Lenrie Peters was born in former Bathurst, present day Banjul The Gambia in September, 1932. He was educated in the Gambia, Sierra Leone and England, where he eventually qualified as a surgeon. A talented man, he has always been interested in literature and has written plays, poems short stories and a novel, The Second Round.
Many of Lenrie Peters poems bear the mark of his profession in the use of anatomical and psychological imagery. Even the contexts within which he explores specific ideas relate to his training. Apart from writing, which has become for him a passionate pastime, he also sings and broadcasts. Peters was also the first Gambian chairman of WAEC. Today, he is best honoured as the father of Gambian Literature. He died May 27, 2009 Dakar, Senegal.
His early poetry is very much concerned with Africa, its destiny and especially its political, moral and cultural health. He was also concerned about the image of Africa in the eyes of the world. His poetry is sophisticated, even when his diction is simple, and this sometimes requires quite some intellectual effort to appreciate.
He has published volumes of poetry such as the Satellite, Katchikali and Collected poems. In studying his poems, i realized how relevant most of his works still are, and how much more there is that our generation of poets and emerging literal laureates could learn from. This is an early poem Peter had written soon after he returned home from his studies in Britain.
One of the fundamental concerns of Peter’s in his early poetry is the destructive effect of colonialism on the Africans. For the African, subjugation by colonial powers and the several changes this had through into his life, left him in a state of nihilism like many African elites, of spiritual and psychological conflict.
WE HAVE COME HOME
we have come home
From the bloodless wars
With sunken hearts
Our boots full of pride –
From the true massacre of the soul
When we have asked
“What does it cost to be loved and left alone” … 1-8
This poem celebrates African students who have returned to their country after overseas study. To overcome all manner of prejudice and hardship in a hostile environment to get an education and return alive, was like surviving a war. Dejected, sad, humiliated, yet they were proud they were victorious and made it home in all good pieces. Their souls have been destroyed through indignation; they have been educated out of their culture and almost brought up to look down on themselves.
The poem depicts how colonial powers claimed to came out of love to enlighten the colonized. Thus, in view of the defects of colonialism, the persona would wish Africans had been left alone to make their own choices, mistakes and take charge of their destiny.
They should not have been indoctrinated and brutalised in such a manner that has left Africa barren, stripped off her dignity. Meanwhile, from line nine to fifteen (10-15); the poet find no pride in his western education and all that it may encompasses seems only an ornament as returning students would need less of what they’d learned to integrate back into their respective communities.
“we have come home
Bringing the pledge
which is written in rainbow colours
Across the sky…..
To lay wreaths
For yesterday’s crimes” 11-17
Although the students are proud that had successfully completed their studies with flying colours but returned home with consternation in their hearts, minds and spirits as their earlier experiences abroad and the uncertainties that await them at home.
We have come home
“When the dawn falters
Singing songs of our lands
The death march
Violating our ears
Knowing all our loves and tears
Determined by the spinning coin” 25-31
These lines depicts the unforeseen realities they find home; as to falter is to move or walk unsteadily as through fear. The persona is disturbed as states in line 28 “violating the ears” meaning the grill on the ear is quite an unpleasant sound to endure
Homecomings are meant to attract jubilation but it is the contrary in the persona’s experience as their fate remain murky despite the white man’s papers; in line 31 “Determined by the spinning coin”. Figuratively, to spin a coin is to determine something by chance. In hindsight, Africa do not have control over their fortunes which are determined by the fancies of others – the colonial powers.
“Of warm and mellow birdsong
To the hot beaches
Where the boats go out to sea
Threshing the ocean’s harvest
And the hovering plunging
Gliding gulls shower kisses on the waves” 35-40
The repetition of progressive tenses such as hovering, plunging and gliding depicts sounds of birds, qualifying the use of onomatopoeia. Moreover, there is a feeling of dismay as the poet is distressed in view of the circumstances. However, in spite of the deplorable situation the poet is determined to never give up with all the worn-out body and diminished spirit – through perseverance, he refused to be weaken more or less die while demanding to be dignify.
“The sudden spirit
Lingers on the road
Supporting the tortured remnants
Of the flesh
That spirit which asks no favour
Of the world
But to have dignity”. 45-51
The persona also indicates how painfully aware they are for the fight needed upon their immediate past and present situations. This incubation atmosphere is established in the first few lines which also underpin clearly at the sad and deeply reflective tone of the poet. The sense of foreboding in the poem is heightened by the symbolic use of time (evening and dark). For it is night now and it is not the beautiful moon that shines but the dark sun.