Having a Coke with You
by Frank O'Hara
Stanza 1 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
- Whoa whoa whoa! What's the deal with starting a poem mid-sentence, Mr. O'Hara? What's that? Read the title first? Good thinking, Shmoopers.
- In fact, this first line is actually the second line of the poem. Stay with us here. The poem's title, "Having a Coke with You," really functions as its first line.
- While it does announce the subject of the poem (i.e., chillin' with a loved one, sippin' on a soda), it also begins a thought that is picked up in the first line of the poem (for more on the title, click along to "What's Up with the Title?" and then click along right back here).
- When a line of poetry breaks off mid-thought, but is then picked up again on the following line, it's called an enjambment. This second part of this enjambment tells us just how fun having a coke with you (whoever you are) is for the speaker. It's more fun than a trip to Europe. More specifically, it's more fun that a trip to an area of Europe called the Basque region.
- This is the part of northern Spain and southern France that sits along the Atlantic Ocean. It's known for having wonderful seafood, gorgeous scenery, and being the place where that wild sport jai alai comes from. It's also the scene of a long-contested battle for independence, fought between those who wanted to be free from the rule of the Spanish and French governments. Even still, this is a primo vacation spot, and you are even more fun than that. Don't you feel special?
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
- We're still in Spain with this line, only we've headed southeast from the Basque region to Barcelona, that crown jewel of cities on the Mediterranean. (Take some unsolicited advice from us, Shmoopers: If you ever get the chance, go to Barcelona. It has beaches, nearby mountains, wild architecture from the genius mind of Antonio Gaudi. It's just the best.) Our speaker is strolling along a street in that city called Travesera de Gracia (technically today it's spelled Travessera de Gràcia, but who's grading?).
- For some reason, he's sick to his stomach, so maybe there's a lot of stuff that's more fun than that. Maybe now we shouldn't feel so special. Still, even if you were sick to your stomach, strolling down the street in beautiful Barcelona would still be a hoot. You could probably tell all your friends when you get back from vacation about the time you ate too many Spanish sardines and got sick. It'd be a great story, right? And you would still be more fun than even that.
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
- So, what's so great about you? Really, we'd like to know. Well, here the speaker tells us that you look like a "better happier" version of St. Sebastian. This simile makes more sense with this biography note: St. Sebastian was a Roman soldier, but also an early Christian who, for his beliefs, was tied to a tree by fellow Romans and shot full of arrows. Somehow, he survived that, continued to be a Christian, and so was later beaten to death. He's known as both the patron saint both of athletes and soldiers.
- Okay, so maybe it's easy to look happier than a guy who's typically shown in art as doing his own personal (and depressing) imitation of a porcupine. So, what's significant about his inclusion in this poem?
- Well, if this name rings a bell, congrats! You have remained conscious for the first three lines of this poem. Remember way back in line 1? San Sebastian is a Spanish town that is name after… you guessed it: Sebastian Janikowski, kicker for the Oakland Raiders. No, no, we kid. Obviously, San Sebastian is named in honor of St. Sebastian. So, with the mention of the saint, we get an echo of a previous line. Interesting technique there, Frankie. We wonder if this kind of thing will continue through the poem…
- Finally, there may be another reason why St. Sebastian is in this poem. He's often thought of as a pseudo-patron saint of homosexuals. And we know that Frank O'Hara was indeed gay, so perhaps this comparison is intended to acknowledge the nature of his relationship with the you of the poem.
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
- We love this line. We mean, come on, who doesn't love yoghurt? Fruit-on-the-bottom. Greek. Frozen. We celebrate it in all its forms.
- What's funny, and telling, here is that we get the big detail, followed by a really minor detail, and they're hanging out in the very same line. It's as if the speaker is trying to slip in the "I love you," between "Please pass the salt," and "Looks like rain." If you watch O'Hara read this poem (check out our "Best of the Web" section for that clip), that's exactly how it sounds. It's just a short, little phrase that is not given any sort of dramatic pause or weight.
- In one way, this line really drives home the conversational tone of the poem. There's nothing really dramatic in the presentation. It's just a little love note that sounds as if the speaker is talking to us off the top of his head. By smooshing love and yoghurt together, this line downplays the kind of admission that is typically the dramatic climax of our favorite films. It's like the anti-this.
- In another way, the smooshing in this line seems to equate the speaker's love for the addressee (you) with your love of yogurt. Can they be the same? Is the speaker trying to drag himself down to the level of yogurt? Or is he maybe suggesting that love doesn't have to be Big and Serious, but can just be instead about enjoyment?
- Or… is he just being funny? What say you, Shmoopers?
