Caught between the anvil and the hammer
In the forging house of a new life
Transforming the pangs that delivered me
Into the joy of new songs
The trapping of the past, tender and tenuous
Woven with fibre of sisal and
Washed in the blood of the goat in the fetish hut
Are laced with the flimsy glories of paved streets
The jargon of a new dialectic comes with the
Charisma of the perpetual search on the outlaw’s hill.
Sew the old days for us, our fathers,
That we can wear them under our new garment,
After we have washed ourselves in
The whirlpool of the many rivers’ estuary
We hear their songs and rumours everyday
Determined to ignore these we use snatches
From their tunes
Make ourselves new flags and anthems
While we lift high the banner of the land
And listen to the reverberation of our songs
In the splash and moan of the sea
The poem The Anvil and The Hammer was written by Kofi Awonoor, an acclaimed literary icon and poet from Ghana. Born George Kofi Nyidevu Awoonor-Williams in Wheta, Ghana in 1953, he studied in Ghana, England and the United States of America. He worked as a university lecturer and also represented his country on the international scene in various capacities. He authored the controversial novel, This Earth, my brother. Kofi Awonoor was among those killed by terrorists during an attack at the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi in 2013.
Literally, an anvil is a tool with a hard surface used mostly by blacksmiths to work iron. The blacksmith often strikes the surface of the anvil with a hammer. The poem The Anvil and the Hammer derives its title from this activity.
The poem is about the clash of cultures especially the Western and African cultures influenced mainly by the many years of colonisation by the West. The result is a cultural twist leading to a change in norms, values, ethos and the general way of life of the African people: Caught between the anvil and the hammer/In the forging house of a new life.
Just as the anvil and the hammer work to shape a new piece of metal, the poet believes that rather than discard the African culture, Western ideas could be used to shape and
refine African traditions to create a new Africa. The poet portrays the old African way of life and traditional practices in the following words: The trapping of the past, tender and tenuous/ Woven with fibre of sisal and/Washed in the blood of the goat in the fetish hut. He compares these with the Western culture foisted on Africans through religion and a new system of government. He laments that African values and traditions have been largely eroded –Are laced with the flimsy glories of paved streets/The jargon of a new dialectic comes with the/ Charisma of the perpetual search on the outlaw’s hill. Note the use of the word “flimsy” which he employs to portray the attractions of the Western culture.
In the second stanza, he appeals to his ancestors to help restore the old African ways. Sew the old days for us, our fathers/That we can wear them under our new garment. While he admits that Western culture has indeed come to stay and would continuously influence African culture, he pleads for a synergy of both cultures for a better Africa: Determined to ignore these we use snatches/ From their tunes/Make ourselves new flags and anthems/While we lift high the banner of the land.
The poem has two contrasting stanzas. While the first stanza describes the conflict between African traditions and western civilisation, the second stanza offers solution to the conflict- Sew the old days for us, our fathers,/That we may wear them under our new garment. The solution lies in creating a balance of both cultures.
The Anvil and the Hammer is a free verse poem. It has no consistent meter pattern or rhythm.
Mood and Tone
The mood is nostalgic- The trapping of the past, tender and tenuous/ Woven with fibre of sisal and Washed in the blood of goat in the fetish hut/. The tone reflects hope: Sew the old days for us, our fathers,/ That we can wear them under our new garment,
1. Clash of cultures
2. Resolution of the clash through cultural synergy
3. Revival of the African culture
The poem is metaphoric. The two cultures are likened to the anvil and the hammer: “Caught between the anvil and the hammer”. The colonial experience leading to the independence of many African nations is described as “the forging house of a new life”. The word “pangs” (like birth pangs) in the third line represents our cultural values.
The poem contains powerful imagery that helps to deepen the reader’s thoughts. The poet uses many symbols beginning from the use of the words “anvil” and “hammer” which represent clash of cultures. The old African ways are described as follows: The trapping of the past, tender and tenuous/woven with fibre of sisal and/Washed in the blood of the goat in the fetish hut/. Western civilisation is described as follows: “…flimsy glories of paved streets/ The jargon of a new dialectic comes with the/ Charisma of the perpetual search on the outlaw’s hill”.
3. Oxymoron: A figure of speech in which contradictory terms appear together. Example: “flimsy glories“.
4. Antithesis: Sew the old days for us, our fathers,/That we can wear them under our new garment,
5. Alliteration: Example- The trapping of the past, tender and tenuous