'Steps' by Frank O'Hara

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How funny you are today New York
like Ginger Rogers in Swingtime
and St. Bridget's steeple leaning a little to the left

here I have just jumped out of a bed full of V-days
(I got tired of D-days) and blue you there still
accepts me foolish and free
all I want is a room up there
and you in it
and even the traffic halt so thick is a way
for people to rub up against each other
and when their surgical appliances lock
they stay together
for the rest of the day (what a day)
I go by to check a slide and I say
that painting's not so blue

where's Lana Turner
she's out eating
and Garbo's backstage at the Met
everyone's taking their coat off
so they can show a rib-cage to the rib-watchers
and the park's full of dancers with their tights and shoes
in little bags
who are often mistaken for worker-outers at the West Side Y
why not
the Pittsburgh Pirates shout because they won
and in a sense we're all winning
we're alive

the apartment was vacated by a gay couple
who moved to the country for fun
they moved a day too soon
even the stabbings are helping the population explosion
though in the wrong country
and all those liars have left the UN
the Seagram Building's no longer rivalled in interest
not that we need liquor (we just like it)

and the little box is out on the sidewalk
next to the delicatessen
so the old man can sit on it and drink beer
and get knocked off it by his wife later in the day
while the sun is still shining

oh god it's wonderful
to get out of bed
and drink too much coffee
and smoke too many cigarettes
and love you so much

Editor 1 Interpretation

Excitement and Nostalgia in Frank O'Hara's "Steps"

Frank O'Hara's poem "Steps" perfectly captures the feeling of nostalgia that comes with looking back on a moment in time. The poem describes a walk that the speaker took with a friend, and the small moments and details that made that walk so memorable. Through vivid imagery and a conversational tone, O'Hara transports the reader to a specific time and place, evoking a sense of longing for a simpler, more carefree time.

The Power of Imagery

One of the most striking things about "Steps" is the way O'Hara uses vivid imagery to bring the walk to life. From the "plastic wind chimes" that the speaker and his friend encounter to the "goldfinches" that flit about, every detail is carefully chosen to create a sensory experience for the reader. Take, for example, this passage:

The white petunias
turning to face the moon
grow brighter
as the dark earth deepens
and the sky settles.

In just a few lines, O'Hara conjures up an image of flowers that seem to glow in the moonlight, their whiteness becoming more radiant as the night grows darker. This attention to detail makes the walk feel real and tangible, as if the reader is right there with the speaker and his friend.

A Conversational Tone

Another key element of "Steps" is its conversational tone. The poem reads almost like a diary entry, with the speaker recounting the events of the walk in a casual, off-the-cuff manner. This tone helps to create a sense of intimacy between the reader and the speaker, as if we are privy to a private moment shared between two friends.

For example, take this passage:

I remember the quick
little toothless man
we met who called us
"sweethearts" in his
gravelly voice and how
unselfconsciously we admired
his necktie and his

The way the speaker describes the encounter with the toothless man feels like a personal anecdote shared with a close friend. The use of the word "we" also helps to create a sense of camaraderie between the speaker and the reader, as if we are both part of the same experience.

The Power of Nostalgia

Ultimately, what makes "Steps" so powerful is its ability to evoke a sense of nostalgia for a moment that has passed. The poem is filled with small moments and details that, while seemingly insignificant, add up to create a sense of warmth and joy. The speaker and his friend are carefree, enjoying the simple pleasures of a walk and the company of each other.

But even as the poem celebrates the joy of that moment, there is a sense of longing for its return. The use of the past tense throughout the poem reminds us that this moment is gone, and can never be recaptured. It's a bittersweet feeling, one that anyone who has ever looked back on a happy moment in their life can relate to.


In "Steps," Frank O'Hara captures the power of nostalgia and the beauty of small, fleeting moments. Through vivid imagery and a conversational tone, he creates a sense of intimacy between the reader and the speaker, transporting us to a specific time and place. Ultimately, the poem reminds us of the joy that can be found in simple pleasures, and the importance of cherishing those moments while we have them.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Steps: A Poem of Urban Life

Frank O'Hara's poem "Steps" is a vivid and energetic portrayal of life in the city. Written in 1957, the poem captures the frenetic pace of New York City in the mid-twentieth century, as well as the sense of possibility and excitement that characterized the era. Through its use of vivid imagery, playful language, and unexpected juxtapositions, "Steps" offers a unique perspective on the urban experience.

The poem begins with a description of the speaker's surroundings: "How funny you are today New York / like Ginger Rogers in Swingtime / and St. Bridget's steeple leaning a little to the left." This opening sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is characterized by a sense of whimsy and playfulness. The comparison to Ginger Rogers, a famous dancer and actress, suggests that the city is in motion, constantly moving and changing. The reference to St. Bridget's steeple, which is "leaning a little to the left," adds a touch of humor to the scene, as if the city itself is slightly off-kilter.

As the poem continues, the speaker describes the people he encounters on the street: "Here is / a blond boy / playing a silver flute / you've never / heard before / and the streets / which are / not clean, are / yours." The use of enjambment in these lines creates a sense of movement and fluidity, as if the speaker is moving through the city himself. The image of the blond boy playing the flute adds to the sense of whimsy and playfulness, while the line "the streets / which are / not clean, are / yours" suggests a sense of ownership or belonging to the city.

The poem then takes a darker turn, as the speaker describes a woman who has fallen on the sidewalk: "The woman whose / face you / can't see / sits in the / office of / the / building / where you / work." This sudden shift in tone is jarring, and serves to remind the reader that life in the city is not always glamorous or exciting. The fact that the woman's face is not visible adds to the sense of anonymity and isolation that can be a part of urban life.

Despite this moment of darkness, the poem quickly returns to its playful tone, as the speaker describes a group of children playing hopscotch: "You've never / seen such / an ear-ring / either / the man / quietly / says / as he walks / up / Fifth Avenue." The juxtaposition of the children playing hopscotch with the man's comment about the ear-ring creates a sense of surprise and delight. The fact that the man is walking up Fifth Avenue, one of the most famous streets in the world, adds to the sense of excitement and possibility that permeates the poem.

The final lines of the poem bring the reader back to the beginning, as the speaker once again describes the city itself: "It's / the / movie / of / life / which / you / are / photographing." This line suggests that the city is not just a place, but a living, breathing entity that can be captured and recorded. The use of the word "photographing" adds to the sense of movement and change that characterizes the poem as a whole.

Overall, "Steps" is a vibrant and engaging poem that captures the essence of urban life. Through its use of playful language, unexpected juxtapositions, and vivid imagery, the poem offers a unique perspective on the city and its inhabitants. While it acknowledges the challenges and difficulties of urban life, it ultimately celebrates the energy, excitement, and possibility that can be found in the midst of the hustle and bustle.

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