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Analysis

Brands, Names, and Places

Symbol Analysis

"The Day Lady Died" is remarkable for its lack of some kinds of figurative language normally found in poetry, particularly similes and metaphors. Instead, we get a lot of names and places, some of which are strangely capitalized. Whereas many elegies portray the person who has died as "timeless" or "eternal" in some way, O'Hara integrates Holiday into a very specific time, place, and cultural background. He shows how difficult it is to focus on someone's death amid the sound and fury of a modern big city.

  • Lines 9, 14, 20, 25, and 27: O'Hara uses capital letters to refer to some of the brands and places in the poem. Why does he capitalize these names and not "Gauloises" or "Ziegfeld Theatre"? The capitals leap off the page and highlight the symbolic nature of language. The New York Post is a daily newspaper, but the words "NEW YORK POST" are a symbol used to represent a daily newspaper.
  • Line 12: Don't hate us, but "Miss Stillwagon" sets our alarm bells ringing. Is a "still wagon" some kind of symbol for death? Or is a name just a name?
  • Lines 14-18: These lines contain a bunch of allusions to literary works popular with intellectuals in the 1950s. Writers like the French poet Paul Verlaine, the playwrights Brendan Behan and Jean Genet, and the Greek poet Hesiod have seemingly nothing to do with Billie Holiday, but they root the poem in a particular intellectual moment of which Holiday was a part.

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