By Rita Dove

  1. The Cane Fields

There is a parrot imitating spring
in the palace, its feathers parsley green.
Out of the swamp the cane appears

to haunt us, and we cut it down. El General
searches for a word; he is all the world
there is. Like a parrot imitating spring,

we lie down screaming as rain punches through
and we come up green. We cannot speak an R—
out of the swamp, the cane appears

and then the mountain we call in whispers Katalina.
The children gnaw their teeth to arrowheads.
There is a parrot imitating spring.

El General has found his word: perejil.
Who says it, lives. He laughs, teeth shining
out of the swamp. The cane appears

in our dreams, lashed by wind and streaming.
And we lie down. For every drop of blood
there is a parrot imitating spring.
Out of the swamp the cane appears.

  1. The Palace

The word the general’s chosen is parsley.
It is fall, when thoughts turn
to love and death; the general thinks
of his mother, how she died in the fall
and he planted her walking cane at the grave
and it flowered, each spring stolidly forming
four-star blossoms. The general

pulls on his boots, he stomps to
her room in the palace, the one without
curtains, the one with a parrot
in a brass ring. As he paces he wonders
Who can I kill today. And for a moment
the little knot of screams
is still. The parrot, who has traveled

all the way from Australia in an ivory
cage, is, coy as a widow, practising
spring. Ever since the morning
his mother collapsed in the kitchen
while baking skull-shaped candies
for the Day of the Dead, the general
has hated sweets. He orders pastries
brought up for the bird; they arrive

dusted with sugar on a bed of lace.
The knot in his throat starts to twitch;
he sees his boots the first day in battle
splashed with mud and urine
as a soldier falls at his feet amazed—
how stupid he looked!— at the sound
of artillery. I never thought it would sing
the soldier said, and died. Now

the general sees the fields of sugar
cane, lashed by rain and streaming.
He sees his mother’s smile, the teeth
gnawed to arrowheads. He hears
the Haitians sing without R’s
as they swing the great machetes:
Katalina, they sing, Katalina,

mi madle, mi amol en muelte. God knows
his mother was no stupid woman; she
could roll an R like a queen. Even
a parrot can roll an R! In the bare room
the bright feathers arch in a parody
of greenery, as the last pale crumbs
disappear under the blackened tongue. Someone

calls out his name in a voice
so like his mother’s, a startled tear
splashes the tip of his right boot.
My Mother, my love in death.
The general remembers the tiny green sprigs
men of his village wore in their capes
to honor the birth of a son. He will
order many, this time, to be killed

for a single, beautiful word.

Summary of Parsley

  • Popularity of “Parsley”: Written by Rita Dove, an African American poet, educationist and writer, “Parsley” first appeared in 1986 in her book Thomas and Beulah. The poem explores the horrific history of the 1937 massacre of Haitians in the Dominican Republic. The poem’s title has been derived from the word the victims were forced to pronounce. The word “parsley” in Spanish means to determine whether they were Haitian or Dominican. Despite the difficult subject matter, the poem quickly gained popularity, becoming one of Dove’s most well-known and frequently anthologized works. What sets “Parsley” apart from other poems on similar topics is its use of repetition and multiple voices to convey the collective trauma of that event.
  • “Parsley” As a Representative of Manly Advice: “Parsley” is a representative of the power of poetry used to explore and confront difficult histories and collective traumas. The poem’s examination of the 1937 massacre in the Dominican Republic and its aftermath is a powerful reminder of how historical events continue to shape the present. By giving voice to the victims and survivors of the massacre, Dove’s poem highlights the importance of remembering and bearing witness to such atrocities as well as the role of art in doing so. “Parsley” is, in fact, a testament to how poetry uses language to convey the emotional and psychological impact of traumatic events, making them accessible to readers in a way that traditional historical accounts may not.
  • Major Themes in “Parsley”: The poem explores several major themes, including the relationship between language and power, the trauma of collective memory, and the ways history shapes the present. These themes are intertwined throughout the poem, with Dove using language and imagery to convey the emotional and psychological impact of the 1937 massacre in the Dominican Republic. The theme of language and power is evident in the repeated use of the word “parsley” as a tool for identifying Haitians, highlighting the ways in which language is able to divide and oppress.
    The theme of collective trauma is present in the voices of the victims and survivors, who share their stories and bear witness to the atrocities committed. Also, the theme of history shaping the present is evident in these initial lines of the poem, where Dove writes, “There is a parrot imitating spring / in the palace, its feathers parsley green.” These lines suggest that the time cannot be ignored and that it is up to us to use our knowledge of history to shape a better spring out of it.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in Parsley

