The Panic of Growing Older - Lenrie Peters Summary and Analysis
African Poetry: The Panic of Growing Older by Lenrie Peters Summary and Analysis: Setting, Author's Background, Themes, Stanzas, Language and Style for JAMB, WAEC and NECO Literature Students Syllabus.
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Lenrie Peters (1932-2009 wrote the poem The Panic of Growing Older. He was a , Gambian writer, poet, singer, broadcaster and surgeon. He studied in Gambia, Sierra Leone and England. He published his collection of poems titled Satellites in 1967.

Though renowned for his poems, he has a novel to his credit titled The Second Round. In The Panic of Growing Older, the poet brought to bear his medical background as he described the physiological and psychological process of aging.

The poet lived and died a medical doctor. He must have had a first hand knowledge of the different stages of the health status of individuals as well as the amount of hope with which they lived. The poet-speaker paints picture of a contest between youthfulness and old age, between hope and expectation, between optimism and dwindling satisfaction, between physical strength and mortal weakness.

Human suffer from the panic of growing older because human life is akin to a copybook of achievement and failures, of hope enkindled and hope dashed, normally evaluated at the end of their lives.


The panic
of growing older
spreads fluttering wings
from year to year

5 At twenty
stilled by hope
of gigantic success
time and exploration

10 At thirty
a sudden throb of
pain. Laboratory tests
have nothing to show

Legs cribbed
in domesticity allow
15 no sudden leaps
at the moon now

Copybook bisected
with red ink
and failures
20 nothing to show the world

Three children perhaps
the world expects
it of you. No
specialist's effort there.

25 But science gives hope
of twice three score
and ten. Hope
is not a grain of sand.

inner satisfaction
30 dwindles in sharp
blades of expectation
From now on the world has you.


The setting of the poem is a stretch of human life, stating from one's teen years to later .. life. As one ages, one wonders what is in stock for one. Thus, the setting could be said to be the various stages of one's exist hence, imbued with going into the future with expectation and of the actual old age which may not be as one had thought at the beginning. As the poem is about the end, the initial aspiration has no corresponding  sense of self-satisfaction. Moreover, one is now enfeebled by age such that "the world  has you".

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The poem is a record of what may happen to a human being as soon as he/she observes .. the world. Such an individual engages the world at his/her youthfulness. As the years tick away like a clock, there is a growing awareness that one "from year to year" is growing older. Thus, "panic spreads" its "fluttering wings" rounds its victim. At the age of twenty, one swims in hope and expectation of a successful future.

At thirty, one is quite healthy such that if one were to be visited by pain nothing would show in the laboratory tests. About this age, perhaps, one has been involved in marriage during which "legs cribbed in domesticity", and there is no more room for junketing or dancing around. It may be because of the enormous responsibility to raise a family.

This is followed by a period of evaluation which may be akin to a "copy book" filled with "red ink and failures", one even realizing that there is "nothing to show the world".

The individual may have begotten "three children" which is not a big deal since there is "no special effort" required to procreate. Science gives hope of longevity of doubling human lifespan but hope is not something tangible, an object one can hold on to.

The satisfaction may not be there since expectation may not yet have been achieve. At the point, "the world has you", one may be weak or defeated as in a wrestling contest.

Stanza One

Lines 1 - 4: Fear envelopes the growing person.As the years roll by the panic of realizing the purpose of one's existence may "spread" over the individual the word "panic" is appropriate since with age comes the trepidation of the coming responsibility associated with adulthood.

Stanza Two

Lines 5 - 8: The individual is twenty or thereabout. There is so much optimism, so much hope, hope of "gigantic success". It is a period when one has lots of time to oneself. It is also a period of experimentation and exploration.

Stanza Three

Lines 9 - 12: The individual has reached thirty years or so. Were there to be a pain on any part of the body, no laboratory test would reveal it since the boody is still strong and healthy.

Stanza Four

Lines 13- 16: At the age of thirsty and a little after, girls may have married. The same is with the boys  to a large extent. Age and social constraint and expectation may have set. No mere gallivanting, and no "sudden leaps at the moon now". Even if one were not married, one  is no more expected to engage in the excitable games of teenagers and early adults.

Stanza Five:

Lines 17 - 24: At this stage, life has turned into a "copy book bisected with red ink" Life is like a sheet  of paper divided into two - one side filled with successes and the other side filled with failures. In the case of our protagonist, the person he is assessing is a failure with  "nothing to show the world". What he has to show may be simply be "three children", whose procreation requires no "specialist's effort" to achieve.

Stanza Six

Lines 25 - 28: Although science leaves man with the hope that the normal three score years and ten God promised human beings may be double, it is only a mere hope and no more. The reason is that "hope is not a grain of sand". That is, hope is neither tangible nor can it be felt.

Stanza Seven:

Lines 29 - 32: This is the last stage of a person's existence. "lnner satisfaction" may not have been realized since it would have been shattered by the revolving "blades of expectation" set up at the beginning. At the point of old age, weakness sets in, one having been defeated by the world.


1. Mortality
2. Anxiety associated with ageing
3. The twist in human fate
4. Man engages the world as in a contest


- Alliteration
- Personification
- Repetition
- Imagery
- Ceasura
- Litotes
- Metaphor.