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Subject: Literature In English
Topic: Summary Analysis of the poem “The Panic Of Growing Older” by Lenrie Leopold Wilfred Peters.
Lesson Objectives: This lesson is aimed at helping learners understand the poem ” The Panic Of Growing Older“. So by the end of the lesson, the learners should be able to:
A. In few sentences describe who the poet is;
B. Analyse the poem;
C. Briefly explain the structure, mood and diction of the poem;
D. Identify and discuss the themes in the poem;
E. Identify poetic devices used in the poem;
F. Recite the poem “The Panic Of Growing Older“.
Lesson Summary Aids: see reference materials below content.
Lesson Summary / Discussion
The Panic Of Growing Older
From the poem title, one could tell the message it portrays. In fact, it is one of the poems I have seen that really expressed its tone in simple language. Though some persons may still find it difficult to assimilable the content of the poem. If you are such individual, this post is certainly for you. But then, let’s meet the poet.
About the Poet
Lenrie Leopold Wilfred Peters (1 September 1932 – 28 May 2009) was a Gambian surgeon, novelist, poet and educationist.
Peters was born in 1931 in Bathurst (now Banjul) in The Gambia. His parents were Lenrie Ernest Ingram Peters and Kezia Rosemary. Lenrie Sr. was a Sierra Leone Creole of West Indian or black American origin. Kezia Rosemary was a Gambian Creole of Sierra Leonean Creole origin. Lenrie Jr. grew up in Bathurst and moved to Sierra Leone in 1949, where he was educated at the Prince of Wales School, Freetown, gaining his Higher School Certificate in science subjects.
In 1952 he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, to read Natural Sciences, graduating with a B.Sc. degree in 1956; from 1956 to 1959 he worked and studied at University College Hospital, London, and 1959 was awarded a Medical and Surgery diploma from Cambridge. Peters worked for the BBC from 1955 to 1968, on their Africa programmes.
While at Cambridge University he was elected president of the African Students’ Union, and interested himself in Pan-Africanist politics. He also began writing poetry and plays, as well as starting work on his only novel, “The Second Round” (published by Heinemann in 1965). Peters worked in hospitals in Guildford and Northampton before returning to the Gambia, where he had a surgical practice in Banjul. He was a fellow of the West African College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Surgeons in 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.
Peters was President of the Historic Commission of Monuments of the Gambia, was president of the board of directors of the National Library of the Gambia and The Gambia College from 1979 to 1987, and was a member and President of the West African Examination Council (WAEC) from 1985 to 1991. He died in Dakar, Senegal, in 2009, aged 76.
With these hard work and achievement, one can describe the Poet in simple phrase as a multi talented individual.
Now The Poem
Now, we can not go into analysis of the poem without first seeing the poem itself. Seeing the poem will help you understand the message conveys by each stanza. See poem below.
The panic of growing older
spreads fluttering winds from year to year
At twenty stilled by hope of gigantic success
time and exploration
At thirty a sudden throb of pain.
Laboratory tests have nothing to show
Legs cribbed in domesticity
allow no sudden leaps
at the noon now
Copybook bisected with red ink and failures-
nothing to show the world
Three children perhaps
the world expects it of you.
No specialist’s effort there.
But science gives hope of twice three score
Hope is not a grain of sand.
Inner satisfaction dwindles in sharp
blades of expectation.
From now on the world has you.
One need to understand first the meaning of the central phrase of the poem which is “growing older“.
Gerascophobia is an abnormal or incessant fear of growing older or ageing known as senescence.
Gerascophobia is a clinical phobia generally classified under specific phobias or fears of a single specific panic trigger. Gerascophobia may be based on anxieties of being left alone without resources and incapable of caring for oneself due to age-caused disability. Due to humans being mortality salient, sufferers will often feel as though aging is the first sign that their immune systems are starting to weaken, making them more vulnerable and prone to diseases.
The Panic of Growing Older describes the different phases of human development starting from birth through adulthood and old age. The aging process is slow and this is seen in the first stanza which says “spreads fluttering winds from year to year”.
