We Have Come Home – Lenrie Peters

Posted: June 13, 2011 in GAMBIAN POETRY
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POET’S PROFILE

Peters

Peters

Lenrie Peters was born (1st September 1932) Lenrie Leopold Wilfred Peters in Gambia to a Sierra Leonean Creole of West Indian or black American origin and a Gambian Creole mother of Sierra Leonean Creole origins. He schooled in Sierra Leone where he gained his Higher School certificates and then went on to a BSc. from Trinity College, Cambridge. He was awarded a Medical and Surgery diploma from Cambridge in 1959 and then he worked for the BBC on their Africa programmes from 1955 to 1968.

At Cambridge, Peters baptised himself in Pan-Africanist politics and became the president of the African Students’ Union. He also started work on his only novel, The Second Round, which he later published in 1965. Among other medical and professional associations including the Commonwealth Writers Prize Selection Committee 1996 and the Africa Region of the Commonwealth Prize for fiction, judge 1995, he served as the head of the West African Examinations Council from 1985 to 1991.

Peters is considered one of the most original voices of modern African poetry. He is a member of the African founding generation writing in English and has shown extensive pan-Africanism in his three volumes of poetry although his single novel received critique as being more British, accusing of African cultural decline and less African overall. His poetry was mixed with medical terms sometimes and his later works were angrier at the state of Africa than his first volume of poetry.
Peters passed away in 2009.

We Have Come Home
We have come home
From the bloodless wars
With sunken hearts
Our booths full of pride-
From the true massacre of the soul
When we have asked
‘What does it cost
To be loved and left alone’

We have come home
Bringing the pledge
Which is written in rainbow colours
Across the sky-for burial
But is not the time
To lay wreaths
For yesterday’s crimes,
Night threatens
Time dissolves
And there is no acquaintance
With tomorrow

The gurgling drums
Echo the stars
The forest howls
And between the trees
The dark sun appears.

We have come home
When the dawn falters
Singing songs of other lands
The death march
Violating our ears
Knowing all our loves and tears
Determined by the spinning coin

We have come home
To the green foothills
To drink from the cup
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

We have come home
Where through the lightening flash
And the thundering rain
The famine the drought,
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.

REVIEW

This poem holds so much imagery and so is loaded with so much meaning that if I intend to say everything there is about it, I’ll probably be writing a novel here. The poem is an excellent piece.

The first stanza is an announcement by Peters that some people he refers to as “We”, have come home and have come with questions from a war. I will attempt it this way: they came from a bloodless war (line 2) and this could have been the “war” of colonialism where slaves were exchanged for goods in places with no actual guns fired. This will give line 5 more meaning when he says they have returned from “the true massacre of the soul”, for what will be more demeaning to a man than the cheapening of his soul and the sale of that into slavery. If this is it, then Peters is talking about a return of some black people to their homeland. If this is true too, then it is morose for him to ask in the end of the stanza ‘What does it cost/ To be loved and left alone’. We may make further deductions from this question. The slaves cost gunpowder, wine and sugar. Lives were traded for this base offering and Peters will question this. How deep is the love that gave them away? Their return is with sunken hearts and only their booths (line 4) – inner enclosures of their beings- can reserve any pride. The pride is what they feel when Africans return home. But this time, the feelings are mixed, since pride and massacre cannot dwell in one soul and bode well. We read on.

Peters says that they bring with them ‘the pledge / Which is written in rainbow colours’ (line 10-11) for burial. Let’s go south to understand this: in comparison, South Africa is called a rainbow nation since it is a country that is bona fide home to all the different colours of people as the world can offer. Their dwelling together as co-owners makes them a rainbow people, representing oneness and diversity as with the colours of the rainbow. The rainbow is a symbol of equality. So why is Peters bringing home the pledge in rainbow colours for burial? Strange! That pledge may yet stand for the acceptance of black equality with white; which disparity held for centuries. If so, then Peters speaks grave matters and only a continued reading will bring us more understanding.

