Study Guide

The Day Lady Died Memory and the Past

By Frank O'Hara

Memory and the Past

"The Day Lady Died" is firmly rooted in the present moment, so much so that the O'Hara uses the present tense until the final stanza. But the past is lurking just behind the everyday activities and errands that concern the speaker for most of the poem. Like an underground reservoir that suddenly bubbles up, a glance at a newspaper is enough to send the speaker spinning back into the past, to remembering the night at the 5-Spot when he heard Billie Holiday sing.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. How much of the poem focuses on the past? Where do you see references to the past?
  2. What do you think the phrase "involuntary memory" means? Do you think the speaker's memory of the concert at the 5-Spot is an involuntary memory?
  3. How does the poem prepare for the last stanza? Is it unexpected?
  4. Does the speaker seem like a person who thinks a lot about the past?

Chew on This

The poem hints that the speaker knows about Billie Holiday's death even before seeing her picture in the New York Post.