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The Colonel

The Colonel


by Carolyn Forché

Sentences 16-19 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

[…] There was some talk of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say nothing.

  • The colonel's disembodiment from earlier in the poem is about to come to an end. "Some talk about how difficult it had become to govern" hangs there in the air, without anyone specifically saying anything. We can gather that the colonel has brought up this subject, which is… awkward. Politics is supposed to be an off-limit topic at polite gatherings, isn't it? 
  • When somebody actually does say something, it's the parrot, and guess what? Not only is it the only friendly creature in the whole place or poem, it's talking in English too. Score another point for the norteamericanos (North Americans). No wonder the colonel is so cheesed off. And lo, the colonel appears for the first time, telling the tropical bird to shut up. Figures. It's a defining moment. The colonel comes into focus in his fury and his desire to silence the voices, English and otherwise.
  • When the colonel storms away from the table, a friend says with his eyes to say nothing. Wait a second, there was a friend at this dinner all along? How were we to know that? Why introduce him now? Mysterious. He arrives just to signal the speaker to, well, not speak.
  • How many ways are there to convey "shut it"? We've got two here back to back, and we're about to be confronted with one of the more horrifying ways of silencing someone. In line 20, the friend's eyes are speaking. Of course, that last time we checked, eyes don't have mouths, so we've got some personification going on here. It makes you think of the body and its ability to communicate truths, maybe more eloquently than words. It also prepares you for the climax of the story, and the poem.

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