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
- Oooh, pretty. Here the speaker is appreciating the powerful beauty of the flowers around the birch trees. They practically glow (are "fluorescent") with energy and color.
- Notice anything else about this line, anything familiar? That's right—another echo. The addressee is wearing an "orange shirt" in line 3, and now these orange tulips are all aglow and wondrous, like, um, a t-shirt. It's as if the speaker's love for you is being reflected in the world around him. (Here, we're speaking of the speaker as a he, just because Frank O'Hara was a "he." We're open to discussing other possibilities of meaning, though…)
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
- Don't forget that speaker is still explaining why you are so much more fun than a trip to Spain. In this line he talks about the "secrecy" of the smiles he shares with the addressee. You know those knowing looks and sidelong glances you might give a loved one? You don't have to say anything at all. It's like you can have a whole conversation without even speaking. Well, that's the kind of smile our speaker is sharing with "you."
- It's also important to note that these smiles "take on" the secrecy "before people and statuary." It's only in the presence of other folks, or other statues of folks, that these two can exchange these looks. That makes sense, really. There's a special privacy about being in love that only the two of you can share.
- The more you're around other people, or things for that matter, the more private and special you can feel about your relationship.
- Still, we wonder about the significance of the "statuary" here. Since statues aren't alive (except for John Kerry, that is), what kind of privacy can they create?
- The privacy of just being alive?
it is hard to believe when I'm with you that there can be anything as still
- Here the poem shifts from all of its explanations of what makes you so special. Now, the speaker is doing some reflecting, in light of all that praise that he just dumped onto the addressee's lap.
- In this line, the speaker continues his thought about being with you among statues. Specifically, he's expressing disbelief that anything can be as still as statues.
- It's important though that this thought occurs to the speaker only when he's with you. The statues seem weird to him then, but why? It seems like the rest of the world is all topsy-turvy and in motion. Really, that kind of wild movement is yet another symptom of love. (Don't believe us? Just check out the moves of this love-sick squirrel.
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
- This line picks up the thought of the previous one, with some fancy enjambment. Now we learn that statues, in your company, aren't just still, they're also "solemn" (serious) and "unpleasantly definitive" (or too, well, defined).
- In other words, they're like the worst guests at a party ever. They just stand there, doing nothing but being logical and straightforward. For some reason, this really bugs our speaker when he's around you. It must be that you have the opposite effect on him.
in the warm New York 4 o'clock light we are drifting back and forth
- A-ha. At last we start to get a sense of where this lovefest is going down. (For more on the setting of this poem, click on over to "Setting," then come on back.) Another enjambment carries over from the previous line to inform us that it's late afternoon in New York (city, we presume, where Frank O'Hara lived). It's also nice and warm outside, so it must be in the late spring, summer, or early fall.
- More importantly, the speaker and you are "drifting back and forth." No, they haven't just slipped on matching jet packs (though, if ever a couple had matching jet packs, it would be this cutsie duo). "Floating" here is a metaphor for what can only be that loosey-goosey, decidedly non-statue-like feeling you get when in love, the kind of feeling where you're just so happy it's as if your feet don't touch the ground.
- It's the same kind of feeling that has inspired all sorts of cheesy songs about the anti-gravity effects of love. Like this one, and this one, and oh there's that one, and how could we forget this one?
- We could go on, but we're getting a bit nauseated from all that cheese.
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles
- Well! This is an odd idea. Again, we have another enjambment that finishes describing how the speaker and you are drifting.
- The speaker is moving back and forth between himself and the addressee. It's like they've left their bodies and are comingling between each other. Their selves are, in a sense, free-formed and intertwined. This carries forth the floating metaphor to really drive home the connection felt between the speaker and the addressee.
- How free-form are they? Oh, only as much as a tree breathing through his glasses. Duh.
- Now, there are a lot of possible readings of this simile, and we encourage you to make of it what you want. One idea, though, is that a tree "breathes" through its leaves in a way, right? We're no botanists, but it seems that we recall from junior high life science that trees absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen through their leaves. So, if trees "breathe" through their leaves, how can leaves be like spectacles?
- That sounds like a stumper, but check it: what do late-afternoon leaves and glasses have in common? Give up? They both are shiny and reflective when the sun catches them. It may seem to the speaker that the trees are wearing glasses as their leaves flash in the sun.
- We know, it's a stretch at best. Another possibility is that there really is a tree there with some sort of prescription scuba mask on. How trippy would that be? Maybe trippy is the point, though. After all, our speaker is no mood for dry, boring, solemn statue-type stuff. Things are flowing and moving all around him. As readers, we gotta go with that flow.