The Anvil and the Hammer - Kofi Awoonor Summary & Poetic Analysis
African Poetry: The Anvil and the Hammer by Kofi Awoonor  Summary, Setting, Author's Background, Themes, Language and Style for JAMB, WAEC and NECO Literature Students Syllabus.
It is no longer news that the above selected poetry is among the selected texts for literature students in the WAEC, NECO and JAMB Syllabus.

Well we have decided to help students by providing some insights such as summary and poetic devices and analysis of the poem to aid them understand and prepare ahead of their examination.


Kofi Awoonor (13 March 1935 - 21 September 2013) was a Ghanaian poet and author whose work combined the poetic traditions of his native Ewe people and contemporary and religious symbolism to depict Africa during decolonization.

At the time, the time was written, African writers were examining the impact of the conflict of dealing with the local and foreign cultures in the life of the African. Finding himself in the mesh of interrelations between Africa and Europe, the poet lives with a clash of emotions arising from this contact. The circumstance brews in the poet—speaker different conflicts - there is the conflict of which way to go; the conflict of being in a new form having found oneself between "The anvil and the Hammer", and there is also the issue of being impassioned and being inhibited, perhaps between good and evil, one attractive, the other repellent.


Caught between the anvil and the hammer
In the forging house of a new life
Transforming the pange that delivered me
Into the joy of new songs

5 The trappings of the past, tender and tenuous
Woven with the fiber of sisal and
Washed in the blood of the goat in the fetish hut
Are Iared with the flimsy glories of paved streets
Thejargon of a new dialectic comes with the

10 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

15 We hear their songs and rumours everyday
Determined to ignore these we use snatches from their
Make ourselves new flags and anthems
While we lift the banner of the land

20 And listen to the reverberation of our song
In the splash and mean of the sea.


The poem is set in colonial times. The traditional order has been supplanted by the new but foreign culture. Africans in this situation see a huge contradiction, and those who are conscious of it live with the emotion and humiliation.

The reason is that both tradition and modernity subsist in the African.  Tradition is marked by "the trappings of the past" while modernity resides in "the flimsy glories of paved streets". The poet-speaker exists in "the jargon of a new dialectic" as in relating with good and evil of living and dying at the same time, having been exposed to "many rivers" estuary". The process of this intermingling of the old and new is still ongoing; our way out has been to "use snatches of the tunes" to "make ourselves new flags and anthems".


The African in a colonial situation is akin to a piece of metal which finds itself lodged between "the anvil" and "the hammer". "The anvil" represent the african tradition while "the hammer" is the foreign culture. Both of them impact on the African in the process of forging and transforming him or her into a new being. It is a transformation which like the new birth goes with "pangs" of delivery. A new birth calls for "the joy of new songs". However, this expectation is unfounded as "the trappings of the past" far outweigh the "glories of paved streets".

The "outlaw's hill" includes not only the abode of the colonialists but also foreign institutions, such as schools and churches. The poet-speaker prefers tradition which is why he cries: "Sew the old day for us, our fathers, /that we can wear them under our new garment". The new garment in question refers to the new culture to which we have been exposed, while 'their songs and rumours" which we hear everyday are the white man's influences. We can only borrow "snatches from their tunes" in order to "make ourselves new flags and anthems". We forge a new country and "lift high the banner of the land" formed from our "new flags and anthems". As noted earlier, this process of nation — building goes on" in the splash and moan of the sea".

Two activities are suggested here'. The activities of forging a new nation-state and the exploitative resource evacuation preoccupation of the colonialists in the high seas.

Stanza One

Lines 1 - 4: The African is faced with the dilemma of being "caught between the anvil and the hammer," found in the "forging house of a new life". The "new life" is the new way of life to which the African is subjected. He/She suffers the pain ("pangs") of a transformation as in a new birth which the new African experiences as in "joy of new songs"

Stanza Two

Lines 5 - 10: The inheritance of the past which th poet refers to as "the trappings of the past" is 'tender and tenuous'. This is an indication of how positive the poet-speaker is towards the old way of life. He goes on to inform us that the past is 'woven with the fiber of sisal .../ Washed in the blood of the goat in the fetish hut' before the present and modern "are laced with the flimsy glories of paved streets'. This is akin to the meeting between good and evil, between what is attractive and what is repellent. What now results from the old and the new in the an admixture is what the poet calls "the jargon of new dialectic", which comes with "the charisma of the perpetual search on the outlaw's hill". The "outlaw's hill" refers to those attractions associated with Western exposure such as education, church-going and modern living in general.

Stanza Three

Lines 11 - 14: The dominant imagery in this portion of the poem is dressmaking. We have 'sew', 'wear', 'new garment' and 'washed'. While these are gentle preoccupations, "caught", 'the anvil', 'the hammer', 'forging' and 'pangs' recall the imagery of violence and fear. The poet prefers the old when he asks 'our fathers' to 'sew the old days' so 'that we can wear them under our new garment'. Our 'new garment' is the metaphor for modernity to which we have been inducted after being immersed in the 'whirlpool of the many rivers' estuary'. The reference to 'the many rivers' estuary' recalls the many new experiences to which the African is exposed by the coming of the foreign culture.

Stanza Four

Lines 15 - 21: When the poet says, 'We hear their songs and rumours everyday', it is a reference to Western education and precepts, often targeted at the African way of life. The poet- speaker goes on to say that we are "determined to ignore these", that is ignore colonial misinformation and misrepresentation. We can only use "snatches from their tunes" to create "new flags and anthems", signifying new nation-states. Rather un-subdued, 'we lift high the banner of the land' even as we 'Iisten to the reverberation of our songs' amidst "the splash and moan of the sea". The noise in the sea may mean activities of importation such as those of factory-produced goods and those of exportation as in the carting away of local resources by colonialists.


1. Tradition and Modernity
2. Dilemma
3. Nostalgia
4. A forceful fusion
5. Nation - building


1. Images of compulsion
2. Metaphor
3. Cynical tone
4. Repetition
5. A cultural expose in condensed lines