The Fence – Lenrie Peters

Posted: November 4, 2011 in GAMBIAN POETRY
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Peters

Peters

I discovered this poem on recommendation and I can tell you I’ve enjoyed reading it over and over again. It was written by the only Gambian poet I have reviewed so far on this blog. And the issues in the poem somehow reflect today’s changing scenes.

The poet, 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.

THE FENCE
There where the dim past and future mingle
their nebulous hopes and aspirations
there I lie.

There where truth and untruth struggle
in endless and bloody combat,
there I lie.

There where time moves forwards and backwards
with not one moment’s pause for sighing,
there I lie.

There where the body ages relentlessly
and only the feeble mind can wander back

there I lie in open-souled amazement

There where all the opposites arrive
to plague the inner senses, but do not fuse,
I hold my head; and then contrive
to stop the constant motion.
my head goes round and round,
but I have not been drinking;
I feel the buoyant waves; I stagger

It seems the world has changed her garment.
but it is I who have not crossed the fence,
So there I lie.

There where the need for good
and “the doing good” conflict,
there I lie.

REVIEW

In the whole length of the poem, Peters describes conflicting scenes or instances and his indecision on them all. In fact, the title of the poem alludes to the English expression ‘Sitting on the fence’ which most surely supplied the inspiration.

In the first verse, he talks about ‘the dim past and future’ and makes it apparent that he lies at the mingling point of their ‘hopes and aspirations’. He uses two words that make emphasise a general sense of uncertainty – ‘dim’ and ‘nebulous’. He ends the stanza with a crisp ‘there I lie’. He has plunged himself in the middle of the confusion.

In the next stanza, he lies at the place where ‘truth and untruth struggle’. He uses the word ‘untruth’ because it would create an unintended pun if he says ‘truth and lie’. But for us the readers, we can extrapolate this idea to affect the last line of the stanza where he says ‘there I lie’. The pun is created without intention. He lies. What exactly does that mean? He is telling a lie or he is lying down at a point? The antagonism between truth and untruth here is referred to as a ‘combat’, both ‘bloody’ and ‘endless’. He may have made the right choice to abstain.

The next stanza draws a parallel between time moving forward and backwards with no stop. I have little idea what he means by time moving backwards but he may have used this to highlight the greater conflict that makes him decide to stay on The Fence. Time moves back, time moves forward. What can he do than stay aloof?

Now he personalizes the conflict and claims that it is like the body aging ‘relentlessly’ and only the ‘feeble mind’ can bring back memories of youth. His soul meanwhile is amazed.

In the fifth stanza, Peters tells us that he stands in a point where all the opposites meet. In that meeting, they confuse him and plague his inner senses. He cannot make a decision and his irresolution eats him up. He tries to control his spinning head, to find some sort of reason in the midst of all the confusion. He tells us ‘I have not been drinking’ but he goes on right afterwards to use words that churn up the thought of a drunk man – ‘I feel the buoyant waves; I stagger’. His supposed drunkenness should be coming from his many worries! He is drunk on his troubles. A look at the larger structure of the poem, written in a centred format, should give a picture of his confusion. The writing style mirrors the state of his mind as the sentences come and go.

The stanza that unlocks the meaning behind this poem is the sixth. Peters reveals that everything around him has changed. The world as he knew it is no more. ‘The world has changed her garment’ is his claim. But he tells us that it he who has not crossed the fence. The indecision comes from a conflict between his past and his present. The world as he knew it and the world as it is now. This conflict affects a lot of people today in its most nuanced form. Most vivid is the difference in a family where parents were born and raised in a far-away village and now are raising their children in a cyber-world. The conflict may be pronounced for a man who knows not how to use these gadgets and stares blankly as he is confronted with them. This may not be the best picture but it is a mirror enough of the kind of conflict that Peters draws our attention to. ‘So there I lie’, he concludes.

After explaining his conflict to us, Peters goes back in the last stanza to his complaining ways. I like to think that final stanzas should bring out more intensely what the poet is saying – the denouement. So in the middle of this stanza, Peters enlightens us. His whole misunderstanding with the world comes from the world’s noble intents for all things ‘good’ and the actual ‘doing good’. Many people know what is right, talk about what is right and advocate for what is right but never actually do what is right themselves. The need for good and the actual doing good! There he lies.

The poem is a brilliant piece. I wouldn’t call it melancholic or protestant. It reflects more of a mental junction than about anything to worry about. Strangely, I find it a bit humorous. A masterpiece it is.

