‘Double Dutch’ by Gregory Pardlo is a vibrant and dynamic poem that captures the energy and artistry of girls playing the game. Through vivid imagery and rhythmic language, Pardlo portrays the agile movements, synchronization, and competitive spirit of the girls.
The poem explores themes of youth, skill, cultural heritage, and the transformative power of play. It celebrates the physicality and beauty of double dutch, connecting the present moment of the game to its historical legacy while also highlighting the joy and freedom found in movement and self-expression.
Explore Double Dutch
In the poem ‘Double Dutch’ by Gregory Pardlo, the speaker vividly describes a group of girls playing the game of double Dutch jump rope.
The girls move with agility and precision, reminiscent of boxers in a sparring match. They skillfully manipulate the jump ropes, creating graceful arcs in the air. The jumper, poised on the sidelines, waits for her turn, synchronizing her movements with the rhythmic nodding of her head.
The jumper’s anticipation builds, comparable to a bandleader counting off the start of a swinging tune. As she leaps into the air, it appears as though she is defying gravity, as if training for a lunar mission. Her brief moment airborne allows for a fleeting second thought, and her expression captures the fleeting motion of a fish’s jawbone.
Once inside the rotating ropes, the bells attached to the jumper’s shoestrings awaken the dormant gods who have slept since the Dutch colonized Manhattan. She dances within the ropes, tracing intricate patterns like a dust-laden bee retracing its path before returning to the hive. The entire spectacle of the girl and the moving ropes resembles a paddle boat, slapping and scooping through the water.
The jumper’s skin glistens as it adjusts and flexes, creating an interplay of light and shadow. Her complexion changes from heather hues to a soft sheen, with light reflecting off her wrist, elbow, knee, and the muscular contours of her body. These surfaces fracture and reform like the play of sunlight on running water. The jumper adorns herself, becoming a living jewel, and her movements create a garland of shadows on the ground.
‘Double Dutch’ portrays the physicality, skill, and beauty of the game, capturing the mesmerizing motions of the girls and the captivating imagery that emerges from their play.
Structure and Form
‘Double Dutch’ by Gregory Pardlo is a poem that consists of a single stanza with thirty-seven lines. The poem does not adhere to a specific rhyming scheme and instead focuses on its unique structure and form to convey its message.
The absence of a traditional rhyming scheme allows the poem to prioritize other elements, such as imagery and rhythm, in order to create a vivid and dynamic portrayal of the girls playing double Dutch. The lack of rhyme scheme also contributes to a sense of freedom and spontaneity, echoing the energetic and fluid movements of the game itself.
The poem’s form is characterized by its detailed and descriptive language, which paints a vibrant picture of the girls and their actions. Each line functions independently, capturing a specific moment or movement within the game. This fragmented structure mirrors the quick and agile nature of double Dutch, with the lines bobbing and weaving much like the girls themselves.
The absence of traditional stanza breaks or line breaks within the stanza further emphasizes the seamless flow of the game. This uninterrupted structure mimics the continuous motion of the jump ropes and the girls’ synchronized movements.
Pardlo’s use of enjambment, where lines run into each other without punctuation or breaks, enhances the sense of fluidity and motion within the poem. It creates a sense of momentum that propels the reader forward, mirroring the energy and excitement of the girls as they play.
The structure and form of ‘Double Dutch’ capture the essence of the game, utilizing a free verse structure, detailed imagery, and enjambment to convey the dynamic and rhythmic nature of the double Dutch jump rope.
In his poem ‘Double Dutch,’ Gregory Pardlo addresses several themes that are woven throughout the poem. These themes encompass childhood, identity, artistry, time, and cultural heritage.
One theme explored in the poem is the depiction of childhood and the playful innocence of youth. Pardlo portrays the girls engaged in the game of double dutch, capturing their youthful energy and agility as they move with the grace of boxers and dancers. For example, the lines “The girls turning double-dutch / bob & weave like boxers pulling / punches” demonstrate the physicality and spirited nature of their play.
Identity is another theme touched upon in the poem. Pardlo describes the jumper’s anticipation and readiness to engage with the ropes, symbolizing her individuality and her unique contribution to the game. The line “But she’s anticipating the upbeat / like a bandleader counting off” suggests her desire to express herself and make her mark.
Artistry and creativity emerge as themes in the poem. The jump rope game is portrayed as an art form, with the girls crafting intricate patterns and movements. Pardlo compares the jumper’s motions to those of a dancer or figure in a time-lapse photo, highlighting the artistic nature of her performance.
