Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Like many poems situated at the crossroads of politics and culture, “Parsley” assumes that political ideology and cultural practice intersect most vividly in language. Dove’s poem exposes the violence inherent in attempts to control the dynamic, creative changes that transform all languages over time. Trujillo understands his language to be authentic. Yet at the same time, the most important speaker in his life is a parrot that only imitates language. Trujillo’s parrot merely repeats and does not create. In contrast, the Haitian workers re-create language (in this case, the Spanish language) to reflect their dual cultural position as migrant workers. As much as their language might seem to be an unauthentic derivative of “pure” Spanish, Dove makes sure to cast their voices in the elite form of the villanelle. The parrot’s imitations evoke the wounds of the mother’s death to the point of even imitating the voice of the mother. The Haitians create a new language but suffer death at the hands of a dictator who believes that the imitative language of his parrot is more authentic. Trujillo declares, “Even/ a parrot can roll an R!”

These issues of authenticity, language, and violence are enacted against a ritualistic background that fuses love and death. From the beginning, the parrot’s language is described as “imitating spring,” which stands in direct contrast to autumn, the season of the mother’s death. The parrot’s language is part of an endless...

(The entire section is 610 words.)