K Kofi Awoonor

The Sea Eats the Land At Home by Kofi Awoonor

‘The Sea Eats the Land At Home’ is the story a small town that is destroyed by an angry sea and all the lives that are impacted.

The Sea Eats the Land at Home is a poem by Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor. The poem is four stanzas long of varying line length. The first three stanzas are similar, four to five lines each. But the last stanza is eighteen lines long, a drawn-out conclusion to the poem. The poem has no rhyme scheme but does utilize a good amount of repetition and personification. The sea is the main character in this piece and is described throughout as if it is making considered choices.

The Sea Eats the Land At Home by Kofi Awoonor



This poem is a story of a simple town through which sweeps the anger of a personified sea. The sea eats up the town and all the belongings of those that reside in it. The poem focuses on the general loss of the town but then zooms in on two women who have different experiences with the loss they go through. One, Aku, has lost everything and is left in the cold in what used to be her kitchen, and Adena, who has lost the trinkets that were her dowry. The poem concludes by saying that the sea that eats the land will eat anything, nothing is off-limits.

You can read the full poem here.


Analysis of The Sea Eats the Land At Home

First Stanza

The Sea Eats the Land at Home begins with a line that is as evocative as it’s title,

At home the sea is in the town,

Immediately this brings to the surface images of water running down streets and flooding houses. Perhaps it has gone even farther than that and the town is more sea than streets and buildings. The reader is given more information about the extent of the damage in the next line. The sea is said to be,

…running in and out of the cooking places,

One can assume that this is a reference to interior kitchens but also areas out of doors in which bonfires and cooking fires are lit. This strange phrase, “cooking places,” supports this conclusion, if the “places” were only indoors they would be called kitchens.

The firewood from the hearths of the “cooking places” is said to be collected up by the sea. It is at this point that the personification begins. The sea does not sweep up, or wash away the wood, it is said to pick it up. As if the sea was in possession of arms and hands capable of this motion. After collecting the wood the sea sends it back “at night.” It has been washed away and then washes back in with the tide. The sea, personified once more, “sends” it back. This first stanza is concluded with a repetition of the title line.


Second Stanza

It came one day at the dead of night,
The sea eats the land at home;

The second stanza begins with the start of the story. How the sea came “one day at the dead of night.” Awoonor writes this line as if it was a conscious choice made by the sea to come at night. The sea is given reasoning abilities, it is portrayed as being sneaking, knowing when the residents of the town will be more vulnerable.

The sea destroys the cement walls, proof of its immense strength, and carries away the fowl. Their homes are destroyed and their livestock is killed. The sea does not stop there but as it washes into the cooking places it takes the pots and ladles too. Once more the title line is repeated at the conclusion of this stanza.


Third Stanza

It is a sad thing to hear the wails,
To protect them from the angry sea.

The third stanza begins with a description of the emotion that comes with this kind of loss. The speaker describes the sadness of the wails, and how the “mourning shouts “ of women can be heard. The speaker says these shouts are to the gods to protect them,

…from the angry sea.

Again the sea is personified. It is given sentience and is said to be “angry.” But just as the motives of the sea are impossible to determine, so too is the response of the gods. They do not come to the aid of this town, in fact, their plight is only emphasized.


Fourth Stanza

Aku stood outside where her cooking-pot stood,
With her two children shivering from the cold,
In the sea that eats the land at home,
Eats the whole land at home.

The fourth and final stanza of this poem is more than twice the length of the other three. In it, a specific woman is named, Aku. The description of how she was personally impacted by the “sea eat[ing] the land” forces the reader to greater empathy with the town in general. Until now the town was just unnamed, but now it has a face.

Aku stood outside where her cooking-pot stood,

With her two children shivering from the cold,

She stands outside in the inclement weather, with nowhere else to go. She is standing in what was probably her kitchen, a place that used to be symbolic of warmth and home, and is now part of the freezing sea. She is not alone here though, she has the burden of two children to care for. She weeps with her hands on her chest for her home, and for the future of her family.

She does not understand why this has happened to her, it seems to her that her,

…ancestors have neglected her,

They should be watching over her and her family but for some reason have allowed the sea to destroy her home. Her gods, too, have abandoned her. She is spiritually alone.

The speaker then pans out from the situation and looks over the whole town once more and the reader receives some additional context.

Once more the day is said to be cold. But we know how it is morning, perhaps only the morning right after the storm, and it’s a Sunday.

The storm is described as “raging,” and the livestock is placed by the speaker in the water, they are struggling to swim against the sea.

