The Anvil and the Hammer Analyzed: Subject Matter,Themes and Poetic Devices

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This tutorial is an in-depth analysis of The Anvil and the Hammer, a poem by the Ghanaian poet, Kofi Awoonor.

We are going to look at the poetic devices and themes in the poem, The Anvil and the Hammer.

I will show you possible questions and answer points on The Anvil and the Hammer.

Basically, you will discover how the persona views his African tradition in the poem, The Anvil and the Hammer.

That is not all.

You will also discover the steps to follow and the points to consider to write acceptable essays on the possible examination questions on The Anvil and the Hammer.

Introduction

Kofi Awoonor in his poem, The Anvil and the Hammer, presents a positive view of his traditional African roots. He sees African tradition as being still useful and relevant even in the face of an onslaught of Western European ways.

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The persona believes that in spite of modernization brought by Africa’s contact with European culture, there are still positive elements in African culture that Africans must hold on to. It is for this reason that the persona in The Anvil and the Hammer calls on the ancestors to come to the rescue of the fast-disappearing African traditional values.

“Sew the old days for us, our fathers,
That we can wear them under our new garment,”

Clearly, the persona is in a nostalgic mood here. He is deeply concerned that African tradition is in danger of becoming extinct, so to speak.

Read also: Analysis of The Dining Table

This fear for the survival of his beloved African culture is based on the realization that Africans are actively relegating their culture to the background.

The persona is filled with regret for the way African ways are being diluted by European culture.

“Determined to ignore these we use snatches
From their tunes
Make ourselves new flags and anthems”

Poetic techniques in The Anvil and the Hammer

Below are some poetic techniques that point to the persona’s attitude of admiration mixed with concern for African tradition.

Diction and Imagery

There is a careful selection of words in The Anvil and the Hammer to convey the way the poet views his African tradition. Here are some examples:

• tender
• tenuous

These evoke conflicting tactile and visual images. On the one level, African culture, with its tenderness, is viewed as what is in the best interest of the African.

But at the same time, Kofi Awoonor sees a tradition that has suffered so much from the onslaught of foreign culture that it has become weak and therefore in danger of dying off.

The expressions below evoke images of the new foreign culture which, to the persona, needs to be accepted with caution.

• new life
• new songs
• new garment
• new dialectic
• new flags and anthems
• flimsy glories of paved streets

Imagery of violence

The poet also uses imagery of violence to depict the pain and trauma his beloved African tradition has been subjected to as a result of its interaction with European culture.

Here are some examples of words and expressions that evoke images of the violent clash between African and European culture and the resulting pain this has caused:

• Caught between the anvil and the hammer
• pangs
• whirlpool
• moan

The poet vividly paints images of the African setting of the poem, The Anvil and the Hammer. They include the following:

• blood of the goat in the fetish hut

• splash and moan of the sea.

• our fathers,

• We hear their songs and clamours every day

• whirlpool of the many rivers’ estuary

Imagery of African nationalism

• Make ourselves new flags and anthems

• While we lift high the banner of the land

Musical imagery / Sound effects/ Auditory imagery

• We hear their songs and clamours every day

• … we use snatches
From their tunes

• And listen to the reverberation of our songs

Imagery of childbirth

Transforming the pangs that delivered me

Into the joys of new songs

The persona expresses the hope that just as the pains of a mother in labour are replaced by joy when a new child is born, African culture may, after all, derive some benefits (joys of new songs) from the painful experience.

Here come more literary techniques employed in the poem, The Anvil and the Hammer.

Extended metaphor

Kofi Awoonor’s poem, The Anvil and the Hammer is built around an extended metaphor.  In stanza one, in particular, The clash between the two cultures on the persona’s homeland is conveyed through the sustained use of an image of what happens to a piece of metal in a blacksmith’s shop.

The title, The Anvil and the Hammer, is, therefore, an appropriate choice.

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

To the poet, this is exactly what has happened to his beloved African tradition. After the pain and the anguish comes the transformation. The persona seems ready to accept the reality of change but is not ready to let go of what he considers to be the lofty aspects of African culture.

