Thursday, February 27, 2014

Rita Dove:Rosa

How she sat there,
the time right inside a place
so wrong it was ready.

That trim name with
its dream of a bench
to rest on. Her sensible coat.

Doing nothing was the doing:
the clean flame of her gaze
carved by a camera flash.

How she stood up
when they bent down to retrieve
her purse. That courtesy.


It's easy enough to figure out that this poem is about Rosa Parks because Rita Dove says. "How." Dove could have easily said, "She sat there." The word "how" really zooms in our focus—Dove wants us to stop and consider Parks, consider not only what she did, but how she did it. This single word sets the tone of close observation. When Dove writes, "so wrong it was ready," the "wrong" and "it" both refer to Montgomery , and that's what's ready.  That "trim" name stands for a very real person (Rosa Parks), and that person is very likely the one with the dream. When she writes that the name has a dream, Dove is using something called synecdoche here, a figurative of speech  where a part is used to represent the whole. There's no punctuation at the end and seems to be lopped off right in the middle of a thought. Dove uses it throughout the poem (in lines 2, 4, 5, 8, 10, and 11 to be specific) to carry us along to the next line without closing the door at the end of each line.
The beginning of line 6 finishes up the thought that was starting from line 4, and hints at the history Rosa Parks' name eventually made. Her name has been figuratively carved in the bus  bench from which she refused to get up, and it will "rest" there forever.She talks about Parks' "trim" name and her "sensible" coat. Dove is painting a picture of a humble  and quiet person—maybe not someone you'd think would have a huge effect on African-American Civil Right—but though Parks' act might seem small, her impact on history was undeniably powerful. Nothing isn't nothing in this case. By doing "nothing," Dove means not giving up her seat to a white person. She means refusing. She means standing up for herself. 
 She introduces the "clean flame of her gaze" that's been "carved by a camera flash." Dove's letting us see the fire (note the "flame") inside of Parks that helped her stand her ground.  The speaker uses alliteration in these two lines. The repetition of the beginning hard C sound in "clean," "carved," and "camera" is echoed by the repetition of the beginning F sound in "flame" and "flash." It's as if these lines enact what they're talking about: one takes a picture to repeat an image. Dove uses assonance, or the repetition of a vowel sound (in this case the "er" sound in "purse" and "courtesy") to end this poem on a musically soft, but strong, note.

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