Having a Coke with You by Frank O’Hara

‘Having a Coke with You’ represents Frank O’Hara’s broader body of work and the type of writing he achieved as a member of the Beat Generation. He sought, as did his contemporaries, to make poetry that the average person could relate to and enjoy reading. He wrote about the mundane details of life and the slightly more scandalous and celebrity. This particular poem was published in 1958 to elevate the simple pleasures of life and love.

Having a Coke with You by Frank O’Hara

 

Summary of Having a Coke with You

‘Having a Coke with You’ by Frank O’Hara is a beautifully complex poem about the speaker’s love for the listener.

This untraditional love poem takes elements of the speaker’s everyday life and uses them to emphasize the love he feels for “you”. While suggesting the gender of his lover, the speaker begins the poem by noting how much more pleasurable it is to have a coke with this person than travel through Europe. He’d rather sit at home in New York City with “you”. Some of the lines in ‘Having a Coke with You’ are more lighthearted than others, but they are all conversational. 

The speaker makes allusions to places he wants to go, like the Frick Gallery, and then zooms in to compare looking at his lover and looking at paintings. In (almost) all cases, he’d rather look at “you” than at paintings. 

The poem concludes with two stanzas that focus on art and artists. By the end, the speaker is determined that these artists have wasted their lives working repetitively on one subject. He would rather live his life and experience his love than try to spend forever depicting something unattainable. 

 

Themes in Having a Coke with You

The most obvious theme at work in ‘Having a Coke with You’ is love. It is helped along with themes of art and culture. Throughout the poem, the speaker focuses on all the reasons why he’d rather spend time with “you” than do just about anything else. He uses travel and looking at paintings as the most important examples. He goes even further than that though and suggests that his life, of having cokes with his lover, is far better than the lives of artists like Claude Monet, who spent their time repainting the same scene. 

 

Structure and Form of Having a Coke with You

‘Having a Coke with You’ by Frank O’Hara is a four stanza poem that is separated into uneven sets of lines. The first contains ten lines, the second: two, the third: eleven, and the fourth: two. Like the majority of Frank O’Hara’s poems, this one is written in free verse. This means that O’Hara chose not to use a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern to unite the lines. This is a common choice in contemporary poetry, as well as within the “Beat Generation” that O’Hara belonged to. 

Beat poets were interested in capturing the reality of conversations and the rhythms of everyday speech in their poetry. Because of this, any meter or rhyme would significantly interfere. Readers will also notice right away that there is very little punctuation in this poem. In fact, there are only two commas in the entire poem. This creates a very fast progression of clauses that mimic the passion of someone confessing their love. 

 

Literary Devices in Having a Coke with You

Despite the fact that this poem is written in free verse, there are several interesting literary devices at work within it. These include but are not limited to examples of enjambment, imagery, and allusions. The first of these, enjambment, can be seen throughout the poem as O’Hara cuts off lines before the conclusion of a phrase. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza as well as the last line of stanza one and the first line of stanza two. 

Imagery is one of the most important literary devices that a poet can use in their work. It refers to lines that engage the reader’s senses and requires them to imagine sights, smells, sounds, and feelings. For example, the line “partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches” in stanza one. 

There are several examples of allusions in this poem as well. For instance, the poet’s reference to the Renaissance artists Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo in the third stanza. 

 

Analysis of Having a Coke with You

Stanza One 

Lines 1-6

is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne

or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona

(…)

partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary

In the first stanza of ‘Having a Coke with You’ O’Hara starts the poem without using a capital letter. (This is something that he maintains throughout the poem, mostly due to the fact that the poem is one extremely long run-on sentence.) It becomes obvious right away that the first line of the poem picks up after the title. So, he’s saying that having a “coke with you” is more fun than visiting a variety of destinations in the Basque region of Europe. By addressing the reader as “you” he allows anyone to put themselves into this role. But, as the poem progresses, the speaker’s language makes it clear that he is addressing a romantic partner, someone he loves. 

There are two references to St. Sebastian in the first lines of this piece, something that should stick out right away. Some scholars believe this is because Sebastian is regarded as the patron saint of homosexuals and Frank O’Hara, as a gay man, might’ve been using him to allude to who the “you” in this poem was. 

In the following lines, he adds to this, saying that having a coke is far more fun in part because the listener looks “like a better happier St. Sebastian” and partly because the speaker carries a deep love for this person. He juxtaposes this serious line with one that celebrates the listener’s love for yogurt. The color orange is prominent in the first lines of this poem, it is another example of repetition, emphasizing how the speaker sees parts of his love everywhere he looks. 

