The first line of “Having a Coke with You” is a predicate to the title. The speaker lists the reasons why he would rather have a Coke with the person he loves. The list of names in the first line refers to the cities in Spain on O’Hara’s itinerary. The second line refers to a hangover the author had after a night of food and drink in Barcelona; he had vomited in the gutter of Cuixart’s house. Lines three through six provide the details of his adoring love affair. St. Sebastian, referenced to in the third line, was a Roman martyr and is considered to be a protector against the plague. His death is often foreshadowed within the poem by images of arrows piercing his body. The last four lines of the stanza underscore the speaker’s belief that being with his lover is a more enjoyable experience than observing art. The speaker compares the dynamics of his feelings for his love to motionless statues: “it is hard to believe when I’m with you there can be anything as still / as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary.” The final lines offer a simile. The speaker compares himself and his lover to a “tree breathing through its spectacles.” This surreal image joins the qualities of a statue and the qualities of a human being.
Lines eleven and twelve refer to an art exhibition O’Hara recently attended. Still caught in the intensity of his feelings for his lover, the speaker cannot appreciate the beauty of the paintings; he wonders why someone would take the trouble to paint them. The speaker continues the comparisons. In the first stanza, he compares his lover to great works of Western art. His lover, for example, far surpasses all art except in the rare case of Rembrandt’s Polish Rider. The painting, oil on canvas painted in 1655, depicts a writer who was evicted from Poland for publishing a pamphlet in Amsterdam in the defense of free-thinking. The painting expresses the sympathy of the painter for the just cause of free-thinking. O’Hara is drawn to the subject matter and the beauty of the painting. The Frick is a museum in New York City that houses many of the world’s art masterpieces. Line seventeen notes how his lover moves “so beautifully” and refers to Warren’s life as a dancer. Futurism was an art movement in the early twentieth century that valorized machines, motion, and speed. Art from this movement attempts to depict successful active positions of a subject simultaneously.
O’Hara underscores his obsession with Warren when he suggests that the dancer occupies his entire attention and he does not even think of art that “used to wow me” when he’s in the presence of Warren’s dancing. He comments on Marcel Duchamp’s painting Nude Descending a Staircase, and Leonardo DaVinci and Michelangelo, implying that they pale in comparison to Warren’s love. In lines 20 through 23, O’Hara extends his thinking by suggesting that all the great painters would have been greater if they focused less on technique and research and focused more on finding passionate subjects. This idea embodied the image of having the “right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank.” The meaning behind this verse revolves around the need for painters to play a creative role in their paintings. He repeats this idea when he says that Marino Marini “didn’t pick the rider as carefully as the horse.” Marino Marini was a twentieth-century Italian sculptor whose work consisted largely of horses and riders. His best known work is Horseman (1952), housed in the Walker Art Museum of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The artists were more concerned with representations of beauty than real life beauty. O’Hara concludes, “it seems they were all cheated out of some marvelous experience.”
Jennifer Smith and Elizabeth Thomason, Poetry for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Poetry, Volume 12, Frank O’Hara, Published by Gale Group, 2001.