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Reading and Content Analysis of African Poetry - “The Fence” by Lenrie Peters -

Reading and Content Analysis of African Poetry – “The Fence” by Lenrie Peters

Welcome to class! 

In today’s class, we will be talking about “The Fence” by Lenrie Peters. Enjoy the class!

“The Fence” by Lenrie Peters |

Biological note om the poet

Lenrie Peters was born in 1932. He is a Medical Doctor from Gambia.

Analysis of the poem

The ‘fence’ symbolizes moral indecision of the poet. The poem, therefore, is a moral one which deals with the poet’s dilemma. The poet has some set- objectives which he aspires to attain but each direction he follows thwarts his plan. He recounts the “dim” past and juxtaposes it with the future, with the negative result that all his hopes and aspiration are mixed up. In other words, the future is misty and foggy, and from this reason, he cannot conjure any guess to what the future looks like, neither can the past proffer any solution because ‘The dim past and future mingle”.

Furthermore, it is obvious that the poet’s ambition of attaining a moral victory is being dashed because he sees himself in circumstances “where truth and untruth struggle/in endless and bloody combat”. Under such inextricable condition, if he tells truth, he is in trouble yet telling lies is another difficulty. Meanwhile, as the poet continues to be in horns of dilemma, he realizes the time is indifferent to his upset. In (lines 10 – 12), the poet recall another striking phenomenon which is a militating factor to problem he is facing, this time, it is no longer time, but “age”

The end result of all these negative elements is according to the poet in (lines 13 – 14) that his “inner sense” meaning his health is being affected but he tried to wage this Novus actus intervenes (new act intervening )on his health, hence “contrive/to stop the constant motion”. Indeed, he was so weighed down, with his brain bunkered, that he was forced to confess that “I have not been drinking” yet he “fell the buoyant waves”. Invariably, these reactions in his body made him stagger.

In line 20, the poet opines and acknowledges that the world on the other side seems to have changed her course of action and her approach to his moral issues, but for the poet himself on the other side, he is still at his wit’s end. He still finds it extremely difficult to decide which way to follow, whether to “be involved in “doing good” or otherwise.

It is gratifying to note that the poet admitted the existence of the “need for good” but lack the courage to do good, neither can he be said to be among those in the larger society doing evil. He is neither for nor against. He is only but a “fence-sitter”, signifying his dilemma.


  1. Moral indecision: The poet is beset with problem of choosing between good and evil with a result that he fails to make a decisive choice.
  2. The decays of corrupt leadership.
  3. An open confrontation of bad governance.


  1. Give a detailed content of the poem, ‘The Fence’.
  2. Discuss the major theme of the poem

Poetic devices

  1. Diction: The language of the poem is rather simple as the poet chooses self-explanatory words. “Dim Past and future” “round and round” etc., these are words that their meaning is there with them. The poetic lines or words are imbued with rhythms that are musical to the ears.
  2. Personification: (a) “truth and untruth struggle” (b) “time moves forward and backward”, in all these words, the poet assigned human qualities to abstract ideas and inanimate object. While (b) envisages the uncertainty in life and the fate that no condition is permanent, (c) depicts a lady constantly opening wardrobe to change her garment which turn refers to change in the world, economically or politically etc.
  3. Metaphor: The poem depicts as metaphorical fence where the befuddled mind of the poet captures his state of indecision.
  4. Mood: The poet depicts himself as an enraptured spectator who recognizes his predicament, however, but does not have what it takes to break loose from his miry predicament. He, therefore, presents his cagey situation in a tone of conflict, imagination and outrage. The poet is in wonder and wanders mood and the entire poem capture a mood of helplessness and hopelessness.
  5. Imagery: The image of the ‘buoyant waves…’ which the poet feels focuses in our minds’ eyes, the mental state or condition of the poet. It mirrors the mind of the poet who faces two or more ideas of opinion but could not stand for once. The fence symbolizes the moral indecision or crisis of the poet.
  6. Repetition: The frequent repetition of “there I lie” produces some effect in such a way that the poet becomes rhythmical, and thus the poet gives us a picture of a litany of an unresolved moral question.
General evaluation
  1. Discuss the diction of the poem.
  2. Discuss the tone and mood of the poem.

Weekend assignment

Choose from the right option that best answer the following questions.

  1. When a poem has no regular rhyme scheme, it is called: (a) a blank verse (b) a dramatic verse   (c) a prose verse    (d) a lyrical verse
  2. A literary work whose mode of narration is the letter is a (n) (a) a letter prose (b) romantic work  (c) letter narration (d) epistolary work
  3. When a work of art attempts to imitate the style of another work in a mocking manner, we describe the newer work as a (n) (a) pun  (b) farce (c) innuendo (d) parody
  4. ‘How can he compare our church outing with theirs? After all millions of people attended ours while very few people were seen at theirs.’ The speaker is likely to accused of the use of (a) oxymoron    (b) paradox     (c) comparison     (d) hyperbole
  5. A novel is a (a) a long story involving human character (b) a long prose narrative fiction (c) prose writing about various people (d) a prose writing about great people


  1. How truly is it to say that the poem “the fence” is a poem of moral indecision?
  2. Discuss the style of the poem.

Reading assignment

  1. Exam Reflection Vol. IV, Literature- in-English by Sunday Olateju Faniyi, pgs102-108.
  2. The Mastery of Literature by Chinweikpe Iwuchukwu Esq, pgs 39-42.


In our next class, we will be talking about Reading and Textual Analysis of Non-African Play – The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. We hope you enjoyed the class.

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