In the second stanza, the poet describes what happens in early adulthood. This period is filled with high expectations, hopes, ambition, and adventure. One also has the advantage of time: At twenty/stilled by hope/ of gigantic success/ time and exploration.
The next stanza describes age thirty as the period when one begins to experience pain that lacks medical explanation: At thirty a sudden throb of pain. Laboratory tests have nothing to show.
The fourth stanza portrays what happens in old age. As one approaches old age, weakness sets in and one loses agility: Legs cribbed /in domesticity allow/ no sudden leaps/ at the noon now. Often, one spends all his years on earth trying to copy others without success: Copybook bisected /with red ink and failures. In the end, he has nothing to show the world except children which the poet does not consider an achievement: Three children perhaps/ the world expects /it of you. No/ specialist’s effort there.
Although science gives hope of living up to seventy years, this is not a sure fact: But science gives hope of twice three score and ten. Hope is not a grain of sand. In old age, the thoughts of unfulfilled dreams and aspirations bring weakness to the mind: Inner satisfaction dwindles in sharp blades of expectation.
With not much time left, the aged has very little control of his life and simply resigns to fate: From now on the world has you.
- Fear of inevitable Old age: Older age is the central idea portrayed in the poem as the reader is made to understand how difficult things can become at old age if things are not set straight at the early stage of life.
- Youth: Stanza two of the poem started the description of human development starting from the days of youth which is characterized by strength and youthful exuberance.
- Family life as a limitation: The poem also illustrates how family life poses hindering challenges that restrict individuals from attaining what they planned and the goals they set for themselves.
- The weakness of the old: The poem points out that one has only the strength to achieve things when still at youth. But, the aged is weak and can hardly do anything other than sit and retrogress on the things s/he has done. At this point, the poetic persona asserts that , “… the world now has you”
- Allusion: ”Laboratory tests” refers to scientific allusion and the “three score and ten”, thought, described as scientific in the poem, is a biblical allusion to the years God said that man will live on earth.
- Metaphor: The anxiety and pain one feels as s/he thinks of old age is compared to ‘fluttering winds’
- Repetition: The word, ‘hope’ is repeated in the poem.
- Symbolism: ‘moon’ (represent time), Red (represent danger). ‘legs cribbed’ symbolizes the entanglement of family life. ‘Throb of pain’ symbolizes the shock one feels as s/he bids goodbye to youthfulness having achieved lesser than planned. ‘Copybook’ represents the plans and goals one set to achieve in life.
- Alliteration: ‘from year to year.’ ‘Y’ alliterates.
- Euphemism: blades of expectations.
- Litotes: From now on the world has you.
- Onomatopoeia: “spread flattering winds”
The poem is a free verse with no regular rhythmic pattern or rhyme. It comprises of five stanzas in which ideas are arranged chronologically in line with the phases of human development
The language of the poem is very much simple and straight to the point.
The mood is that of concern and the tone sounds advisory.
Done studying? See previous lessons from literature
Lesson Evaluation / Test
1. Who is the poet of “The Panic Of Growing Older”?
2. Analyse the poem;
3. Briefly explain the structure, mood and diction of the poem.
4. Identify and discuss the themes in the poem.
5. What are the poetic devices used in the poem?
6.. Recite the poem “The Panic Of Growing Older“.
Questions answered correctly? Bravo!
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“Adieu Lenrie Peters”. The Point. Banjul, The Gambia. 28 May 2009. Retrieved 15 March 2020.
Definition of gerascophobia on MedTerms.com Retrieved 15 March 2020.
John G. Robertson, An Excess of Phobias and Manias, p. 90.
Perspectives on Aging, by Priscilla W. Johnston, 1982, ISBN 0-88410-734-5, pp. 239-241
Ibitola, A.O (Ed.). (2018). Essential Literature In English for senior secondary schools. Tonad Publishers limited.
Victor J. O. (Ed.). (2019). Study Guide to Selected Poems, Prose, & Drama Texts for SSCE . Harmony-Pen Publications.
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Warning: Myschoollibrary considers the above academic resources appropriate and so were sourced for the development of this lesson. Hence no part of these reference materials should be lifted from this blog without due credence to the various sources.
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