The Dining Table

Critical Analysis of Dining Table by Gbanabom Hallowell

The Dining Table by Gbanabom Hallowell

The Dining Table

Background The Dining Table by Gbanabom Hallowell

Analysis of The Dining Table

Short Summary of The Dining Table

Subject Matter/Summary The Dining Table by Gbanabom Hallowell

Settings of The Dining Table by Gbanabom Hallowell

Themes of The Dining Table 

Line to line Analysis of The Dining Table by Gbanabom Hallowell

Structure of The Dining Table by Gbanabom Hallowell

Poetic divece / Literary term in The Dining Table

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 me.

Background The Dining Table by Gbanabom Hallowell

The poem’s background is traceable to the 11-year civil war of Sierra Leone (1991-2002). It was such a fierce war that the poet mockingly refers to it as the gathering at “the dining table” where compatriots literally ate each other, rather than food. The poem is a celebration of violence which saw brother
bent on decimating brother until the ECOWAS monitoring group called ECOMOG, led by Nigeria, put out the flames of self-destruction. It is not Sierra Leone only that has experienced war in Africa: Nigeria, Angola, Algeria, Burundi, Congo DR, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Liberia, Somalia, Cote d’Ivoire, Sudan, etc, have had theirs in turns. Thus ‘blood’ has become an important image whenever Africa is mentioned in the comity of nations. In the poem, ‘blood’ is in itself a trope (metaphor) as the poet speaks of “vegetable/blood” (ll. 3-4) and “gun wounds” or what he names “the spilt/milk of the moon” (ll. 19-20). The title of the poem suggests that the battle takes place in the East and Northeast area of Sierra Leone where there is a table-land (plateau) of between 1000ft to 200ft high.

Analysis of The Dining Table

, The Dining Table is chiefly influenced by his experiences during the eleven-year Sierra Leonean war when guerrillas (an irregular armed force that fights stronger regular forces such as the army or police) started a movement against the nation’s corrupt government. Though the war was between the government and the guerrillas, it affected the civilian population in no small measure. At the centre of the conflict is the control of Sierra Leonean diamonds.

Short Summary of The Dining Table

The Dining Table is a serious poem that records what the poet witnessed during the SierraLeonean war. The poem opens with a powerful use of imagery that sparks off the reader’s senses. The poet describes to the reader the horrific nature of the war which was characterised mainly by shootings, maimings and death. The main cause of conflict was the struggle for the control of Sierra Leonean diamonds, the most significant mineral wealth in Sierra Leone which the poet symbolically portrayed as “dinner”. In the second verse, the poet recalls how the guerrillas operated freely and how they brutally killed and terrorised the people. He remembers how the government forces and their allies which he describes as “crocodiles” also killed and committed atrocities during the war. He also recalls how Sierra Leone was thereafter threatened by an outbreak of the cholera epidemic which led to the death of many of its population. In the third verse, the poet resolves to be a change- agent (a revolutionary). He admits that though he desires a political revolution, he lacks the power and the needed support for a revolution, having just survived a brutal war. Elements of the Poem

Subject Matter/Summary The Dining Table by Gbanabom Hallowell

In the very first two lines, the poet announces what is due to happen on the dining table. is not about the usual meal we associate with the consumption of food and drinks. We are told that tonight’s dinner “comes with gun wounds” (ll. 1-2). The fighters may have gathered to give an account of the operation of war or to rest after a tiresome battle. However, they come with gun wounds and with blood all over them. The “desert tongues” could refer to the tongues of fire coming from weapons while the “vegetable/blood” is the blood of combatants. The “pepper” which is “strong enough to push scorpions/up our heads” (ll. 4-6) is the bitterness of the firing which had made the dining table a harvest of blood and gun wounds. It is the pain of gun battles. Dinner is thus no ordinary feast but a feast from gun wounds, associated with scorpions. This is a weird meal in which “desert” may well be a deliberate pun on “dessert” (fruit or drink taken after a meal) at which “vegetable blood” is served. “The table” separates the combatants from their wicked leaders guerrillas and crocodiles. We are informed that “guerrillas/walk the land while crocodiles/surf (ll, 10-12), an indication of leisure and uncaringness. The “children
who come from “Alphabeta” do so “with empty palm” (L12),
“switchblades in their eyes” (l. 13) and “silence in their voices” (l. 14). These children are child soldiers. -Alphabeta” suggests a school where the English alphabet is taught. “Switchblades” are a metaphor of anger buried in the eyes of a bitter person. The aridity of the desert visits the country in which “the playgroundis emptied of children’s toys” (ll. 14-15) which in turn necessitates dryness and calls for thirstiness to be satisfied since there are “cracked lips” (l. 18) The last eight lines ofthe poem centre on the poet-speaker himselfwho swears”to be a revolutionary” (l 21) but laziness and indecisiveness do not allow him. Probably because of his experience “on this/ night reserved for lovers of fire” (ll. 23-24). Atthis night, the poet-persona is “full with the catch of gun wounds” (l. 25) as in hunting while his boots are too heavy on his feet.