Once again the sea is personified, described as being angry, but now also cruel. As if it, on purpose, swept into this town with the intention to destroy it.

The poem then turns to describe the water, how it is lapping against the shore and how its interior hum, its life force, and power, are stronger and louder than the sobs, and deep low moans of the townspeople.

The poem concludes with continued emphasis on what physically lost. Another woman is named, Adena. She has lost her dowry, much of which were “trinkets.” These trinkets are described as being her joy, turning the poem to a rare glimpse of materialism. The last two lines describes,

…the sea that eats the land at home,

as eating the “whole land at home.” Nothing and no one is left untouched. Some lose trinkets, others lose entire homes and lively hoods.


About Kofi Awoonor

Kofi Awoonor was born in Ghana with the original name of George Awoonor-Williams. He studied at the University College of Ghana gaining a BA, then moved to University College, London to get his MA, and then a Ph.D. in comparative literature from SUNY Stony Brook. Awoonor had a turbulent life, amongst being a poet, and professor, as well as an ambassador for Ghana, he also served time in prison under suspicion of involvement in a coup. While in jail, he detailed his experience in The House by the Sea. Eventually, his sentence was remitted and he resumed teaching. It was after this that his ambassadorial duties began and he served as Ghanian ambassador to Brazil and Cuba as well as ambassador to the UN from 1990-1994. Throughout his life, he authored novels such as, Comes the Voyager at Last: A Tale of Return to Africa and This Earth, My Brother. He died in 2013 in Kenya after a shopping mall attack.

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Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
  • Insightful analysis of the poem. Very good.

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      Thank you. You are too kind.

  • Pat A Boadu-Darko says:

    …back to Prof. Awoonor’s poem…yes, and he was a great Lecturer.His Lecture Halls were always packed to the brim!
    May his soul rest in peace!
    …a grateful student…

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      I had no idea that was his profession.

  • litearturepeeps says:

    Hi ! May you please give me a short analysis of lines 21-25 beacuse I’ve got this aasignment about it …
    Thank You!

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      The words contained here are mostly to be taken literally. This section has a prose-like feel. There is no pattern to the rhythm, nor is rhyme used. The storm is personified in the line “the storm is raging” but given the personification used throughout the poem, this is in keeping with the rest of it. I think the most interesting thing about these lines is the use of the “bark of the water” this could be hinting at driftwood, or to further the idea of the water being angry and therefore barking. Bark is also an onomatopoeic word.

  • Some have argued that this poem is metaphorical of the effect of colonialism and imperialism on the African continent. How might this interpretation have been arrived at?

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      I think that it is natural to associate any African poet with those themes. That being said, you could intepret the destructive force of the sea to the effect of colonialism.

      • Pat A Boadu-Darko says:

        This poem is as literal as it stands.Yes,’the sea eats the land’ at Keta, in the Volta Region of Ghana which is Prof. Awoonor’s home.
        There is sea erosion that is actually eating the land. A close friend told me a harrowing tale of how the sea came in the night and ‘ate’ a part of the wall of their house and ‘ran through their compound.’They packed their belongings and left the following morning!

        • Lee-James Bovey says:

          That’s so interesting and really does help unpack the poem.

    • Mrs Grace Oluyemi Oshunniyi says:

      Quite easily when you consider the life and times of Awoonor. He lived as a relict of his traditional ways and religion. His age and times are comparable to Soyinka’s. Ghana, the Gold Coast before like Nigeria came under colonialism from the West; by the Sea. Ghana got Independence from Gt. Britain in 1957 and Nigeria 1960. Neo- colonialism started right then.
      What am I saying? I am saying that there is a lot in the poem that are clues to the deeper meanings Awoonor was conveying. The Ewe tribe, his own tribe have historical connections with the Yoruba. That makes the imagery of the Firewood deep to me but clear. I cannot say it all through this medium. I have however broken it down for my IGCSE students. Thank you for this opportunity to contribute.

      • Lee-James Bovey says:

        This is amazing context and a helpful answer. Thank you.

  • The sea might also be taking revenge. Man destroying nature and and pollution. Nature the element of this poem is usually beautiful and calm but when it attacks it causes lots of damages and nobody can stop the angry sea. It might be taking its revenge for the destruction of nature, for pollution and to punish the defenseless humans for their sins. I don’t know if this is a good analysis as I am still a student. Any thoughts?

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      Absolutely. The personification certainly lends weight to that idea.

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