by Rita Dove
Part 2, Stanzas 7 & 8 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Stanza 7: Lines 20-27
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
- We begin the second part of this poem with more repetition, strangely enough – this part isn't part of the villanelle form. So why repeat?
- Maybe look at it this way – have you ever had to try to convince yourself that something is true? When we're trying to hammer home a point, we use repetition to do it, and that may be what the poem is doing in this moment. The whole event is nearly beyond comprehension and so, to make us believe, maybe we have to hear it a few times.
- Anyway, the parsley is back. The general, Trujillo, has chosen the word once again so, technically speaking, we're moving backwards a little bit in time here. It's almost as if the two parts of the poem are happening simultaneously, from two different points of view.
- It's interesting to note that in this section Trujillo is called "the general" rather than the Spanish term "El General." Similarly, the word "parsley" is used instead of the Spanish "perejil." If nothing else, this shift shows that between the first and second parts of the poem, we've shifted perspective.
- The speaker is definitely different in this part of the poem. It's now a more neutral, third-person speaker, who is simply relaying information.
- So we know it's fall, and then suddenly the general has a thought – and we're inside Trujillo's head. This is kind of an incredible maneuver that Dove makes in this poem, because the minute we know what Trujillo is thinking, he becomes much more human.
- And how much more human does he become? Much more so – he's thinking, after all, of his mother, who is dead (though we're not quite sure how long it's been).
- The last part of this stanza gives us a glimpse into Trujillo's past, namely, him burying his mother.
- The word choices here are fascinating – "he planted her walking cane." What does that mean? Well, ostensibly, it means that he simply buried her walking cane along with her, but then the line goes on the say "it flowered"! What is going on here?
- (Keep in mind the fact that "cane" has been used before to mean "sugarcane." Absolutely deliberate.)
- We're pretty sure that the walking cane does not flower in reality. But something with white flowers is blossoming over Trujillo's mother. It's significant that they are "four-star blossoms," too – again, a symbol of wealth. Four-star hotel? Four-star restaurant? Four-star life? Four-star general? Yes indeed.
- So the walking cane itself isn't blooming, but the sugarcane is, so the walking cane takes on a whole new layer of significance – a kind of awful repetition, or a foreshadowing of more death to come.
Part 8: Lines 27-33
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
- So now, in this stanza, we begin to get a little bit more of Trujillo's reaction to his own thinking about his mother.
- Let's just say it isn't simple sadness.
- He puts on his shoes and "stomps to / her room in the palace." So now we're in Trujillo's mother's room, which has two interesting features: there are no curtains, and there's a parrot sitting on a brass ring.
- There's the parrot again. Wealth, some kind of awful innocence (or indifference), and spring. And the lack of curtains – this room, despite the darkness of Trujillo's presence, is bright. Beautiful, even?
- This beauty, however, is quickly tempered by Trujillo's thoughts – "who can I kill today"? Upon asking this, the "little knot of screams" quiets down. But what is that? Well, it might be his own grief, which he is dealing with through outright rage and violence. All of these things scream, in their way. Perhaps, awful as it is, thinking about killing other people makes Trujillo feel better about himself, and the death of his mother.