Theme of The Dining Table

Below are the major themes in the dining table

The Theme ofWar and destructiveness

The theme of war and destructiveness in the poem is the grim experience of death and pain out of gun battles, it is a feast in which the major meal is made up of gun wonds, pepper and scorpions, it is war that empties ” the play ground” of children toys and make unnecessary road blocks

The theme of Violence and bloodbath

The theme of violence and bloodbath, this is what the entire poem is all about it is the havest of blood and aguish and flames of war, the speaker speak of “desert togues” licking the vegetable blood , it is peppery blood “strong enough to push scorpions/up our head” (line 5-6)

sufferinng occasioned by war

The theme of sufferinng occasioned by war , Much about war is suffering. the dinner itself is a dier of suffering war brings with it desert tongues, pepper, and scorpions. The main suffering is gathering as if they are about to dine only to be feasted on “gun wounds”. The island made reference to is an island of suffering for the combatants but a real feast/ leisure arena fior the “gurrillas” and the crocodies whic bask in the comfort of walking and surfing respectively

Child Soldiers

The theme of Child soldiers The manner the poets brings in the fact that child soldier are also part of the ‘diner’ is to say “children from Alphabeta with empty palm dine/with us (line12-13) , Alphabeta probably a metapor for primary shoolig is abandoned by childern who proceed to the area of the dining, they come with sparks of bitterness in their eyes and “silence in their voice” (line 14). The playground has no children’s toy any longer since the children themselves have gone to war.
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”.
Structure of the dining table The Dining Table is a free verse poem with three irregular stanzas. A free verse poem is an open form of poetry without a consistent meter pattern or a rhyme scheme. The poet uses the stanzas to create a pause and organise his thoughts. It is a narrative poem as the poet recounts the collective experience during the war and his resolve using words like “our” “us” “I”.

Settings of The Dining Table by Gbanabom Hallowell

The title of the poem suggests that there is a gathering of diners about to feast on a meal. However,
this is a macabre meal, not the usual meal we know about. The poet mocks brothers who have gatherednat a dining table to feast on each other after a bloody battle. As suggested above in “Background, it may have been a gathering of wounded countrymen on the Sierra Leonian plateau in the eastem pan of the country during the decade-long civil war. Even if the country is located in the tropical rainforest zone of Africa, the poet refers to “desert/tongues” (ll. 2-3) brought about by years of gunfire exchange. aimed at exterminating one another. In other words, there has been the withering of the land leading to “vegetables (dying) on their tongues” (l. 9). Part of why we are assured that we are still in the rainforest belt is the availability of “guerrillas” which “walk the land while crocodiles/surf” (ll. 10-12) War has made the land a deserted one in which “the playgroundis emptied of children’s toys” l. 15), while the available water has become polluted when “cholera breaks its spell on cracked lips” (L 18).

Analysis of Lines 1-6 of The Dining Table by Gbanabom Hallowell

Tonight’s dinner is not the usual feast to be looked up to. It is a dinner of “gun wounds”. “vegetable blood,” “pepper” and It is a landscape devastated by the carnage and despoliation brought about by war. The sombre portrait of a devastated land is reinforced by the fact that it is night, the time of evil, darkness and horror.

Analysis of Lines 6-8 of The Dining Table by Gbanabom Hallowell

The “guests” made reference to may have been partakers of the dinner or Sierra Leoneans who come to observe this macabre dinner. As they “look into the oceans of bowls” (l the horror causes vegetables (to) die on their tongues” (l. 8). Hence, there are two types of desert tongues” which could refer to tongues of gunfire and human tongues with which to taste the grisly dinner.

