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Andrew Hutchinson
Kati Lewis
ENGL 2600
5 Aug. 2016

Explication on The Day Lady Died.

The Day Lady Died, by Frank OHara is an elegy that proposes an image of
loss and grief by employing language, structure, and diction. Throughout the paper these
aspects of poetry will be explored and it will be illustrated how these concepts effectively
create a poem that so powerfully represents the themes of loss and grief. The explication
of this piece will begin by analyzing the language of the poem and by evaluating how the
language is an important aspect in the overall feeling of the poem. Then the structure of
the poem is analyzed, it will be shown why the line breaks and form of the poem are
significant. Lastly there is an analysis on the diction of the piece, the speakers choice of
words and the tone of the piece.

Language is a key element to a full interpretation of this piece and it reinforces


the elegiac nature of the poem. The first aspect of language is presented in the form of
allusion and it is the title, The Day Lady Died, Lady is an African American Jazz
vocalist named Billie Holiday. The writing continues to employ language by presenting
straightforward imagery, It is 12:20 in New York a Friday/ three days after Bastille
Day giving the text setting and context but staying dry, undressed, and detached. The

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speaker denotes background with the use of synecdoche. For example, I will get off the
4:19 in Easthampton at 7:15, (OHara 2016) which is significant to the theme of the
poem because the reader is shown that the speaker is a native of the big city. New York
inherently has a lot of imagery and stereotypes associated with it, and by keeping the text
succinct the speaker seems to be understating the setting. This is important to the elegiac
value of the poem because this portion of context is portrayed as insignificant. The
insignificance makes the reader think of what is significant which is one of the most
important questions to have as the reader nears the end of the poem. The end is where an
image is produced of that celebrity singing a song and a crowd of people losing their
breath. The end is where an image of unity is finally provided.

Structure is a second important element in this story. The poem is written in free
verse and the whole poem is enjambed without so much as a comma to separate the ideas
and the feelings in the poem. This form creates a feeling of fluidity in the poem. The
selection seems more like the flowing of a mans thoughts than the well-structured design
of a poem. This enjambed form is important in the contexts of an elegy because it is
indicative of a disregard for things of relative minute importance. There is nothing of
total importance in this world when its existence is distinguished by the headline of a
local paper. Another aspect of the structure of this poem, which holds importance, is the
line breaks. When examining the play we see that the first stanza is on the context of the
poem. What time is it? Where am I going? What am I doing? The lines seem to break
after these questions are answered. In conjunction with the enjambed form of this poem
we see line breaks in the second stanza that are halfway through ideas. For example,

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A hamburger and a malted and buy/ an ugly New World Writing to see what the poets/ in
Ghana these line breaks disjoint the thoughts that the speaker is portraying and in
hindsight they are perhaps caused by the shock that the speaker has had. These
components work together to produce lines, which indicates the poem is an elegy.

The diction of the poem is one of its most important components. A close reading
of the piece provides important insights on the speakers word choice. Very early on in
the poem, within the first stanza even, the reader realizes that the piece is composed of
language that is straightforward, matter-of-fact, and perhaps, banal. This is shown by the
presence of many numbers in the first stanza, It is 12:20[/1959], and three days
after, and I will get of the 4:19 at 7:15., (OHara 2016) are all examples of the
how succinct the poem is. In further analysis of the word choice we see that this matterof-fact theme affects most of the paper. Besides the street being muggy but beginning to
brighten there arent adjectives in this piece so that the images dont have typical poetic
depth. Even when the speaker is in the bookstore shopping for Verlaine he does not
describe the significance of these characters. The word choice is so selective and
uncolored that the speaker discusses going to sleep with quandariness. All of this dull
language builds to the significance of the final stanza. After her face has been seen on the
cover of a New York Post the speaker snaps into a scene of vivid reality; however, the
dull language is continued. There arent many thrills, not even in the last stanza. This
word choice annunciates the plaintive nature of the text.

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This is an important piece of American literature and this essay explicates some
aspects of poetry that, by way of their pressure of context, create a poem that is clearly an
elegy. This poem uses language to induce images of a normal day in New York, which is
somber because of its lack of detail. The poem uses structure to create disjointed thoughts
and straightforward finite statements. The diction of the poem shows disconnect that the
speaker has from humanity at the time. All of these aspects work in tandem to create a
beautiful elegy to Billie Holiday.

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Works Cited

OHara, Frank. The Day Lady Died. Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation,
2016. web. 04 Aug. 2016.