The Dining Table by Gbanabom Hallowell

The Dining Table by Gbanabom Hallowell

Dinner tonight comes with

 gun wounds. Our desert

tongues lick the vegetable

blood—the pepper

strong enough to push scorpions

 up our heads. Guests

look into the oceans of bowls

 as vegetables die on their tongues.

 

The table

that gathers us is an island where guerillas

walk the land while crocodiles

 surf. Children from Alphabeta with empty palms dine

with us; switchblades in their eyes,

 silence in their voices. When the playground

 is emptied of children`s toys

who needs roadblocks? When the hour

to drink from the cup of life ticks,

cholera breaks its spell on cracked lips

 

Under the spilt

milk of the moon, I promise

 to be a revolutionary, but my Nile, even

without tributaries comes lazy

upon its own Nile. On this

 night reserved for lovers of fire, I’m

full with the catch of gun wounds, and my boots

have suddenly become too reluctant to walk me.

Poem Analysis


Background

The Dining Table is a poem written by Elvis Gbanabom Hallowell, a Sierra Leonean poet and journalist. Gbanabom Hallowell studied Writing at Vermont College of Union & Institute University, USA and he is currently the Director-General of The Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service. A prolific author and human rights activist, Gbanabom is the author of Drumbeats of War (poem) and My Immigrant Blood (poem).

Like most of his writings, The Dining Table is chiefly influenced by his experiences during the eleven-year Sierra Leonean war when guerrillas (an irregular armed force that fights stronger regular forces such as the army or police) started a movement against the nation’s corrupt government. Though the war was between the government and the guerrillas, it affected the civilian population in no small measure. At the centre of the conflict is the control of Sierra Leonean diamonds.

Summary

The Dining Table is a serious poem that records what the poet witnessed during the Sierra Leonean war. The poem opens with a powerful use of imagery that sparks off the reader’s senses. The poet describes to the reader the horrific nature of the war which was characterised mainly by shootings, maimings and death. The main cause of conflict was the struggle for the control of Sierra Leonean diamonds, the most significant mineral wealth in Sierra Leone which the poet symbolically portrayed as “dinner”.

In the second verse, the poet recalls how the guerrillas operated freely and how they brutally killed and terrorised the people. He remembers how the government forces and their allies which he describes as “crocodiles” also killed and committed atrocities during the war. He also recalls how Sierra Leone was thereafter threatened by an outbreak of the cholera epidemic which led to the death of many of its population.

In the third verse, the poet resolves to be a change-agent (a revolutionary). He admits that though he desires a political revolution, he lacks the power and the needed support for a revolution, having just survived a brutal war.

Elements of the Poem

Theme:

The central theme that runs throughout the poem is the brutality or horror of war. This theme is portrayed by words like “gun wounds” and “blood”.

Setting

The setting in this poem includes both time and place. The events in the poem happen in the night time- “Dinner tonight comes”. Also note the words “moon” “night” in the last stanza. We can conclude that this poem is set in Sierra Leone during the war based on the author’s background, the mention of guerrillas, reference to “gun wounds” and the geographical description- “The table that gathers us is an island where guerrillas walk the land while crocodiles surf”.

Structure

The Dining Table is a free verse poem with three irregular stanzas. A free verse poem is an open form of poetry without a consistent meter pattern or a rhyme scheme. The poet uses the stanzas to create a pause and organise his thoughts.

It is a narrative poem as the poet recounts the collective experience during the war and his resolve using words like “our” “us” “I”.

Mood and Tone

The mood is gloomy, sorrowful and mournful. The mood is expressed through a chaos of contrasting phrases in the first stanza.

For the most part, the tone is serious and sad.

There is however a slight shift in the mood in the third stanza showing optimism and a corresponding shift in tone- “Under the spilt milk of the moon, I promise to be a revolutionary”. The mood falls again towards the end of the stanza- “…I’m full with the catch of gun wounds, and my boots have suddenly become too reluctant to walk me“.

Imagery

The poem is imbued with powerful imagery. “Dinner” symbolises the highly valued Sierra Leonean mineral wealth (diamonds); “gun wounds”, “vegetable blood” reflect the maiming and killings that took place during the war; the Sierra Leonean army and allied forces are referred to as “crocodiles” (large aquatic reptiles that prey on other animals) because of their activities during the war. The word “table” in the second stanza represents Sierra Leone.