Time and the passage of history are also significant themes. The reference to the Dutch acquiring Manhattan and the subsequent mention of the gods who “have lain in the dust” alludes to the historical context of colonialism and cultural heritage. The poem celebrates the resilience and cultural traditions that endure over time, connecting the present moment of the game to the historical legacy of the place.
‘Double Dutch’ explores themes of childhood, identity, artistry, time, and cultural heritage. Through vivid imagery and descriptive language, Pardlo captures the essence of these themes, offering a multi-layered exploration of the experiences and emotions embedded within the game of double Dutch.
Poetic Techniques and Figurative Language
Gregory Pardlo employs a variety of poetic techniques and figurative language in his poem ‘Double Dutch’ to convey his message and enhance the reader’s experience.
- Imagery: This is one technique Pardlo uses extensively throughout the poem. He vividly describes the movements of the girls playing double dutch, using similes to compare their actions to other physical activities. For example, he writes that the girls “bob & weave like boxers pulling / punches,” creating a visual image of their agile and rhythmic movements.
- Metaphor: Pardlo also utilizes metaphor to imbue the poem with deeper meaning. The jumper’s actions are compared to those of a bandleader counting off a tune, emphasizing the importance of timing and coordination in the game. This metaphorical association adds a layer of musicality to the poem.
- Personification: The poet’s use of personification adds life and vibrancy to inanimate objects. The bells tied to the jumper’s shoestrings are described as rousing the gods who “have lain in the dust since the Dutch / acquired Manhattan.” This personification gives agency to the bells as if they have the power to awaken dormant forces and connect the present to the historical past.
- Sensory Language: Pardlo also employs this technique to engage the reader’s imagination. He describes the jumper’s skin as “misted” and her movements as slapping and scooping “like a paddle boat.” These descriptions evoke tactile and auditory sensations, allowing the reader to experience the game more fully.
- Enjambment: The poet further utilizes enjambment to create a sense of flow and momentum within the poem. The lines run into each other without punctuation or breaks, mirroring the continuous motion of the jump ropes and the girls’ actions.
Pardlo employs these various poetic techniques and figurative language to bring the game of double Dutch to life and convey his message of youth, artistry, and cultural connections.
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
In the opening stanza of Gregory Pardlo’s poem ‘Double Dutch,’ the speaker introduces the theme of movement and vitality through the depiction of girls playing the game. The poem immediately captures the reader’s attention with the energetic and rhythmic language used to describe their actions.
The simile “bob & weave like boxers pulling / punches” compares the girls’ movements to those of boxers, emphasizing their agility and coordination. This simile suggests that the girls approach the game with a sense of determination and strategy as they skillfully maneuver in sync with one another.
The use of the word “shadowing” suggests a mirroring effect, where the girls mimic each other’s movements, highlighting the synchronization and teamwork required in double Dutch. This line also implies a sense of competition and the idea that the girls are engaged in a friendly battle of skill.
The phrase “sparring across the slack cord” further enhances the boxing metaphor and emphasizes the back-and-forth motion of the jump ropes. The girls’ actions are portrayed as dynamic and lively, casting “parabolas in the air.” This imagery evokes a sense of fluidity and grace as the ropes create elegant arcs in the sky.
Pardlo continues to emphasize the girls’ speed and quickness with the line “They whip quick as an infant’s pulse.” This simile not only highlights their agility but also alludes to the energy and vitality of youth. The comparison to an infant’s pulse suggests a sense of vibrancy and liveliness that infuses the game.
The focus then shifts to the jumper, who is described as nodding in time and anticipating the moment to enter the game. This anticipation is portrayed through the simile “as if she has a notion to share,” suggesting that she is eager to contribute and express herself within the context of the game.
Pardlo conveys a sense of movement, competition, teamwork, and the eagerness of the jumper to participate. The imagery, similes, and descriptive language combine to create a vibrant and engaging portrayal of the girls’ actions and set the stage for the themes explored in the rest of the poem.
like a bandleader counting off
the whole stunning contraption of girl and rope
In stanza lines 12-27 of Gregory Pardlo’s poem ‘Double Dutch,’ the speaker delves deeper into the experience of the jumper, using vivid imagery and figurative language to convey a sense of transformation and connection to history.
The simile “like a bandleader counting off / the tune they are about to swing into” portrays the jumper as the conductor of her own performance within the game. This metaphor emphasizes the importance of timing and coordination in double Dutch, as well as the jumper’s role in setting the rhythm for the others.
