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Symbol Analysis

Lacking similes and metaphors to chew on, we're left to focus on the few, small examples of poetic language in the poem. Hyperbole means "exaggeration," like when you talk about eating "tons" of food. It's very frequent in everyday conversation, and the speaker of this poem uses several examples of hyperbole as he rambles on about his day. It's ironic that "exaggeration" should be so common in this poem. The opposite of hyperbole is understatement, and "The Day Lady Died" is extremely understated when it comes to its actual subject, the death of Billie Holiday.

  • Line 13: The speaker notes that the teller doesn't check his balance "for once in her life." It sounds, on a literal level, as though she has spent her entire life looking up his balance. We're sure Miss Stillwagon has a life apart from the speaker's balance.
  • Line 19: Did he really fall asleep while standing in a bookstore? Or did he even come close to it? We think not. The phrase "practically going to sleep" is just a way of expressing the difficulty of his gift dilemma.
  • Line 29: Not to be too snarky, but you can't "stop breathing" and still, you know, live. The speaker probably means he held his breath for a few moments while Holiday was singing.

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