by Rita Dove
Part 1, Stanzas 5 & 6 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Stanza 5: Lines 13-15
El General has found the word: perejil.
Who says it, lives. He laughs, teeth shining
out of the swamp. The cane appears
- Trujillo ("El General") has settled on a word (we knew it was coming, but here it is). The rest of this stanza is relatively clear, and pretty blatant in its treatment of Trujillo's monstrosity.
- Those who can pronounce the word "perejil" (parsley) will be spared, but the implication is that everyone else dies. This gives Trujillo pleasure, and he "laughs, teeth shining" – right into the last line of the stanza, which is also a refrain.
- The repetition of the swamp and cane in this line changes a little here – Dove breaks it in half, placing Trujillo in the swamp (like a predator – can't you just see it? The shining teeth), and leaving the cane free to appear somewhere else this time. It's a very deft poetic maneuver. But then again, Dove's a really good poet.
Stanza 6: Lines 16-19
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.
- Now we know where the sugarcane is "appearing" – in the speakers' "dreams." This makes it seem like the labor that the workers are forced to do is inescapable, that it will haunt them past sleep and, ultimately, past death.
- The second half of this line has more violent verbs in it: "lashed" and "streaming." Both of these things can be seen as meteorological (rain really does lash things, and it really does stream down things like windowpanes and buildings), but we think there's more to it than that.
- What more? Well, what else is implied by the verb "to lash"? We think immediately of a whip – makes sense, right? These people are basically enslaved, and the poem is a commentary on the utter brutality of that enslavement. Thus, the lashing and streaming becomes much more about the body than the weather.
- Another bit of repetition follows this line. The speakers again reiterate that they are lying down. This time, however, it's followed by "for every drop of blood," which gives the lying down a much more sinister quality.
- That, combined with the fact that Trujillo has settled upon a word, gives us quite the hint that lying down, in this case, may well be dying.
- The last two lines of this first section are the entire refrain repeated. And when the parrot comes back this time, it's directly connected with the blood. Dove seems to be saying that, for every horrible thing, there is an unfair – but present – beautiful thing. The parrot imitating spring. And since we've kind of figured out that the parrot symbolizes wealth, we've come back around to the political commentary.
- That commentary, if we put it way too simply, goes something like this: "the rich will enslave and kill the poor. And the beauty of the rich will continue throughout. And the fact of the sugarcane will not go away."
- Like we said – heavy. Important, but heavy. And we're not even halfway through the poem.