Skip to main content

In "Parsley," Dove’s penetratingly imaginative mind took on the task of trying to conjecture why Rafael Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic, ordered … fifty thousand migrant Haitian cane cutters killed because they could not pronounce the Spanish rproperly: the test was the word perejil, or parsley. The poem … summons up both the exhausted workers (in a quasi-villanelle) and the demented Trujillo (in a quasi-sestina); their vocabularies intertwine, so that we see that murderer and victims share a world. In her sinisterly plausible account of Trujillo’s decision for genocide, Dove interrogates the extent to which aesthetic or libidinal attachment to language (Trujillo’s obsession with "correct" Spanish, which he associates with his dead mother) can itself – as a poet knows – become vicious. Dove’s rebuke of others are believable because they are also warnings to herself.

… The ambitions of lyric are no less serious – though they are sometimes thought to be – than those of drama or epic. … Technically, her poems "work" by their fierce concision and by an exceptional sense of rhythmic pulse. (Dove used to play the cello, still plays the viola da gamba, and is a trained singer). No matter how painful her stories, no matter how sharp-edged her lines, her poems fall on the ear with solace. … The anxiety that manifests itself as her taut control has so far precluded certain forms of the comic, the genial, or the insouciant; but her poems know reproach, irony, and a terse impatience very well. They also know a surprising surrealism, which turns out to be realism: 

From the beautiful lawnmower float curls of evaporated gasoline; the hinged ax of the butterfly pauses.

The beautiful lawnmower? The ax of the butterfly? By such almost assaultive means, Dove trains her reader into original perceptions.