Prompt 3

Frank O’Hara’s “The Day Lady Died” presents an I that is representative of a daily life. The constant usage of her “I” followed by a certain routine or action occurring that day displays the voice in O’Hara’s poem. That voice is of one person, and that person in this case is Billie Holiday. After doing a little research on her life I discovered that Holiday had a pretty turbulent childhood and was also a victim of attempted rape. After reading the poem out loud, I started feeling tired. The repetition of the sentences starting with I along with the many commas emphasizes the length of the day described in the poem. The journey of Holiday during this day starts with a lot of energy as the first stanza takes the readers through three different times and provides the year. The first and one of the shorter stanzas manage to cover a span of 7 hours whereas the rest describe the rest of the day which is only about 30% of the day. This journey reminds me of my usual work day. I’d wake up in the morning, full of energy and time and everything around me would move rather quickly. I would work as hard as I could to pass time quicker. Once the morning passed and work was over, time slowed down and things were more easily noticed. I was able to appreciate the little and unexpected things like that man who let me on the bus before him, or the beautiful music this one homeless man played. These things are the smaller things that happen throughout the day that go unnoticed, it’s comparative to the speaker’s visiting of the bank and how her balance was not checked. Ironic as it may be, time actually feels like its elapsed quicker in that second half of the day rather than the first half because that’s the time that you enjoy more. This playing of time could be a ploy by O’Hara to trick our senses of time. Furthermore, reading this poem out loud is tiring as i feel like I’m partaking in each individual action. The turbulent childhood of holiday’s could even be a relevant factor in O’Hara’s usage of her long sentences and overall journey in this poem. The speaker starts the day out as any other person and ends as any other day ends. But O’Hara could also be attempting to make an analogy out to a general life as well as the life of Billie Holiday. As the speaker sweats and loses her breath her day comes to an end as well as Holiday’s life. But that’s a question that I can’t even figure out. Overall the poem presents an analogy to me of my everyday life and in relation to Billie Holiday’s life troubles we are all given a life we can relate to. As O’Hara responds to Holiday’s death with his poem, he also exemplifies a journey of any one person’s day/life and how sudden an end can be reached.

So do you think O’Hara attempts to replicate the readers daily life and day with his poem?
Also what does O’Hara try to emphasize with his last line of the speaker losing her breath?

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5 Responses to Prompt 3

  1. Mika Katz says:

    I don’t exactly think that O’Hara wants the reader to replicate anything. He doesn’t seem to have an underlying connection with the reader, it’s more of a poem about him, about the speaker. I think time plays a gargantuan role in the poem since it has to do with death. It doesn’t necessarily have to be time itself but the essence of time, phases, intervals, and especially position. I noticed while reading that in the third stanza there is a big gap between the margin and the first word as if he had tabbed it on Microsoft Word several times. Something that struck me in the poem was the tone. I really could not tell if the speaker was sarcastic or not. Would he really care what the poets in Ghana are doing? Is it some sort of dry humor? His poem seems to be written in the form of a list. He simply lists facts, and I don’t know why he does this exactly. At the end of the poem there is a decline in the mood and tone. Something shifts, and where he says “I stopped breathing” and there is a great deal of loss. It was a very abrupt but important ending.

  2. Conor McGuie says:

    I would have to say that the poem is not so much an illustration of an average persons day. However, the poem does emphasize the mundane. Moreover, this is an illustration of O’hara’s recollection of what had happened that day. The mundane is pointed out to touch upon where this person was leading up to the news, but emphasized to better illustrate the feelings of indifference this person is feeling right now. The lack of interest in what is being described comes across as mundane but reflects on how O”hara feels since losing this person. Furthermore, the circumstances are made as trivial as possible to reflect a feeling of indifference and disarray with life after losing Billie Holliday. This is most evident in the poems last line. The last lines pointing out the instance in which he “stopped breathing”. Although, he is reminiscing in this poem, on that day he stopped breathing, he might as well be dead.

  3. I do not think O’Hara tries to replicate the reader’s daily life through his poem. The poem is titled “The Day Lady Died” with “Lady” being Billie Holiday and the poem describing the day she died. I believe the poem speaks of the type of day rather than focusing on whose day it is. The day is described in details, even mentioning the time, “12:20” (1). He, the speaker, speaks first of what he will do, the future, and then of what he is doing, the present. There is a disconnect with the things the speaker must do in the future. He says “I don’t know the people who will feed me” (6) and talks about the minute details of what he must do before dinner but does not offer an explanation for either the dinner of the reasons for a “shoeshine” (3). The present is described with much more detail; such as “the muggy street beginning to sun” (7). The speaker speaks of everyday events such as reading a magazine to “See what the poets in Ghana are doing these days” (9-10). However, he also notices the slight changes of the day such as how Miss Sillwagon “doesn’t even look up my balance” (11-12). The whole day speaks to a state of mind when a person, with whom one is familiar with, dies. The majority of the poem describes a rather normal day, but also shows of emotional decline. I believe the last line “to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing” (28) places emphasis on how the loss of someone comes as a sudden impact on an average day.

  4. In reading this poem I too noticed the strange time frame in which the poem takes place. The beginning of the day flies by and it is at the end that O’Hara slows down and elaborates on more of his day. I disagree however with the point that he does this too mimic the readers day but rather that he does this to show the effect of death on one’s day. Upon hearing about the death perhaps he is commenting on the triviality of all the little things he did throughout his day compared to the shocking news he had just heard.

  5. I have a slightly different reading. I think O’Hara purposefully chooses to write about the mundane, the daily routines, in order to emphasize the shock and feeling of loss that he (and perhaps some of his friends) felt upon discovering Holiday’s death. O’Hara starts off the poem with it being a typical day in his life, he does not even mention the exact date, just explains that it is “three days after Bastille day” and he goes to “get a shoeshine” because he has this busy day heading off to Easthampton. He is wrapped up in his own life, thinking about the new plays he needs to see, and going to the bank. When he finally sees the New York Post with the story about her death, he is transported to another place, a memory, where Holiday “whispered a song along the keyboard” and O’Hara (and Mal Waldron and everyone) loses their breath, a part of themselves dying with Holiday. The poem is written in present tense to convey a tone of immediacy and shock, letting his readers feel the exact way he did when he thought “The Day Lady Died” would just be a regular day.

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