It's hard not to feel like we're sitting across from Dorothy Parker listening to her talk when we read "One Perfect Rose." Phrases like "all tenderly," "do you suppose," and "Ah no, it's always just my luck" are phrases we use more when talking casually than when writing poetry.
So, conversational tone? Check. But this poem doesn't sound like any old conversation. Nope. It's a conversation that is also a little song, complete with rhymes, refrains ("One perfect rose… One perfect rose… One perfect rose"), and alliteration ("Long love" in line 7)—things we associate with poetry.
It's as if the poem is using traditional poetry sounds, but also trying to break through and reach the reader on a more informal level at the same time. Hmm! That sounds a lot like our speaker, doesn't it? She's tired of the old ways (rose = love: yawn), and looking for a more meaningful connection. In this sense, then, the poem's use of sound really reflects what this poem is all about.
One. Perfect. Rose. The title suggests a few different things. We all know that roses and love go together like butter and toast, so from reading this title we might think that it's safe bet that this little poem will probably have something to do with romantic love. It would also be fair to assume that this poem might be some kind of nature poem, a description of a perfect rose (wet, big red petals, perfect stem, that sort of them).
We hate to break it to you, but this poem doesn't really fit either of those categories. Sure, there's a description of a "deep-hearted" rose that is scented with wet dew, and sure the speaker talks about how people use roses to express their love, but this poem is really about… (get ready for this) how a perfect rose isn't so perfect.
The speaker isn't too happy about getting a rose, so even though the rose is perfect, it really isn't so perfect. There's something kind of boring about it. So, the title of the poem is a bit misleading. Our expectations about what "One Perfect Rose" should be about are not met, in the same way that the speaker's own desire that love be expressed differently than by a rose is also unfilled.
We get very little in the way of setting in this poem. We think that perhaps the thing that most acts as the setting here is the speaker's relationship with the fellow who sent the rose. That rose is the jumping off point for the speaker to think through, essentially, her relationship with Mr. Cliché over here. What does it mean, she seems to be asking, to be in a relationship with someone who lacks imagination? Is this really what she wants?
As she examines the rose itself, it's really as though the speaker is taking a good hard look at her place next to this guy. Is this a setting that she's comfortable in? Not really, it turns out. Maybe some serious redecorating is in order. While this poem is more of a lament than a plan of action, we get the sense that the speaker's dissatisfaction in this relationship will not lead to good news for the fella on the other end of that rose.
Although it's never explicitly stated, based on the poet and the scenario that unfolds in the poem, we can say that it's a safe bet that our speaker's a woman. And she's not easy to please either, though not in like a spoiled, bratty kind of way. It's just that the speaker of this poem has received flowers so many times that you're going to have to do a little more than that to win her heart.
It's not that she thinks roses aren't pretty or anything like that. She can tell a perfect rose when she sees one, that's for sure. She's just tired of everything always being the same, especially when it comes to love. She realizes, for example, that the whole send-a-rose thing has become a tired cliché and that it's time for a change.
And you bet she wants to help bring about that change. She will settle for nothing less. Yeah sure she sounds kind of materialistic when she talks about preferring a limousine to a nice flower, but she's dissatisfied and frustrated. And besides, she's just throwing that out there as an example of something new, creative, and very different than a rose. She's asking, really, for a bit more thoughtfulness when it comes to expressing emotions. So, if you want to get that second date with her, you better wise up and get your creative juices flowing because a flower isn't going to cut it. Not with this one.
"One Perfect Rose" is a pretty simple little poem. There are no crazy, outdated words, and the sentences are nice and short. The poem's colloquial language also makes us feel as though we are talking to somebody directly, not reading poetry. Who said poetry has to be impossible to be pretty?
If you take a peek at Enough Rope, the volume of poems in which "One Perfect Rose" appeared, you'll notice that Parker was a little annoyed with men. Take a poem like "Men," for example, which concludes with the line "they make me sick, they make me tired," or the ironically titled "Love Song," which contains the rather upsetting lines "My own dear love, he is all my heart—, / And I wish somebody'd shoot him." Yikes!
"One Perfect Rose" isn't too happy with men either. Sure, there's nothing about shooting, but the speaker is clearly sick of getting flowers from dudes. It seems that she was in a slightly—just slightly—better mood when she wrote "One Perfect Rose."
Like a perfect rose, this poem is well-put together. It's got a very regular pattern that makes it easy to follow. For example, just consider the rhyme scheme at work here: ABAB. The end of every other line features a perfect end rhyme (in stanza 1, for example, it's "met" with "wet," "chose" with "rose"). It seems like this structure is creating a nice symmetry for us the reader, which of course we'd expect in a lovey-dovey poem about a rose. Still, all is not well in Lovesville, which is where the meter comes in to play.
"One Perfect Rose" contains three quatrains (four-line stanzas) and uses two different meters in each stanza. The first three lines of each stanza are written in a meter called iambic pentameter, while the final line of each stanza is written in iambic dimeter. No, not diameter, as in a circle. We mean dimeter, as in two iambs. Let's break this down to show you what we mean.
Up first: iambic pentameter. Basically, a line of iambic pentameter contains 5 ("pent-" is Greek for five, as in pentathlon) iambs. An iamb (pronounced like I AM) is a two-syllable pair, the first being unstressed which is then followed by a stressed syllable. If you say "allow" out loud, you'll hear an iamb: da DUM. For example, check out line 1:
A single flow'r he sent me, since we met.
Since we have five iambs here, you should hear this pattern: da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM. There you have it dudes and dudettes, iambic pentameter.
Okay, now that that's out of the way what about that dimeter deal? Well "di-" means two, so a line of iambic dimeter contains two iambs. Can you find which lines have this meter? Here's a hint: all three in this poem are identical. 10000000 percent the same. Think refrain, or lines 4, 8, and 12:
One perfect rose.
Now, for an answer to the burning question you're asking yourself, why two meters? Well, this is a poem about dissatisfaction, irritation, and all that jazz. The first three lines of each stanza are fine and dandy but then we get a short line, which sort of upsets the pattern, right? The switch to a line of dimeter at the end of each stanza messes with the flow of the poem. Darth Vader would say it's a great disturbance in the force, but we'll say that it's an annoyance that is just like the speaker's annoyance. By using this metrical break, she makes us feel her pain!
In a poem called "One Perfect Rose" there should be plenty of roses around, right? Yes indeed there should be, and every little nook and cranny in this lyric is packed with thoughts of this typically romantic flower. First off there's the refrain in lines 4, 8, and 12, which just so happens to be the same as the title. On top of that, there's a rose that speaks (bizarre)! People usually like getting roses, of course, but this poem features a speaker who's really kind of bored with them.
Nothing is perfect. Well, actually that's not really true. Sometimes roses can be perfect, at least according to the speaker of "One Perfect Rose." But even if the rose is perfect—great petal shape, perfect color, etc.—it's not really a perfect way to express love. No, it's kind of a cliché. Even something perfect can still be imperfect. (Nice try, though, Mr. Rose-Sender Guy.)
We're sorry: no sex. Nope. Everybody has their clothes on, and the most frequent visitor is a flower. Yeah, we know that that's kind of a let-down in a poem that, from its title, promise all sorts of romance. But hey, at least there's a perfect limousine to think about, right?