A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island Analysis

Frank O’Hara

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Frank O’Hara’s remarkably inventive and characteristically humorous “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island” is an eighty-three-line poem written in 1958 but first published posthumously in 1968 and widely anthologized since. In keeping with the idea of a true testimony, the persona is identified as the poet O’Hara himself.

The poem begins (in the first thirteen lines) quite simply but dramatically, with the poet awakened by the sun—who is annoyed because he (O’Hara assigns the sun a masculine gender) has had difficulty awakening O’Hara. The poet attempts to apologize in lines 14-26. He is a guest at the beach house of Hal Fondren, a close friend since college days, and stayed up late the night before talking with his host. This excuse allows the sun to explain why he wants to speak with the poet. Lines 27-56 constitute the sun’s primary message, while lines 58-76 represent important advice offered as a sort of valediction, or farewell message. Lines 77-83 function as an envoy or coda, allowing the sun to exit the stage and the poet to go back to sleep.

“A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island” depends primarily upon whimsical personification for its effects. For example, the sun is described as “petulant” when he compares O’Hara’s lackadaisical attitude to the startled attentiveness he received when he last visited a poet, the 1920’s Russian avant-garde writer Vladimir Mayakovsky. This...

(The entire section is 423 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island” is a lyric poem that, because it purports to record a verbatim conversation, can also be considered a mock pastoral. The pastoral is an ancient form—used by poets writing in English since the sixteenth century but dating back to the Greek poet Theocritus—which presents a dialogue in a rustic setting. Here, however, instead of a conversation on love or philosophy between two shepherds, is a conversation between the poet and the rising sun.

O’Hara employs a comic tone and dramatic form in order to present serious ideas in a pleasant way. The sun’s comments are often comedic plays on words. “I can’t hang around/ here all day,” he tells the poet. Later he claims not to be upset that people do not “look up” to him because it would hurt their eyes. Choosing that colloquial phrase instead of the word “admire” allows O’Hara to depict the sun as a witty, tongue-in-cheek conversationalist. The poem tacitly suggests that ideas presented in this avuncular tone will be much more readily received than advice given in a sternly authoritarian manner.

The sun’s valedictory remarks also undermine the traditional pastoral form by acknowledging the fact that O’Hara is an especially urban and sophisticated man. The poet is not at all interested in endorsing a traditional view of nature, nor is he seriously attempting to present his wisecracking sun as the equivalent of a...

(The entire section is 411 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Altieri, Charles. “The Significance of Frank O’Hara.” Iowa Review 4 (Winter, 1973): 90-104.

Breslin, James E. B. “Frank O’Hara.” In From Modern to Contemporary: American Poetry, 1945-1965. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Feldman, Alan. Frank O’Hara. Boston: Twayne, 1979.

Gooch, Brad. City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O’Hara. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994.

LeSueur, Joe. Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O’Hara. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.

Perloff, Marjorie. Frank O’Hara: Poet Among Painters. New York: George Braziller, 1977.

Smith, Hazel. Hyperscapes in the Poetry of Frank O’Hara: Difference, Homosexuality, Topography. Liverpool, England: Liverpool University Press, 2000.

Vendler, Helen. “The Virtues of the Alterable.” Parnassus: Poetry in Review 1 (Fall/Winter, 1972): 5-20.

Ward, Geoff. Statutes of Liberty: The New York School of Poets. New York: Palgrave, 2001.