 

Lines 7-10 

it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still

(…)

between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

While the speaker talks about how statues’ stillness bothers him while he’s in his lover’s presence, he adds that they are in New York City (where O’Hara lived and where many of his poems are set). 

The stanza ends with a  simile comparing the way he and his lover interact with “a tree breathing through its spectacles”. This very unusual image suggests that the two are connected in a deeper-than-physical way. There are several possible ways one might interpret the spectacles part of this simile. But, it is possible that O’Hara was thinking about the way that the tree breathes through its leaves, and at the same time, they reflect like, as a pair of glasses might. 

 

Stanza Two 

and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint

(…)

The second stanza of ‘Having a Coke with You,’ is surprisingly short at only two lines. It also reflects the ways that the world changes when the speaker is with his lover. Portrait painting which might at another time appear impressive just looks like “paint”. They make him (or in this case, you) wonder what the point of even painting them was. The two are starting to drift back in forth, sharing opinions and experiences.

 

Stanza Three 

Lines 1-7

                                                                                                              I look

at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world

except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick

(…)

at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me

The third stanza of ‘Having a Coke with You,’ is closer in length to the first, but with eleven lines rather than ten. He emphasizes the fact that he has spent a great deal of the poem “looking” in the first line here. At the center of his vision, as always, is his lover. He tells this person that he’d rather look at them than “all the portraits in the world”. This is something that the reader could likely interpret from the previous stanza. This fairly serious, love-filled line is followed by a more humorous one about the “Polish Rider” in the Frick Gallery in New York. It was painted by Rembrandt, but still, he might only rather look at it sometimes, or “occasionally”. He’s also excited by the fact that he’s going to get to bring his lover to the Frick Gallery, somewhere he’s never been. 

The allusions to art continue in the next lines as the speaker compares his lover, positively, to Futurism. This art movement emphasized movement, but the lover does it better. Because of this fact, the lever should know that he doesn’t have to worry about any works from the futurist movement usurping the speaker’s attention. there is a reference in the next line of the stanza to the “new descending a staircase“ by Marcel Duchamp. 

The speaker notes how he never thinks about this incredibly important painting when he’s at home with his lover, this person takes all of his attention. The speaker also tells his lover that he never thinks about famous drawings by Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo. There was a time when these drawings took a large space in his mind, but not anymore. 

 

Lines 8-11

and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them

(…)

as the horse

In the following line the poet moves to talk about the Impressionists. Specifically, he is interested in brushing off their focus on light and how it appeared at various times of the day. They might spend their whole life working on this, but it never did them any good. In the second to last line of this stanza, he mentions Marina Marina, a sculptor who is famous today for creating versions of people riding horses. 

Despite his hard work, he paid too much attention to the horse and not enough attention to the rider. It’s very clear at this point that the speaker believes these artists wasted their time focusing on things that were much less important than what the speaker has to focus on and look at, his lover.

 

Stanza Four 

(…)

which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I’m telling you about it 

These thoughts continued into the final two lines of the poem. The first explains that the speaker feels as though artists throughout time were all “cheated of some marvelous experience”. They, unlike him, never had the opportunity to spend their days gazing upon the listener. They never experienced the same type of true love that the speaker is experiencing now. He is very determined that he’s not going to let this time in his life go to waste. 

He’s not going to spend it painting horses, people standing under trees, or anything at all. He’s going to live his life as it happens rather than spend time trying to depict it. He concludes by saying that this is the reason why he’s telling the listener how he feels. 

So, in the end, the speaker creates a work of art that accomplishes something that the words of Duchamp, Monet, and the other impressionist, Marini, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo, could never.

 

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed ‘Having a Coke with You’ should also look into reading some of O’Hara’s other popular poems. These include ‘Easter,’The Day Lady Died,’ and ‘Poem [Lana Turner has collapsed]’. Each of these accomplishes something similar to ‘Having a Coke with You’. The latter was written while O’Hara was in transit, on the Staten Island Ferry, to a poetry reading. It depicts a few moments in a speaker’s life as he walks in New York and learns that Lana Turner has collapsed. ‘The Day Lady Died’ was written in memory of jazz singer Billie Holiday. Readers should also look at our list of Top 10 Greatest Love Poems.

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