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Monday, 29 January 2018

We Have Come Home by Lenrie Peters

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’

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
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 lightning 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.

        LITERARY ANALYSIS (Summary)

From the early 1880s,  Africa became an object of imperialism and colonialism for Europe. Because of the political and economic rivalries among them, they had to devise a means of peaceful exploitation. Like a cake being shared at a birthday party, Africa was shared/partitioned unto different European states in the Berlin Conference of 1884.

To keep colonialism functioning, they aimed at giving a certain amount of education to the Africans. Education was meant to give skills to the Africans to make them useful to the Europeans.

‘In the colonial society, education is such that it serves the colonialists- in a regime of slavery, education was but one of the institution of forming slaves.’ [Mozambique Liberation Front, 1968].

It was just elementary education that they intended to give us so as to be able to communicate with us for blue-collar and clerical jobs.

Slowly, the importance of education was being seen as it became one of the very few opportunities of advance during that time. Parents made sure that their children went to school. Those that were very determined to further their education saved incredibly from little earnings and eventually gathered manageable funds to study abroad along with the few favoured of the Europeans.

Lenrie Peters was one of the few that studied abroad during those crucial times. He was born in the Gambia in 1932 and received his early education there before crossing over to Sierra Leone for higher education. He later went to the University of Cambridge where he read medicine.

The Africans' return from their educational pursuits with mixed feelings of sadness, joy, pride and disappointment, which is the background at which Peters writes the poem.

From the first stanza, he describes the experience there as ‘bloodless wars’. This oxymoronic statement means what they faced wasn’t a bed of roses. But they had to fight in this ‘war' because they understood its importance. While they were studying, the cataract on their eyes shed and then they had binocular vision of the real intentions of the Europeans.  The scholars return with ‘sunken hearts'  but also with ‘boots full of pride’. Why? They were able to survive the ‘wars’ and ‘massacre of the soul’.  Amidst their pride, they ask sadly ‘ what does it cost to be loved and left alone'(lines 7-8).

In my own opinion, love isn’t the most appropriate verb to describe the Europeans’ actions, rather it is lust. Just as a man craves the seductive body of a woman, they crave the natural resources and manpower of Africa for their own development and to our detriment. So, it costs a lot if they put down their charade of love and leave us alone.

The scholars return full of enthusiasm and colourful ideas and innovations only to bury them as stated in stanza two. This is so because their countries are still tied to the shoes of their colonial masters. Even after some declared themselves  independent, they only had ‘political Independence’.  They are sad and disappointed but they decide that they do not have time to concentrate on the past. Although it’s a cliché, there is no time to waste time. There is no time as ‘night threatens', ‘ time dissolves' and ‘there is no acquaintance with tomorrow' (lines 16-19). They are now aware of the situation they are in and desire a change. But first, celebration of their return. In spite of their uncertain future, they dance in hope to ‘the gurgling drums'. In hope,  that tomorrow would be better. The ‘dark sun' in line twenty-three which could mean the moon is also present. This gives us an imagery of happy people dancing and jubilating in a moonlit forest.

After their moonlight celebrations, they wake up still singing the songs of other lands (line 27). Unfortunately, their ‘dawn' which is the new desire for change ‘falters’. Their lives are threatened by the ‘death march' of their oppressors and their ears weep knowing that their lives depend on what they (their colonial masters) wish: ‘the death march violating our ears knowing all our loves and tears determined by the spinning coin' ( lines 28-31). To the Europeans, it’s just a game of coins.

In the second to the last stanza, Lenrie Peters reminds himself and his brothers why they have to reclaim their home: the unmatchable natural beauty and serenity of Africa. Phrases like ‘green foothills’, ‘warm and mellow birdsong’, ‘hot beaches’, and ‘gliding gulls shower kisses on the waves' make the nostalgic scholars feel the pleasant embrace of mother Africa.

Even with the beautiful imagery, the poet cannot help but point out natural hazards associated with Africa :’lightning flash’, ‘thundering rain’, ‘the famine’, and ‘the drought'. (lines 42-44).  But amidst such challenges, the resilience of the Africans doesn’t die. Let us not forget the refrain ‘we have come home’ that affirms such resilience.

In the last lines of the poem, Peters explains that although they are inclined to asserting the dignity of their home and dethroning their oppressors, they ‘linger' ,that is, they are slow to act. The flesh holds them back. They aspire towards freedom but unfortunately they are also lingerers and falterers.  The sudden spirit supports the already ‘tortured remnants of the flesh' so that they can speedily detach itself from their deceitful masters and have dignity. Making a biblical allusion to the words of Jesus in Matthew 26:21b, the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.


• Resilience of the Africans
• The colonization of Africa
• Education as a weapon in destroying colonialism
• The beauty of nature
• The impact of colonialism
• Nostalgia


   ‘bloodless wars'
   ‘our boots full of pride’
   ‘true massacre of the soul'
   ‘which is written in rainbow colours'
   ‘the pledge……….for burial'
   ‘but it is not the time /to lay wreaths/for yesterday’s crimes'
   ‘the death march/violating our ears'
   ‘the cup of warm and mellow birdsong'
   ‘threshing the ocean’s harvest'

   ‘we have come home’ – lines 1,9,25,32 and 41 (refrain)
   ‘spirit' – lines 45 and 49

   ‘when the dawn falters'
   ‘shower kisses on the waves'

   ‘gliding gulls'
   ‘singing songs'
   ‘sudden spirit'

   ‘boots full of pride'
   ‘gurgling drums ‘
   ‘songs of other lands'

   ‘the gurgling drums echo the stars'

Rhetorical question
   ‘what does it cost to be loved and left alone?’

   ‘the gurgling drums’
   ‘the forest howls'

   ‘the forest howls'.

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