Discuss the themes of cultural conflict, cultural identity and rebirth in the Anvil and the Hammer.


The first line of the poem is suggestive of a man lurked on the horns of a dilemma, that is in conflict of sorts. “Caught between the anvil and the hammer again, “the trappings of the past…washed the blond of the goat in the fetish hut are laced with flimsy glories of paved streets” and ‘the jargon of a new dialectic.” The speaker is battling to reconcile his past, characterized by traditional rituals with the lure of modernity and its hurtful language – ‘argon of a new dialectic”

The Speaker is not particularly happy that his ancient ways seem to be gradually subsumed in the emerging Western Culture; hence he calls on his fathers, (ancestors) to keep them in tune with their old past so that they can move along with the foreign culture which they hear about.

Sew the old days for us, fathers, 

That we can wear them under our new garments.

The speaker is bothered by the rumours of this threatening culture but he is determined to ignore these and make themselves “new flags and banners” He hopes his culture will triumph over the other.


The iron goes through the furnace and with the anvil and hammer it is shaped to wear a new identity. So also, the speaker in this poem has been “caught between the anvil and the hammer in the forging house of a new life”. This suggested that the speaker may be in captivity or suffering the pains of colonialism. But out of the pangs, he will be delivered into the joys of a new song. Thus, having gone through pains, he will come out with a new identity.

Remembering the trappings of his past, characterized by cultural practices “washed in the blood of the goat in the fetish hut”, the speaker seems upset as that revered identity appears to be “laced with the flimsy glories of paved streets”. While as his ritual in his “fetish hut” is remarkable of his identity, these “paved streets” are alien to his cultural identity.

Our songs are our identity and their songs are theirs. Hence the speaker appeals to our fathers, “sew the old days that we may wear under our new garment…we hear their songs and rumors every day…”  The speaker concludes that out of their tunes, they will make “new “flags” and “anthems” a new identity.


The anvil and the hammer are employed by blacksmiths for transforming irons or metals into different designs. In the same vein, the speaker in this poem appears to be in captivity, in the forging house “where he is to be transformed into a new life. His old ways of life, cultural practices etc have suddenly been taken over by “the jargon of a new dialectic”. Unfortunately, those “trappings of the past, tender and tenuous” appear to the forgotten. This is why the speaker calls on his ancestors to remind them of those old days so as to join the same with the new.

sew the old days for us, our fathers, that we can wear them under our new garment.

Finally, their songs are everywhere likewise their rumours but the speaker is determined to draw inspiration from those “songs” and ‘rumours’ to make “new flags and anthems’ hence the quest for rebirth or transformation. When this is done, he is optimistic that: They will “lift high the banner of the land…” and they will listen to the “reverberations of our songs in the splash and moan of the sea”, that is, the songs of freedom, of rebirth.

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