Rita Dove demonstrates exceptional command of various literary devices, effectively conveying the desired impact in her poem. A few significant literary devices in this poem are as follows.

  1. Alliteration: It is the repetition of the initial consonant sound in neighboring words or syllables. For example, line 25 “spring stolidly forming,” shows the use of /s/ sound as an alliteration.
  2. Assonance: It is the repetition of the vowel sound in neighboring words or syllables. An example is /i/ and e in “There is a parrot imitating spring” (line 18) and then again /a/ in “Out of the swamp the cane appears” (line 9).
  3. Consonance: It is a literary device in which consonant sounds are repeated within words or at the ends of words. Rita Dove shows an example of consonance in line 45, “splashed with mud and urine” where “s” and “sh” sounds are repeated, creating a harsh and unpleasant tone.
  4. Imagery: It is the description that appeals to the senses. Examples include “feathers parsley green” in line 2, “mountain we call in whispers Katalina” in line 10, and “bright feathers arch in a parody / of greenery” in lines 61-62.
  5. Irony: It is a contrast between what is expected or intended and what actually occurs. Example: “The word the general’s chosen is parsley… He orders pastries / brought up for the bird” (lines 20-21, 40-41). The general has chosen the word “parsley” to represent his power and control, which is quite ironic.
  6. Metaphor: It is a comparison between two things that are different but share some common characteristics. An example is “the little knot of screams” in line 32, which compares the sound of screams to a physical knot.
  7. Personification: It gives human qualities to non-human entities. An example is “the cane appears / to haunt us” in lines 3-4.
  8. Repetition: It is repeating a word, phrase, or sentence for emphasis. An example is “there is a parrot imitating spring” in lines 1, 6, and 12, which serve as a refrain.
  9. Symbolism: It is the use of objects, characters, or actions to represent abstract ideas or concepts. For example, “The cane fields” (line 1) represent the oppression and violence inflicted on Haitian sugarcane workers.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in Parsley

Although poetic devices are part of literary devices, some are different in nature and set the mood of the poem and tone of the poem with an indirect meaning. The analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem is as follows.

  1. Diction: It is the choice and use of words and phrases in writing. In “Parsley,” Dove uses diction to convey the emotional and psychological impact of the 1937 massacre in the Dominican Republic. For example, the word “parsley” is repeated throughout the poem as a tool for identifying Haitians, highlighting how language can be used to divide and oppress.
  2. Meter: It is a rhythmic pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in poetry. “Parsley” by Rita Dove does not have a consistent meter, as the poem is written in free verse.
  3. Poem Type: “Parsley” by Rita Dove is a free verse poem, which means it does not follow a specific form or structure.
  4. Stanza: “Parsley” by Rita Dove is divided into six stanzas of varying lengths. The stanzas are not consistent in length or structure, as the poem is written in free verse.
  5. Tone: It is the attitude or feeling conveyed by the author through the words and phrases used in writing. The tone of “Parsley” is somber and reflective, as Dove explores the trauma of collective memory and how history shapes the present. The poem’s tone is also introspective, as Dove invites the reader to reflect on their own relationship to history and memory.

Quotes to be Used

This quote could be used to illustrate the brutal and violent nature of the sugar cane industry and the dictatorship that oversees it in the poem “Parsley” by Rita Dove. The quote highlights the contrast between the natural beauty of spring, represented by the parrot’s green feathers, and the gruesome reality of the cane fields, where bloodshed is a common occurrence. It could be used in an analysis of the poem’s themes of oppression and violence, as well as in discussions of the use of vivid imagery and symbolism in the poem.

For every drop of blood
there is a parrot imitating spring.
(Line 18)