‘One Perfect Rose’ was published in Parker’s 1926 volume Enough Rope. This book includes numerous poems that shed light on Parker’s emotionally turbulent life and the various relationships and troubles she had. In the poem, she speaks on themes of relationships, their meaning, and depth, as well as the symbolism and truth of love.
The poem is quite short but in its twelve lines, the speaker takes the reader on a journey towards her understanding of the meaning, or lack thereof, of a rose. The speaker expresses her pleasure, at first, in seeing a single rose that her suitor gave her. It’s perfect in every way and should by all rights be clearly conveying his emotions But, it turns out, this is not entirely true. The speaker is tired of roses. She is more interested in what else a potential lover can give her besides this tired symbol.
You can read the full poem here.
‘One Perfect Rose’ by Dorothy Parker is a three-stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABAB, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. The first three lines of each stanza are written in iambic pentameter. This is the most commonly used meter in English verse. It means that each line consists of five sets of two beats. The first of these is unstressed and the second is stressed.
The final line of each stanza is different though. It is the same phrase, repeated perfectly in each iteration and It is much shorter than the other lines of the poem. All three ending lines are written in iambic dimeter. This means that the stresses stay the same but there are two sets of two beats in the lines.
Parker makes use of several literary devices in ‘One Perfect Rose’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, repetition, in this case, a refrain, and personification. The latter is seen twice, both times in the second stanza. It occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. In this case, the poet personifies the rose and “Love” as a force capable of giving gifts.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “Love long” in the second stanza and “met” and “messenger” in lines one and two of the first stanza.
Repetition is the use and reuse of a specific technique, word, tone or phrase within a poem. In ‘One Perfect Rose’ the poet sues a refrain. This is a line that is repeated in full, or with small changes, multiple times in a poem. In this case, she uses the title “One perfect rose” at the end of every stanza. By the end, the phrase has taken on a very different meaning than it had in the first iteration.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
A single flow’r he sent me, since we met.
One perfect rose.
In the first stanza of ‘One Perfect Rose,’ the speaker begins by stating very simply the “he,” an unknown suitor, has sent her “A single flow’r”. The shortening of “flower” to “flow’r” is an example of syncope. As the title suggests, this rose was “perfect” in every way. It conveyed his intentions in a direct and incredibly effective way. It is the right “messenger” for his affections. The description of the flower is expanded in the next stanzas, aided in part by the poet’s use of personification.
I knew the language of the floweret;
‘My fragile leaves,’ it said, ‘his heart enclose.’
The second stanza of ‘One Perfect Rose,’ takes a bit of a turn as it is revealed, metaphorically, that the rose can speak. She saw it and knew the language of the flower. She was able to understand it.
The flower tells her, or conveys to her through its presence, that it contains the suitor’s heart in its “fragile leaves”. This brings back in the compound word “deep-hearted” from the first stanza.
Love, in the third line of this stanza, is also personified. The speaker tells the reader that “Love” has for a long time used the flower to convey its emotions. It is the perfect “amulet” for the task. Here, the word amulet is referring to a talisman, something that is imbued with deep meaning.
Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.
In the final stanza of ‘One Perfect Rose,’ the speaker asks a question of herself. She does not expect an answer, instead, answering the question in the third and fourth lines. This is a technique known as hypophora. This stanza also shifts the poem in another direction. She asks why “no one” has ever sent her a “perfect limousine”.
While the speaker might indeed be thinking of a limousine as a better gift, there is likely a deeper meaning underneath her choice of a car. The last two lines suggest that she’s tired of always getting “One perfect rose”. It’s nice, but its the same cliche, supposedly meaningful gift over and over. Rather than a symbol of love, she’d like something that proved the suitor’s affection in a more permanent and meaningful way.