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The Day Lady Died

The Day Lady Died


by Frank O'Hara

The Day Lady Died Theme of Mortality

"The Day Lady Died" has to be one of the most unusual elegies (a poem written mourning a deceased person) in modern poetry. The title couldn't be any clearer: this poem is about a person who has died. But in the poem itself – silence, at least until the end. What do going to the bank and buying books have to do with Billie Holiday or her death? O'Hara assumes that we already know who "Lady Day" is, that we love her music, and that we care about her death. From the reader's perspective, it's a bold move, but we think it works masterfully.

Questions About Mortality

  1. If you were to put the speaker of the poem on trial, could you prove that he does or doesn't feel grief over Holiday's death?
  2. How does his reaction to her death compare to his reaction to other, more trivial events in the poem?
  3. Why isn't Billie Holiday ever referred to by name? What is the effect of this choice on O'Hara's part?
  4. Does the poem feel more or less authentic than other elegies you have read (if you've read any)?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The poem leaves open the possibility that the speaker just isn't that distressed by Holiday's death.

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