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by Rita Dove

Parsley Theme of Violence

This poem is utterly infested with violence. Since the premise is the death of 20,000 people by the order of one man, the piece takes on cruelty of epic proportions. Even the literal act of harvesting sugarcane is infused with a kind of violence – "cut it down." This is followed by screaming, punching, lying down (which may well be dying), gnawing, and arrowheads – and this is just the very first part of the poem. The second bit gets even more explicitly violent, with Trujillo wondering, "Who can I kill today?" It's a bloody poem, but very subtle and haunting one.

Questions About Violence

  1. How does the poem get at the fact of the massacre without there really being any explicit violence in the poem?
  2. How many kinds of violence are there in this poem?
  3. What does it really mean to "gnaw teeth to arrowheads"? What do you think it implies?
  4. Do you think that this poem manages to convey an appropriate amount of violence? How do you determine what that amount is?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The lyrical subtlety of "Parsley" actually serves to highlight the tremendous atrocity about which it speaks, without being overwrought.

The images of Haitians cutting down sugarcane with machetes add complex layers to the nature of violence in "Parsley."

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