Double Dutch


“Double Dutch” is a poignant and layered poem by the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gregory Pardlo. Known for his intricate use of language and deep engagement with themes of personal and cultural identity, Pardlo’s work often challenges and delights readers. “Double Dutch” appears in his collection Digest, which has been praised for its intelligent commentary on modern life and its innovative poetic form. The poem itself employs the metaphor of the game “Double Dutch,” a form of jump rope involving two ropes swung in opposite directions, to explore complex themes of communication, skill, and synchronization. In this way, Pardlo not only captures the essence of a physical game but also transforms it into a symbol of navigating personal and societal dualities. 📚✨

Meaning of Double Dutch

Opening Section

In the opening lines of “Double Dutch,” Pardlo sets the stage by vividly describing the scene of children playing the game. He uses the ropes as a metaphor for the oscillations of language and communication, suggesting a rhythm and flow that is both playful and precisely calculated. The lines “The girls turning double-dutch bob & weave like boxers pulling punches, shadowing each other” not only paint a physical picture but also suggest themes of mimicry and survival.

Mid Section

As the poem progresses, the focus shifts from the physical motions of the game to the internal experiences of the participants. Pardlo explores the idea of double consciousness, a term coined by W.E.B. Du Bois to describe the internal conflict experienced by subordinated groups in an oppressive society. Here, the game becomes a metaphor for the act of cultural and linguistic navigation, “spinning like the planet and whipped small by the orbits of so many satellites.”

Concluding Section

In the concluding part of the poem, Pardlo reflects on the implications of the game’s complexities. The ending lines resonate with a sense of accomplishment and the poignant realization of identity and self-perception. This section underscores the theme of mastering difficult skills and the joy of achieving synchronization not just in play, but in life itself, drawing a parallel between the game and personal growth.

In-depth Analysis

Stanza 1

  • Literary Techniques: Pardlo uses vivid imagery and dynamic verbs to bring the scene to life. “Bob & weave like boxers pulling punches” uses simile to compare the girls playing Double Dutch to boxers, implying a dance of agility and strategy.
  • Syntax: The lines are short and choppy, mimicking the quick, rhythmic movements of jumping rope.
  • Diction: The choice of words like “bob,” “weave,” and “shadowing” evokes a sense of movement and interaction.
  • Figurative Language: The stanza is rich in metaphor, with the game of Double Dutch standing in for larger life experiences and challenges.

Stanza 2

  • Literary Techniques: This stanza introduces internal rhyme and repetition which enhance the musical quality of the poem, reflecting the rhythmic beating of the ropes.
  • Syntax: The structure here becomes more complex, mirroring the increasing complexity of the thoughts and feelings being described.
  • Diction: The use of terms like “spinning” and “whipped small” suggests both control and diminishment, playing into the theme of navigating external forces.
  • Figurative Language: The stanza employs personification and metaphor to deepen the thematic exploration of how personal identities are formed and shaped.

Stanza 3

  • Literary Techniques: The closing stanza uses a reflective tone, slowing down the pace of the poem to allow for introspection.
  • Syntax: Longer line lengths suggest a slowing down or unwinding of the earlier energetic motion.
  • Diction: Words like “mastering” and “syncopation” highlight themes of skill, control, and harmony.
  • Figurative Language: The game is metaphorically connected to life’s rhythms and the syncopation in music, suggesting a harmonious blending of dualities.

Poetic Devices used in Double Dutch

MetaphorComparing the rope game to life’s challenges.
Simile“like boxers pulling punches”
ImageryDescriptions of the physical motions in the game.
PersonificationGiving human-like qualities to abstract concepts like “planet”.
Alliteration“Bob & weave” enhances the rhythmic quality of the text.
AssonanceUse of repeated vowel sounds to create internal rhyme.
ConsonanceRepeated consonant sounds, especially in “spinning” and “small”.
OnomatopoeiaWords that mimic the sounds they describe, like “whipped”.
Internal RhymeRhymes within lines to enhance musicality.
SymbolismThe ropes symbolize life’s complexities and challenges.

Double Dutch – FAQs

What is the theme of Gregory Pardlo’s poem “Double Dutch”?
The poem explores themes of identity, cultural duality, and the complexities of communication. It uses the children’s game of Double Dutch as a metaphor for navigating life’s challenges and the intricate dance of personal and social identity.

How does Gregory Pardlo use imagery in “Double Dutch”?
Pardlo employs vivid imagery to paint a dynamic picture of the game and its players. Descriptions like “bob & weave like boxers” and “whipped small by the orbits of so many satellites” not only illustrate the physical action but also convey deeper meanings related to life’s pressures and maneuvers.

What poetic devices are prominent in “Double Dutch”?
The poem features a variety of poetic devices including metaphor, simile, alliteration, assonance, consonance, imagery, internal rhyme, and symbolism. These elements work together to create a rhythmic, engaging, and layered reading experience.

Can “Double Dutch” be seen as a commentary on societal issues?
Yes, the poem can be interpreted as a commentary on societal issues, particularly around the topics of racial identity and cultural expectation. It touches on the concept of double consciousness and the challenge of balancing multiple cultural identities.

What is the significance of the title “Double Dutch”?
The title “Double Dutch” refers not only to the children’s rope-jumping game but also symbolically to the complexities and dualities of life. It suggests a dance of coordination and skill, mirroring the poem’s themes of navigating personal and societal dualities.

Double Dutch Study Guide

Exercise: Identify and list all the poetic devices used in the following verse from “Double Dutch.”

“The girls turning double-dutch bob & weave like boxers pulling punches, shadowing each other, sparring across the slack cord casting parabolas in the air. They whip quick as an infant’s pulse and the jumper, before she enters the winking, nods in time as if she has a notion to share, waiting her chance to speak. But she’s anticipating the upbeat like a bandleader counting off the tune they are about to swing into. The jumper stair-steps into mid-air as if she’s jumping rope in low gravity, training for a lunar mission. Airborne a moment long enough to fit a second thought in, she looks caught in the mouth bones of a fish as she flutter-floats into motion.”

Answer Key:

  • Metaphor: “mouth bones of a fish” — comparing the rope’s arc to a fish’s skeletal structure.
  • Simile: “like boxers pulling punches” — comparing the girls’ movements to boxers.
  • Alliteration: “before she enters the winking” — repetition of the ‘b’ sound.
  • Imagery: Detailed descriptions of the game and the girls’ actions.
  • Personification: The ropes and actions are given life-like qualities, enhancing the animation of the scene.
  • Onomatopoeia: “whip quick” — mimics the sound of the rope.
  • Internal Rhyme: “jumper,” “stair-steps,” “airborne” — rhymes within the line enhance rhythm.
  • Symbolism: The entire scene of Double Dutch symbolizes larger themes of life’s complexities and challenges.

This exercise encourages students to delve deeper into the poetic techniques Pardlo uses, enhancing their understanding of how form contributes to meaning in poetry.