The imagery continues with the description of the jumper “stair-stepping into mid-air / as if she’s jumping rope in low-gravity, / training for a lunar mission.” This comparison to space exploration evokes a sense of weightlessness and freedom, suggesting that the jumper transcends the ordinary bounds of earthly movement. The line “Airborne a moment / long enough to fit a second thought in” emphasizes the brevity of the moment and the heightened awareness that comes with it.
The simile “she looks caught in the mouth bones of a fish” creates a vivid image of the jumper’s facial expression, suggesting a mixture of surprise, determination, and concentration. This simile adds a layer of complexity to the jumper’s experience, hinting at the depth of emotions and thoughts that arise during the game.
The line “like a figure in a stack of time-lapse photos / thumbed alive” further explores the transformative nature of the jumper’s movements. The comparison to time-lapse photography conveys a sense of rapid change and evolution, as if the jumper is dynamically shifting and reshaping herself with each motion.
The bells tied to the jumper’s shoestrings are personified as they “rouse the gods / who’ve lain in the dust since the Dutch / acquired Manhattan.” This personification suggests that the game of double Dutch has the power to awaken and revive dormant cultural and historical connections. The reference to the Dutch acquiring Manhattan alludes to the colonial past and the cultural heritage associated with the place.
slaps and scoops like a paddle boat.
the ground with shadows.
In the final stanza, lines 28-37 of Gregory Pardlo’s poem ‘Double Dutch,’ the speaker focuses on the visual and aesthetic elements of the jumper’s performance, using descriptive language and imagery to convey a sense of beauty, transformation, and the creation of art.
The comparison of the jumper’s movements to a paddle boat, with the phrase “slaps and scoops like a paddle boat,” evokes a sense of rhythm, motion, and the rhythmic sound produced by the ropes hitting the ground and swirling through the air. This imagery reinforces the dynamic nature of the game and the fluidity of the jumper’s actions.
Pardlo continues to describe the jumper’s physical appearance, particularly her skin. He writes that her “misted skin arranges the light / with each adjustment and flex.” This imagery suggests that her movements create a play of light and shadow on her skin, emphasizing her fluidity and the way she interacts with her surroundings.
The line “Now heather-hued, now sheen, light listing on the fulcrum” portrays the shifting colors and textures of the jumper’s skin as she moves. The mention of the fulcrum, a pivot point, suggests a sense of balance and control in her actions.
The imagery of the “bare jutted joints of elbow / and knee” and the “faceted surfaces of muscle” conveys a sense of the jumper’s physical strength and athleticism. The mention of “surfaces fracturing and reforming / like a sun-tickled sleeve of running water” portrays the fluidity and malleability of her body as she jumps and twists. This imagery also evokes the idea of constant change and transformation.
The final two lines of the stanza suggest that the jumper becomes a work of art herself, as she “makes jewelry of herself and garlands / the ground with shadows.” This metaphor implies that her movements and presence have a transformative and decorative effect, creating visual beauty and leaving an impression on the surrounding environment.
In these lines, Pardlo highlights the aesthetic and artistic dimensions of the jumper’s performance. The imagery, descriptive language, and metaphors emphasize the visual beauty, grace, and transformative power of her movements, elevating the game of double Dutch to an art form.
The tone of ‘Double Dutch’ is vibrant, energetic, and celebratory, capturing the excitement and liveliness of the girls playing the game.
The poem is titled ‘Double Dutch’ because it refers to the game itself, emphasizing the unique and playful nature of the activity that involves two jump ropes turning simultaneously.
The poem triggers feelings of joy, nostalgia, and a sense of awe. It evokes memories of childhood playfulness and taps into the thrill of physical movement and the beauty of skillful performance.
The mood of ‘Double Dutch’ is lively, dynamic, and spirited. It immerses the reader in the energetic atmosphere of the game, creating a sense of exhilaration and capturing the essence of youth and vitality.
The essence of ‘Double Dutch’ lies in its celebration of the physicality, artistry, and cultural heritage embedded within the game. It highlights the transformative power of play, the interconnectedness of history and tradition, and the joyous expression of self through movement.
If you enjoyed this poem by Gregory Pardlo, you might also want to explore these other poems:
- ‘Breaking the Surface’ by Jean Bleakney – is about the “art of skimming,” an extended metaphor for the art of writing poetry.
- ‘The Class Game’ by Mary Casey – is a poem that reflects on a game in which people look at a person and try to guess what social class they come from based on their appearance.
- ‘Little Boy Blue’ by Eugene Field – is a beautiful, heartbreaking poem that describes the aftermath of a child’s death. It focuses on the child’s toys and how, despite many years having gone by, they’re still waiting for him.