Frank O’Hara’s “Animals,” Abstract vs. Concrete, and the Universal

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A brief poem of four stanzas with fluctuating line length and an ear for consonance and assonance, Frank O’Hara’s “Animals” is a great example of playing with abstractions and concrete images in order to take a particular sentiment and approach a universal feeling. First from “first rate,” to “tricks up our sleeves,” O’Hara uses idiomatic phrases, that position themselves alongside an abstraction like “Time,” both of which are not concrete, but remain familiar to the reader. Standing alone these phrases would not succeed, but coupled with concrete, and still familiar images, such as “apple in its mouth,” “speedometers,” and  “cocktails.” O’Hara manages to move towards universal emotions by lingering in an ambiguous, familiar range of idioms and familiar concrete images.

One Reply to “Frank O’Hara’s “Animals,” Abstract vs. Concrete, and the Universal”

  1. Oliver,
    Thanks for the analysis! I never really notice the ways that abstract language can play with more concrete idioms, I tend to err on the side of “no abstractions unless absolutely necessary” because most of my poems are mostly imagistic, but I respect the way you honor the abstract!

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