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Analysis of ''The Dining Table''

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

The Dining Table" is a  poem about the war that took place in Sierra Leone between the  Sierra Leone government and the rebels. The dining table referred to in this poem is not the usual one where people eat and drink with merriment. The dining table connotes the gathering of wounded soldiers dining at a table feasting on blood. It is the revelation of the horror and terror of war, the Sierra Leonean civil war that lasted 11 years and in which brothers massacred brothers in cold blood. Indeed, the poem “The Dining Table” may be looked at as Africa, a place in which “vegetable blood” flows endlessly like the river Nile. Of course, a talk about the civil war, as far as the African continent is concerned, is not restricted to Sierra Leone. Also caught up in this “vegetable blood” this “dinner” are Nigerian, Liberia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, to mention a few. In fact, the poem, “The Dining Table” is about Africa’s image of carnage, of self-destruction as brought upon herself. The poem is thus fittingly regarded as a reflection on the untold hardships and anti-earth aftermath of war – any kind of war.

Furthermore, in the poem is a situation of war, oppression, destruction and abandonment. In Africa, every civil war fought is a mere attempt to massage the ego of the leaders who are power drunk, in which case the masses are often oppressed. Because of the stupidity, wickedness and insensitivity of their leaders, the helpless masses thus become one with “desert/tongues”, so dry they feed on leaves – “vegetable” soiled with the blood of their own brothers. Here, we also get an idea of cannibalism: “…desert/tongues lick the vegetable blood.” Also, a sense of helplessness, of abandonment is portrayed in the poem where the poet-persona cries that the war zone is “an island where guerrillas/walk the land while crocodiles/surf.” Probably the “crocodiles” is the enemy who are having a field day killing and maiming while the guerrillas who are supposed to fight for the people are themselves helpless. Then the sense of destruction and emptiness would not be complete without referring to the outbreak of dangerous disease – cholera. The poem reads; “cholera breaks its spell on cracked lips.” This is a horrific picture in that it does not only merely talks about  the outbreak but it also lets us know that the people are already dying of thirst and hunger before cholera outbreak worsens the situation. Image of desolation is also presented with the rhetorical question thus: “When the playground/is emptied of children’s toys/who needs road blocks?”

In this poem, Hallowell details the horrible picture of senseless killing that is the norm in most civil wars fought in Africa, particularly Sierra Leone.
The poet further talks about the futility of war and he promises to be a revolutionary and champion the course of peace.

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”.

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”.

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