Rosa Poem by Rita Dove Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


Rita Dove’s poem ‘Rosa’ is a brief and powerful composition that recounts Rosa Parks’ tale in simple and unforgettable words. ‘Rosa’ is one of the numerous pieces devoted to Civil Rights leaders by Rita Dove. This poem is about Rosa Parks in this circumstance. The poem makes multiple references to segregation in the United States during the mid-1950s. Rosa Parks sat at the front of a bus on December 1, 1955, and refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. This led to her imprisonment and is today regarded as one of the pivotal episodes in the Civil Rights Movement. 

About the poet

Rita Frances Dove is an American poet and writer who served as the Library of Congress’s Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry from 1993 to 1995. She is the first African American to be appointed to the position since it was established by a congressional statute in 1986. She was the second African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1987, and she served as Virginia’s Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006. She has been teaching at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville since 1989, where she was Commonwealth Professor of English from 1993 to 2020 and is now Henry Hoyns Professor of Creative Writing.


Stanza 1

How she sat there,

the time right inside a place

so wrong it was ready.

In the opening three lines of ‘Rosa,’ the speaker refers to the poem’s main character, Rosa Parks. Rosa “sat there” at the right moment but in the wrong place, according to the speaker. She was seated in a place where society indicated she should not be. It was at that point that she helped to launch and inspire the Civil Rights Movement, making it the “right” time to be present. Montgomery, Alabama, or at least portions of it, was “ready” for things to change.

Stanza 2

That trim name with

its dream of a bench

to rest on. Her sensible coat.

In the second verse of ‘Rosa,’ she refers to the bus bench and Rosa Parks’ “trim name.” This is an interesting way to define a name, especially one that is short and humble. She represents the wider African American populace who had a “dream” that things would change. Synecdoche is the use of one object to represent a greater whole. “Her sensible coat,” the lyric concludes with a phrase fragment. This brief statement is connected to the first in this stanza’s discussion of the “trim name.” She is a little and simple woman with a big influence. 

Stanza 3

Doing nothing was the doing:

the clean flame of her gaze

carved by a camera flash.

The third paragraph refers to Parks having to do “nothing” in order to do something. She wasn’t moving, thus she wasn’t “doing” what needed to be done. The cameras, or paparazzi, enter the poetry in the following lines. Her face has been “carved by a camera flash,” and her name will soon be known throughout the United States. Her “gaze” is also mentioned by the poet. It’s powerful, especially when set against her plain name and coat. 

Stanza 4

How she stood up

when they bent down to retrieve

her purse. That courtesy.

In the final verse of ‘Rosa,’ the speaker refers to Parks being arrested for remaining in the front of the bus. They “bent to retrieve / her purse” when she stood up with power and dignity. The word “courtesy” is used sarcastically. That is the very least that anyone could do for her. A reader should think about how the first line of this verse connects to the Rosa Parks tale in general. Because she is famous for not standing up, the phrase “stood up” has numerous connotations. Parks “stood up,” possibly when she was arrested, but she also stood up metaphorically against segregationist practices.