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The Colossus

The Colossus

by Sylvia Plath

Stanza 1 Summary

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

Lines 1-2

I shall never get you put together entirely,
Pieced, glued, and properly jointed. 

  • Our speaker starts off by addressing some unknown person who she's apparently trying to put back together. (We're just assuming our speaker is a she at this point, since we haven't got anything else to go on.) 
  • So… what, does she work in a morgue or something? Nah, probably not. 
  • We're going to go ahead and assume that she's talking about piecing a giant statue back together, since this poem is titled "The Colossus."
  • (The Colossus was a giant statue that once stood in the harbor of the ancient city of Rhodes. Check "What's Up with the Title?" for more.)
  • We also notice that the speaker seems to be admitting defeat. She's sure she'll never get this job done. 
  • Words like "pieced" and "glued" also conjure the image of someone trying to put together the shattered remnants of a statue. 
  • When the speaker talks about making sure it's "properly jointed," we think of broken stone elbows and knees. 
  • We're going to go ahead and guess that this whole "hanging out in the ruins of a giant statue" thing is a big ole metaphor for something. So, we're on the lookout to see what that is.

Lines 3-5

Mule-bray, pig-grunt and bawdy cackles
Proceed from your great lips.
It's worse than a barnyard.

  • Apparently, all kinds of crazy animal-like noises are coming out of statue's giant mouth. 
  • Notice how Plath uses some creative hyphenation with "mule-bray" and "pig-grunt" to make up her own words. (Those are called neologisms.) This has the cool effect of bringing to our minds both the sounds the animals make as well as the image of the animals themselves. 
  • Next we veer away from direct references to animals with "bawdy cackles." This could be meant to reference some kind of weird chicken or something. But the word "bawdy" means something that's kind of raunchy or indecently sexual. 
  • So, "bawdy cackles" kind of summons the image of the peals of laughter that might come from some house of prostitution (not, you know, a sexy chicken or anything like that).
  • Perhaps the animal sounds referenced before are meant to be sounds of men braying and grunting with these "bawds."
  • Notice that the speaker says, "It's worse than a barnyard," but not that it is one. 
  • Whatever is going on inside this statue's mouth, it's base and animalistic, and the speaker does not seem to be a fan of it.

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