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Comments
  1. Kinder Knecht says:

    Hey i found your website today and I have read some awesome information over here. I just wanna thanks you for posting it so we all can learn about it!

    Like this

  2. gok kasten says:

    hello i came to your blog, and I have read some good information on it.

    Like this

  3. This is actually a very interesting piece and its of a very great fact.

    Like this

  4. Lenrie Peters is my man. I read ‘the fence’ for my o level Literature and it was wonderful. To be candid, he was one of the poets whose works inspired me into becoming a poet myself. If he is still alive, I would wish to see him; if he has passed on, may God be with him. Your analysis, as usual, was gbam. Bravo!

    Like this

  5. sowade adekunle says:

    the thematic focus of Lenrie peter’s poem is that of irresolution. Irresolution is an unrendering challenge man faces especially when it comes to doing what is right. The poem captures different phases of irresolution. The first phase is the struggle between diong what is right and what is wrong, the second face presents knowing what is right and doing it and the third present the struggle between the two. The poem is apllied to the post colonial Gambian nation where the rich uppress the poor.

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  6. Short analysis on the fence

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  7. NWOBA SOLOMON says:

    I found this piece of work very interesting.

    Like this

  8. abednego anthonio debrah says:

    indeed we must be able to have an aim in life choosing between good
    and bad

    Like this

  9. andino says:

    u guys ar d bomb u jst made every fin xo simple nd easy to understand and finally helped me with my assignment.tanx guys

    Like this

  10. Ernest Bentil Simmons says:

    i read “the fence” analysis, guys your analysis are brilliant, am gonna use it in my literature exams at WEST AFRICAN SECONDARY SCHOOLS EXAMINATION. Thanks.

    Like this

  11. theo says:

    This is very reliable and thank you so much. God bless you.

    Like this

  12. Musa sowe The Gambia siffoe senior secondary school says:

    May god bless you my dear

    Like this

  13. Emmanuel says:

    Diz iz really 1derful nd inspiring

    Like this

  14. isatou c njie says:

    Its more than a masterpiece . Love the literary devicea in the poem

    Like this

  15. isatou c njie says:

    So sad dat his still not here wit us.

    Like this

  16. Esmel-Ess says:

    Yes! This is indeed a great poetry work. I adore the whole pieces.

    Like this

  17. charles says:

    nice

    Like this

  18. Read to understand more. For all final years student offering languages.

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  19. Sunday says:

    Pls I would love you to analyse the diction used in the masterpiece

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  20. Ijiola Emmanuel says:

    This poem is a poem which teaches us on d need in doing d good

    Like this

  21. Abraham ogbole says:

    Most things i comes to like about your blog is that there’s formal sincerity.

    Like this

  22. Chisom says:

    I used dis analysis for a project in Literature and i emerged the best Literature student of SS2 in Madonna model secondary school. thank u so so much. But i would love u to analyse the poetic devices used in the poem “THE FENCE” by Lenrie Peters.

    Like this

    • Dela says:

      I’m very grateful that you found my work of immense use, Chisom. I wish you well in your study of literature. Unfortunately, this blog is only dedicated to unveiling the meanings of the poems and not about literary analysis. You will agree that doing literary analysis of each poem in addition to explaining their meaning will be very demanding for every single post. Do keep coming back.

      Like this

  23. edith adjei says:

    i enjoyed reading it,it has left some impact on me.a literature I need it most

    Like this

  24. I thank u all 4 these wonderful comments, I’ve seen it and it makes me to understand more.

    Like this

  25. Michael says:

    I think,this blog is enough for me to pass my Literature exams.

    Like this

  26. Tagoe Gifty says:

    I really enjoyed after reading.

    Like this

  27. Henry Thomas says:

    This is one of the most understanding poetry in the world. Thank you for writing.

    Like this

  28. lokoso says:

    this is a nice poem tanx guy

    Like this

  29. tobi says:

    i luv this poem because of 1 the name which is the fence 2 the meaning 3 it help me in my exams

    Like this

  30. Honourable Dammy says:

    Dela you’ve did a very special job. keep on as we are enjoying you. very interesting poem. lenrie peter r.i.p.

    Like this

  31. Ali Mohammed says:

    I regard Lenrie Peters as an examplary one in terms of literary activities. I read “The Fence” and I appreciate its literary devices. the poem was written in Gambia enjoyed by Africans in particular and world in general.

    Like this

  32. Valerie says:

    Ur script was a great help..pls keep up d awesome work

    Like this

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