Suddenly he gives up!! ‘it is not the time /To lay wreaths /For yesterday’s crimes’ and Peters seems ready to forget the misbehaviours of his people who may have sold their kith out. His reasons are clear, that tomorrow doesn’t promise anything positive or otherwise, time is an alien and even night will not permit the slackening upon the midnight dreaming. Dreaming upon the wasted years. Drums may have welcomed them home but he calls their coherent African rhythm a gurgle (line 20), a bubbling sound, empty, confused, maybe hypocrite. But they echo the stars and may be a claim for hope. He brings in his Britishness unconsciously in lines 22-24 as he claims that the forest howls as the dark sun appears through the trees. A wolf arising with the full moon. But why a dark sun? Gloom!

He wanders on in lines 25-31. The dawn falters, morning brings no hope for them against a dark sun, their songs are alien, their march is of death; death of their real selves and Africanness and their loves and tears are as random as the spin of a coin. There is a pity here. Hopeless is the situation they have come to meet at home. The colonialists may be gone but the sun has not risen well on the morning of our independence as Africans. Mind that Peters has once claimed likeness to Alex Haley, the writer of the all-popular movie Roots: The Saga of an American Family, in which Haley mixes fact and fiction to trace his lineage to a West African village. This poem gains more significance now.
Their homecoming is to the natural Africa they left behind – mellow birdsong, hot beaches, boats going to sea for to thresh it of its fish, and the gulls. And though they see little that pleases them outside the natural scenery, they have come home. They have come home where the lightning flash and the thundering rain, the famine, the drought do not bring down the spirit of the man whose flesh is tortured beyond support but of his spirit. And the reason his spirit lives on is the hope of that eternal cry which Africans still cry today; the cry that rings louder above all else even to the unheeding ears of their own people who have made them suffer ill; to have dignity!!

Even his coming home is a reason for thought. The mastery of Peters! After all this, I don’t think I have exhausted the depth of meaning this poem has. I’m certain a couple tens more meanings may still attend it.

Comments
  1. And yet you have made me enjoy the poem more than the first time I read it from the Selection of African Poetry. This is an excellent review, though not exhaustive, it is impressive and excellent and portrays more. Very well done. Thanks

    Like

    • Dela says:

      Peters is a deep-thinker. Maybe it’s because of his experience with multiple cultures. Reviewing this poem was a lot of work. He made me think deep with him. Thanks for the comment.

      Like

  2. xxx tube says:

    Excellent Blog !!!!

    Like

  3. akintunde says:

    hi

    Like

  4. KP Subedi says:

    Very Helpful blog.
    I enjoyed Lenrie Peters writings.

    Like

  5. stanley a.k.a DE EXO. says:

    the poem telling was fantastic and i like the twist of the story?

    Like

  6. Abiola says:

    I love the review, it brought out the message of what peters was trying to convey. I first read this when I was in school, and since then I have loved the poem. Reading the review has given me better insight into the poem. Good work.

    Like

  7. Onyejekwe Ezioma says:

    I have a personal liking for ‘we have come home’. Elements of it feature in most of my writings. Unfortunatly, after all these years the children of Africa still ask the age long question ‘what does it cost to be loved and left alone’.

    Like

  8. Nwogba Daniel says:

    The poem cannever stop portraying the problems Africans are facing. Our countries should give us job. We love Africa

    Like

    • Dela says:

      Let’s never spare a chance to build our countries together.

      Like

      • Pat McCants says:

        Hi Dela, I’m proud to say as an African American, I’m coming home. On December 4, 2014 in Imo State, Nigeria there will be a ground breaking ceremony entitled: “We Have Come Home”. Peters poem will be the back drop to this event. Reading your blog has given me more clarity about Dr. Peters poem. Thank you for making our celebration of returning home even more special.

        Like

        • Dela says:

          This gives me immense joy. Thank you so much for giving my blog a place in your homecoming. Enjoy the return.

          Like

          • Jacob Nemwoe lll says:

            This poem brings joy in my heart when I read it for the first time.It makes me to imagine about how Liberian suffered slavery in the US of A but thanks be to God for our people came home.In addition,during the colonial period those wicked agents who did things in their interest and treat the native Liberians any way they wish I say thank God “we we have come home”Thanks ever so much mr.writer for the joy u bring in our hearts as africans.