Figures of Speech

Personification– This entails giving human characteristics to objects, animals or ideas. Examples- “the pepper strong enough to push scorpions up our heads”; “cholera breaks its spell on cracked lips”

Metaphor– The entire poem is metaphoric. “Desert tongues”, “oceans of bowls” “spilt milk of the moon” are examples.

Rhetorical Question: This is a figure of speech in the form of a question that is asked in order to make a point, rather than to elicit an answer. “When the playground is emptied of children’s toys who needs roadblocks?” is an example of a rhetorical question.

Hyperbole: This is a ridiculous exaggeration. Example “the pepper strong enough to push scorpions up our heads”

Antithesis: This means opposite and puts two contrasting ideas together. Examples- “silence in their voices”; “guerrillas walk the land while crocodiles surf”. These examples can also pass for Oxymoron, a figure of speech that combines opposite words for effect.

Allusion: This is a figure of speech that refers to a well-known story, event, person, or object in order to make a comparison in the readers’ minds. Example: “Nile…comes lazy upon its own Nile”.

See also  Ambush, Vanity, The Anvil and the Hammer, The school boy, and Othello.

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  1. Amekudzi Emmanuel Abeku Reply

    i like reading and am a literature student in Ghana.

  2. Albert Reply

    Now that is a true appreciation of poem.
    Live forever

  3. Ajayi Tiwalola Reply

    This is nice..A good literary appreciation for the poem.

    • Dayo Okubule Reply

      Thanks.

  4. Francis Reply

    I love this poem, thumbs up to those that interpreted the poem.

  5. I k Reply

    I love African poetry. The first time I picked this up to read, I thought of something “stink” my thumps up goes to this site 4 breaking it down. Hallowell is a great poet. Love ya,love Africa.

    • Dayo Okubule Reply

      Thanks for the remarks.

      • Amy Reply

        Please Ma,could u analyse Gabriel Okara’s Piano and drums?

        • Dayo Okubule Reply

          @amy, I’ll analyse Piano and Drums today.

  6. peace Reply

    Nice Job ma, keep it up.

  7. Ekemini Nelson Reply

    Wonderful poem i will say but though;Accurate literary principles & Textual Analysis nice job Dear.

  8. Aloa Emmanuel Reply

    am aloa a literature student from okuappeman sch thanks to u I now understand the poem better

  9. benzz Reply

    thumb up for you mama, your such a lovely writer, hope to be like you some day. I love every thing in this poem, most especialy the themes, i’m so much inlove with this book, i love you i love this book, may god give de stangth to do more of dis, am just speechless, but in my own way, i say thank you, may god bless you

  10. ifeoluwa taiwo Reply

    wow, i am very sure with dis i will be able to pass my jamb…tanks alot and God bless u!!!

  11. Christian Onwuka Reply

    Hooray!that’s a very interesting work of Hallowell.It sounds meaningful and helpful.I thank u uery much for bringing it up here especially now literature requires new books for waec,necco and jamb candidates like us.U are so generous.Thanks alot and keep it up. j

  12. Ruben Emmanuel Reply

    Am deeply impressed with the interpretation of this poem. Thanks a lot madam.

  13. Leonard Reply

    This literary work has been totally digested. Excellent work done.. Thank you.

  14. Leonard Reply

    This literary work has been totally digested. Excellent work done.. Thank you.

  15. Praise Ogbonna Reply

    I love the way u guys brought out everytin abt dis poem……..thumbs up for u…….

  16. Momoh MK Mustapha Reply

    i like the poem. it makes me known what happen during the civil war in my beloved country. tnx so. i am one of the wassce student dis yr

  17. Amy Reply

    Please Ma,could u analyse Gabriel Okara’s Piano and drums?

  18. oge Reply

    i learnt alot from it nd it will real help me in my exam please can u analysis the ambush by gbemsola adeoti

  19. oge Reply

    i learnt alot from it nd it will real help me in my exam please can u analysis the ambush by gbemsola adeoti

  20. Success Reply

    i learnt alot from it nd it will real help me in my exam please can u analysis the ambush by Jacob Success

  21. Efam Stanley Reply

    wow! Well undersood,bravo

  22. nikky Reply

    Wow!!!!!SMPLE AND UNDERSTANDABLE……really loved it.

  23. mhercygrhacy Reply

    Tbh,,M not satisfied

  24. Kajola kayode Reply

    Mood and tone;
    tone is serious and sad.

    • Dayo Okubule Reply

      Thanks for the contribution.