 Contrast

The structure of the poem is built around the literary device known as contrast.

The two stanzas contrast with each other.

Stanza one is used to lament the erosion of African traditional values with the advent of western European culture. The poet’s tone in these initial lines is one of lamentation and this helps create a pervading mood of nostalgia. He complains bitterly about the way Africans appear to have traded their old ways for a new, strange way of life.

In stanza two, however, the tone changes to one of acceptance, accommodation and hope. We hear the poet calling on the ancestors to do something to redeem the situation. Almost to a point of desperation, the poet is eager to, at least, tolerate parts of the new, foreign culture if only it could be made to accommodate his own.

The poem ends on a note of cautious optimism. Despite his expression of hope, the persona is still worried about the apparent refusal of the African to follow the path and voice of the ancestors. He can only hope that this unhelpful attitude would change so that the eroding African identity could be redeemed.

We hear their songs and clamours every day
Determined to ignore these we use snatches
From their tunes
Make ourselves new flags and anthems

Alliteration

An example of alliteration in the poem, The Anvil and the Hammer is:

…trappings of the past, tender and tenuous

This rhythmic musical line creates a pleasurable sound effect that goes to depict the pre-colonial African past in a positive light. It evokes the nostalgic mood of the persona.

Apostrophe

Example:

Sew the old days for us, our fathers
That we can wear them under our new garment,

The persona is here calling on the African ancestors to come to the rescue of old African ways lest they disappear completely. The persona in The Anvil and the Hammer sees the blending of the two cultures as the only viable way to preserve his beloved African tradition.

It is therefore clear, judging by these lines that the poet is not totally against Africans adapting to the reality of the influence of European culture on Africa.

Metaphor

Instances of metaphor in The Anvil and the Hammer are:

  • the past, tender and tenuous
  • the past … woven with fibre and sisal
  • the past … washed in the blood of the goat 

Onomatopoeia

And listen to the reverberation of our songs
In the splash and moan of the sea.

Powerful auditory imagery is used here to evoke the African setting of the poem and also to lament the tragedy of the erosion of African traditional values.

Note also:

LINES AND THEMES IN THE ANVIL AND THE HAMMER THAT COMPARE WITH TWO OTHER AFRICAN POEMS:

1.PIANO AND DRUMS by Gabriel Okara

2. VANITY by Birago Diop

The jargon of a new dialectic

This reminds us of the following lines in Gabriel Okara’s, poem, Piano and Drums.

Then I hear a wailing piano
solo speaking of complex ways
in tear-furrowed concerto;
of far away lands
and new horizons …

Consider these too:

We hear their songs and clamours every day
Determined to ignore these we use snatches
From their tunes

The above reminds us of the following lines in Birago Diop’s poem, Vanity.

When they have spoken to us in their clumsy voices,
Just as our ears were deaf!
To their cries, to their wild appeals

Comparable themes in two other African poems

Comparable themes in The Anvil and the Hammer, Piano and Drums and Vanity include the following:

• The theme of the clash of African and European cultures
• The theme of the celebration of African culture and tradition
• The theme of the call for a return to the African past

Likely examination questions on The Anvil and the Hammer.

• What are the similarities and differences between Kofi Awoonor’s The Anvil and the Hammer and Gabriel Okara’s Piano and Drums?

• Compare and contrast Kofi Awoonor’s poem, The Anvil and the Hammer and Birago Diop’s Vanity.

• Consider The Anvil and the Hammer as an extended metaphor.

• Discuss Kofi Awoonor’s poem, The Anvil and the Hammer as a poem of realism.

• What makes The Anvil and the Hammer a realistic poem?

• What is the poet’s attitude to foreign culture in The Anvil and the Hammer?

• Discuss the theme of the clash of two cultures in The Anvil and the Hammer.

• Kofi Awoonor’s poem, The Anvil and the Hammer is about the revival of old, African traditions. Comment.

• Comment on the title of the poem, The Anvil and the Hammer.

• Discuss the theme of tolerance in The Anvil and the Hammer.

• Comment on the poet’s use of contrast in The Anvil and the Hammer.

Thank you!

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