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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

PARSLEY, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography

"Parsley" is a poem written by Rita Dove, an African American poet, in 1983. The poem is set in the Dominican Republic during the Trujillo regime, which was known for its brutal tactics to maintain power. The poem delves into the horrors of the regime and how the people were forced to participate in its atrocities.


The poem starts with the word "Parsley" and then moves on to describe how the word was used during the Trujillo regime to test for Haitian accents. Anyone who couldn't say the word properly was killed. The poem then moves on to describe a Haitian woman who was forced to crawl on her hands and knees while reciting the Dominican Republic's national anthem. The woman is then killed because she couldn't say the word "parsley" properly.

The poem then switches to the present day, where a couple is on vacation in the Dominican Republic. They come across a field of parsley and the man suggests that they pick some for their dinner. The woman is hesitant, knowing the history of the word, and the man insists that they take some anyway. As they leave the field, the woman throws the parsley away, unable to bear the weight of its history.

Poetic Elements:

  • Structure: The poem consists of six stanzas, each with varying numbers of lines. The stanzas are not uniform in structure, but each one focuses on a different aspect of the poem's themes. It does not have a consistent rhyme scheme. However, there are some instances of partial rhyme and slant rhyme throughout the poem. 
  • Tone: The tone of the poem is somber and reflective. The use of imagery and symbolism adds to the weight of the poem's themes.
  • Imagery: The use of imagery in the poem is powerful, with vivid descriptions of the atrocities committed during the Trujillo regime. The description of the Haitian woman crawling on her hands and knees is particularly striking.


"Parsley" is a haunting and powerful poem that explores the weight of history and the atrocities committed during the Trujillo regime. The use of the word "parsley" as a tool of oppression and violence is a potent symbol that runs throughout the poem. Dove's use of imagery and symbolism creates a vivid and visceral experience for the reader. The final image of the woman throwing the parsley away is a powerful one, representing the weight of history and the need to confront the past in order to move forward.

Poem Snippet:

Three hundred years ago, in a world / without helicopters,

the kettle's warning cry made / a stillness in the valley.

A parrot screamed. A huge machine / rose above the forests."

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