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The Colonel

The Colonel


by Carolyn Forché

Analysis: Sound Check

They say you can get more attention if you whisper rather than scream. That is proven by this poem. In a poem about speaking and hearing, the speaker uses such plain language in such unadorned syntax, you might get lulled into thinking everything is cool, when it's anything but.

For example, just look at all the sentences in the first half of the poem that use the verb "to be" in simple, nearly boring sentences, often introduced by the even more boring "there":

  • There were daily papers (4)
  • On the television was a cop show (6-7)
  • It was in English. Broken bottles were embedded (7-8)
  • On the windows there were gratings (10)
  • There was a brief commercial in Spanish. (15-16)
  • There was some talk (16-17)

It's a flat inventory. I'm sure your English teachers have deducted points for that kind of dull repetition of sentence structure. To put it in sonic terms, we're dealing pretty much with the sounds of silence. Nothing's really going on in any of these lines from a sound perspective. The tone here is subdued, quiet, mostly journalistic: just the facts.

Still, this lack of sound in the poem, this quietness is to lull readers, to catch them unaware For under that façade there runs an undercurrent of revulsion and outrage, which is made all-the-more powerful given the contrast to the muted language.

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