“I am Guarding it from Mess and Measure”: Poetics of Order/Disorder in Frank O’Hara’s “Urban Pastoral”

Author: Ikram Hili, University of Monastir, Tunisia, and Laboratory on Approaches to Discourse, Faculty of Letters and Humanities of Sfax, Tunisia
Email: kram_hili@hotmail.com
Published: June 26, 2019

Citation: Hili, I. (2019). “I am Guarding it from Mess and Measure”: Poetics of Order/Disorder in Frank O’Hara’s “Urban Pastoral”. IAFOR Journal of Arts & Humanities, 6(1). https://doi.org/10.22492/ijah.6.1.03


Postwar America gave rise to multiple literary traditions, often referred to as the era’s counterpoetics in the sense that they veered from the Eliotic dictum of impersonality, in particular, and from the rigid academic verse of New Criticism, in general. Prominent among these groups are the Confessionals, the Beats and poets of the New York School. Their visions of poetry might seem irreconcilable at times; yet, these poets do share their discontent with the era’s containment culture. An eminent figure of the New York School, Frank O’Hara devoted his creative energy to a vibrant and vivid rendering of a disordered yet compelling city such as NYC. Its frantic atmosphere speaks to his imagination, fuels his aesthetic verve and, in a synergetic manner, feeds on it, gleaning order/meaning from the poet’s words. In this respect, O’Hara’s poetry can be construed as a containment of an established literary order, embodied in the rigorous dictates of New Criticism, but most important, as an outburst of meaningful disorder that finds strong resonance in life within NYC. Meaningful it is, for such disorder liberates the poet from feelings of vacuity and loss amplified especially by postwar anxiety, substantiating the poet’s thought that, after all, “people do not totally regret their life,” as O’Hara puts it (O’Hara, 1995, p. 97).

In probing into the synergy between O’Hara’s poetry and his city, this paper aims at examining the way in which the city, in O’Hara’s words again, “flatters meanings of my life I cannot find,” and in so doing, it not only invests the poet’s life with meaning but also galvanizes his quest for meaning itself (O’Hara, 1995, p. 230).


postwar America, city, order, disorder, New York school, the “Urban Pastoral”