Death of an Idol

May 20, 1998 at 12:00 AM EDT

ROBERT PINSKY, Poet Laureate: There’s something special about stars who are part of your parents’ generation, as Sinatra was for many of us, stars the same age as your mother and father, have the glamour of parents as seen by a six-year-old, the foolishness of parents as seen by a sixteen-year-old or the vulnerability of parents as seen by a thirty-five year old.

Frank O’Hara captures all those feelings in a poem about another star of Sinatra’s generation, Lana Turner. Never an artist of Frank Sinatra’s stature, she is one of these people who come to mean a lot to us, and O’Hara’s poem conveys that. 

The Poem

Lana Turner has collapsed! 
I was trotting along and suddenly 
it started raining and snowing 
and you said it was hailing 
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and 
raining, and I was in such a hurry 
to meet you but the traffic 
was acting exactly like the sky
and suddenly I see a headline 
there is no snow in Hollywood 
there is no rain in California 
I have been to lots of parties 
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never have actually collapsed 
oh, Lana Turner, we love you get up.

ROBERT PINSKY: But that doesn’t say much about Sinatra, the artist. For that, I’ll turn to some lines by the great Roman poet Virgil. Virgil’s epilogues are conversations in verse between singers about topics like love, death, and the art of singing. In the 9th Eclogue Virgil sounds for just a moment a little like the Johnny Mercer or Cole Porter or Gershwin songs Sinatra sang so memorably. Here in David Ferry’s translation is a bit of Virgil’s 9th Eclogue: 

9th Eclogue

Lycidas and Moeris 

What was the song I heard you singing, alone,
The other night, under a cloudless sky? 
I remember the tune…. if I could remember the words…
…’Daphnis, tell me, why are you gazing only 
At the old constellations in the sky?… 

I remember when I was a boy I used to sing
Every long day of summer down to darkness,
And now I am forgetting all my songs; 
My voice grows hoarse; I must have been seen by a wolf.
Menalcas will sing the songs for you, when he comes. 

The time for singing is will be Menalcas comes.