            Like

  9. kevin illoh says:

    the in-depth analysis in not real, what Lanrie peters mean may be something else entirely.Mind you poets are great thinkers, who doesn’t convey their messages easily,like they say literature is a wide subject.

    Like

  10. Ekeledo Ugochukwu Stanley says:

    oh menh i live for this poem, one in a million… to all the old boys of our lady’s boys high school, i love you all this is one of our favorite than…

    Like

  11. mariama njie [ njies ] says:

    its a great review n rich with imageries.it doesnot matter how unreal it is ,its fantastic.

    Like

  12. “we have come home” is an interesting african poem with an expected poetic analysis…tres bien.

    Like

  13. Muhyideen Abdulganiyu says:

    Peters is an anthologist perhaps why it helped him a lot in mixing African cultural experience together. I do enjoy his ‘We Have Come Home’ but gives me multiple interpretation of meanings. May be he subtle writes because of the sanction of his country which makes the poem open room for different interpretations.

    Like

  14. we have come our father land from the hand of colonisation, i like readind ds and more …… Thanks for posting ds poem to help student. Thanks alot.

    Like

  15. Abraham Woyintunimibofa says:

    Indeed we have come home from a bloodless war.I totally agree with the author of this poem.Godbless you and keep the African flag flying.

    Like

  16. seowoo says:

    It’s awesome review, thanks!

    Like

  17. Joseph Atainyang says:

    Certainly, whenever I have an opportunity to write about poetry, I must confess that it always pays though there remain every chance of multiple interpretations. In fact, my own first view lies in the peg of the African elites who have studied abroad but had to face serious segregation from their white colleagues. Again, their intellectual prowess had been quite pronounced, the possible avenue for them to come home with “pledge which is written in rainbow colours across the sky for burial”. This also is what gives them the dignity….

    Like

  18. Mubarak says:

    your analysis on this poem is of help, keep on with this tremendous work may God will grant more power to your elbow

    Like

  19. Clifford Mbanefu says:

    Good attempt. But missed the whole premise of the poem. Firstly, it is not a reference to some bloodless war. Neither does it partain to slavery as we know it. The rainbow also does not refer to South Africa as tempting and romantic making such a relationship would present a reader.
    Much as one may argue that certain poems are timeless, and if any poem or poet deserves such recognition then certainly this poem and Peters qualify.
    To understand this poem however, you have start from the period Peters wrote it and the Africa of that period. The poem is actually about the agitation for independence that followed the return of many Africans from studying abroad, hence “with sunken hearts, our booths full of pride”. Although he sees it as the true massacre of the soul when we have asked ‘what does it cost to be loved and and left alone’, itself, an irony for the colonial masters.
    On a personal note, I had the privilege of studying this poem more than 35 years ago, and our Literature teacher explaining the political struggles embodied in this poem. It was years later that I understood the full impact. A timeless poem nonetheless.

    Like

    • Dela says:

      Thanks for your comment, Clifford. Very helpful and welcome. As I never had the opportunity to study these poems academically, I offer only what are my responses. Thanks again for improving our understanding.

      Like

  20. Faby says:

    Nw am confused … understood d analysis bt wit Cliford’s response am confused abt who is right.

    Like

    • Dela says:

      I think there’s more than one interpretation to this poem and I made it very clear all through the review. Clifford’s explanation could still be incorporated with mine and we both would still not have exhausted the meaning.

      Like

  21. Daniel says:

    I totally agreed with Clifford cos I was privilege to work on this great work by Lenrie Peters 14 years ago and the right interpretation was about African students who went to achieved the western education ” our booth full of pride” coming with a sounds certificate back to their father land despite what they have passed through during those times.” What does it cost to be loved and left alone ? This is Rhetorical question , cos they are loved by their respective family yet they have to face the reality which is to obtain the western certificates and it was a difficult task during those period

    Like

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