Analysis of Lines 9-16 of The Dining Table by Gbanabom Hallowell

“The table” (L 9) refers to either the land flattened by the power of gunfire or the tableland (plateau) of the northeastern part of Sierra Leone. While the combatants and the wounded soldiers are on this table rueing their fate, the guerrillas and the crocodiles (the uncaring leaders) engage in their favourite pastimes. The child soldiers whom the poet describes as “children from Alphabeta” (l. 12) participate in the sombre meal. They know not what the cadaverous get-together is all about as they arrive “with empty palm” (L 12). their eyes is anger, while “their voices” (l. 13) are assailed by silence. The poet-speaker when the playground/is emptied of children’s toys/who roadblocks?” (L
14-16) This is both a question and an aphorisms, The fact is that the children had taken their toys inside, before they and all adult men went to do the fighting. Thus, “roadblocks” have suddenly become unnecessary.

Analysis of Lines 16-18 of The Dining Table by Gbanabom Hallowell

The land has become both and arid occasioned by the destructiveness of war. The dryness steers the necessity for the throat to be assuaged of its thirst. But the water has been polluted by “vegetable blood” and “gun wounds.” Thus the threat of “cholera on cracked lips” (l. 18) real.

Analysis of Lines 19-23 of The Dining Table by Gbanabom Hallowell

The poet, having tasted “the spilt/milk of the moon” (ll.19-20) which might as well be the blood of fellow youths, he promises “to be a revolutionary” (l. 21). A revolutionary is one who swears to do things differently; he suffers a dramatic upturn and decides to support a new way of doing things in order to about positive change in society. However, his “Nile, even without tributaries comes lazy/upon its own Nile” 21-23) The revolutionary to-be has his own problems, namely laziness and indecision. His “Nile upon its own Nile” is a pile of layers of incapacities.

Analysis of Lines 23-26 of The Dining Table by Gbanabom Hallowell

The poet returns to what happens at “dinner tonight'” (which) comes with/gun wounds” (ll 1-2). It is a night meant for “lovers of fire.” The poet persona is “full with the catch of gun wounds” (L 25) which reminds one of hunting. The drawbacks, obstacles weigh heavily and probably soaking water on his boots such that they “have suddenly become too reluctant to walk me” (l. 26). Such is his weariness that the speaker expects the boots to “walk” him rather than the contrary.

Structure of The Dining Table by Gbanabom Hallowell

The poem is made up of 26 lines. There are two breaks, one between lines 8 and 9 and another one between lines 18 and 19. The first stanza centres on what happens at the It is not the dinner we are conversant with. This is a macabre type at which the major course of meal is blood and gun wounds. It is a death site and the pain of death. The wounded are the “guests” whose attempt to “look into the oceans of bowls” causes “vegetables (to) die on their tongues.” The second stanza is an advancement on what happens at “the table.” The “guests” stay away and ruminate as in “an island” while “guerrillas walk the land” and “crocodiles surf.” Even the children, engaged in child soldiery, come to dinner with empty palm” even if bitter, sober and taciturn. The playground is bare without the children’s toys because the children themselves have taken away their playthings and gone to war. There is silence everywhere, which is why the roadblocks are no longer necessary. The final stanza is about the shattered youth (“spilt/milk of the moon’) who wants to be a revolutionary. However, laziness, indecision and very wet boots cannot allow him to take on the role he desires to take

Mood and Tone

The mood is gloomy, sorrowful and mournful. The mood is expressed through a chaos of contrasting phrases in the first stanza. For the most part, the tone is serious and sad. There is however a slight shift in the mood in the third stanza showing optimism and a corresponding shift in tone- “Under the spilt milk of the moon, I promise to be a revolutionary”. The mood falls again towards the end of the stanza- “…I’m full with the catch of gun wounds, and my boots have suddenly become too reluctant to walk me“.


The poem is imbued with powerful imagery. “Dinner” symbolises the highly valued Sierra Leonean mineral wealth (diamonds); “gun wounds”, “vegetable blood” reflect the maiming and killings that took place during the war; the Sierra Leonean army and allied forces are referred to as “crocodiles” (large aquatic reptiles that prey on other animals) because of their activities during the war. The word “table” in the second stanza represents Sierra Leone.

Literary or Poetic devices in The dining table

 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”.
Caesura : When a stronng phrasal pause falls within a poetic lines as in lines 2, 4, 6, 12, 13, 14, 16 and 24 these internal pauses are used to ensure variety and emphasis as the poet wants them, it would seem that pauses found inside the lines emphasize disorder and crisis.

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