  25. Abati olorunfemi Reply

    Ma can u pls analize d drama “lonely day”…i wud reali love to meet u maa !!!
    KUDÓS

    • Dayo Okubule Reply

      @Abati. Here’s the Lonely Days study guide.

      • Christabel Reply

        Pls reply my comment

      • Christabel Reply

        Pls translate the last line of the poem for me ma!

  26. ubah cynthia Reply

    thanks alot u ve really helped me out by braking d poem down

  27. Diana Reply

    you’ve done well.your works is not going to be in vain.God bless you.

  28. D'VIPER Reply

    Thanks to u I understand most of the poem waec has selcted

  29. Airlly Heritage Reply

    My name is Elikem Mybro Akakpo, i really appreciate this great works.This site is very helpful.God Bless You

  30. kvng LA shakur Reply

    hmm! kudos.you have been really available and helpful for me.I aint got any of the assigned textbooks.and I ain’t in secondary school no more.at first i thought it gonna be an hell in The casket.but since I found this site it has been blessings o blessings o lesson lol

  31. Theresa Hagan Reply

    i realli appreciate wat u hve dne…i nw hve a betta undastandin of e peom

  32. blaqdiamond Reply

    u don’t know what u ve done 4 me…..thanks

  33. Daddy's Queen Reply

    i got everything i needed here! 10k u so much

  34. Ajayi Dorcas Reply

    It is a work welldone ma

  35. jennie Reply

    Great poem, I love the use of imagery and how you interpreted the poem.

  36. temidayo olamide Reply

    love it all and to ur great surprise am dayo also

  37. Rachael Ahmed Reply

    This is beautiful Ma am a nigerian nd I love gbanagbom poem alot

  38. Oluwasoromidayo ola Reply

    Wat an interesting poem.MORE BLESSINGS MA!

  39. Nana Amma Amponsah Reply

    Thanks a lot for your help.But literature students are required to write long essays,how do they do that as the poem in question could be simple & precise?
    And does it matter how much you write in literature?

  40. Kenny Davies Reply

    the xplanation of dis poem is good ,,,,thumbs up

  41. Dayil Cletus Reply

    I wish I had a mother like you to put me through my ambition of becoming a good literature student

  42. Asamoah Ebenezer Reply

    Wow very simple

  43. val. Reply

    pls ma, can show the use of dramatic monologue in this poem

  44. Richard Reply

    what a nice poem I love reading it all the time

  45. janet Reply

    comment on the poet’s use of diction in the poem “the dining table by Hallowell Gbanabom”

  46. Basaikou Darboe Reply

    Excellent. Please don’t be offended if I use it in my classes. May God bless u.

  47. Emmanuel Joseph Reply

    This poem is morethan the word good, each line creates a mindset of poetic deliverance. Each line glitters the gloom images of the war that happened in Sierra Leone on the face of the reader through the poetic devices used. He is my boss Banabom Elvis Halowell. Thanks ma for your effort in the field of writing. Soon i shall hook up with you if my pending dream comes to reality. Emmanuel Joseph

  48. Christabel Reply

    but,remember in the last verse of the poem where halowell said
    ‘i’m full with the catch of gun wounds..and my boots have suddenly become to reluctant to walk me’..
    Those this not imply that the narrator of this poem suffers death due to gun wounds thats why he couldnt walk anymore?

  49. suney Reply

    nice poem

  50. Onwuachi heleb Reply

    pls what is the language of this poem

  51. Onwe chibuike peter Reply

    I thank u for ur charitable work.
    Pls ma, dymistify “guerillas” as used in the poem.

  52. Hauwa Reply

    I am a bit disappointed. I expected more analyses of the poem. To me, this was a perfunctory work. It’s not a deep analysis in any way. There were many lives I expected you to dwell on ma, but you didn’t. I enjoy most of your analysis but not this one.

  53. A.W. PETER Reply

    Pls what figure of speech is ‘dinner comes tonight with wounds’ (irony or paradox)

  54. Morakinyo israel Reply

    Great work my the lord make solution for al ur prob cuz u make dis a solution for me pls continue the good work

  55. Morakinyo israel Reply

    pls i also need independence for my jamb

  56. A.E.Koroma Reply

    It is excellent analysis, my mind picture on the horrible of the 11 year war that took place in my country Sierra Leone, when I was 9 years old.
    Please I also need analysis on the following: Piano and the drum, Ambush, The Anvil and the Hammer

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