The speaker in this ‘Homecoming‘ is someone who is returning home after a long time away. When they get home, they find that everything has changed. The present has taken over their image of the past. They feel listless with this revelation. The poet’s use of the third person pronoun “we” suggests that he is describing a shared experience. He may have been thinking about his home, Gambia, and how it was under British rule during the years of the poet’s youth.
The poet wrote this poem around the time that the country gained its independence, and he was returning home from his medical studies abroad.
‘Homecoming’ by Lenrie Peters is a powerful poem that describes someone returning home after a long time away.
In the first few lines, the speaker notes that the present ruled over the past. He uses a simile to compare it to the way that water might rise up out of a drainage system. It cuts off the paths that he once traveled. He explores how fast the past moves away, leaving memories behind.
The speaker uses a plant as another symbol. Suggesting that “our” roots are dried up, and thick weeds are growing everywhere. The poem transitions into presenting a new image, that of an old house that doesn’t cast any shadow, filled with lifeless people. The poem ends on a dark note, saying that there is nothing to welcome “us” home after our journey.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure and Form
‘Homecoming’ by Lenrie Peters is a five-stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines and one set of five lines. These are known as quatrains and quintains. The poem does not follow a specific metrical pattern, but it does have a rhyme scheme—the first three stanzas rhyme in a pattern of ABAB CDCD, and so on. Stanza four is different. The pattern disappears, but readers do still see examples of rhyme. For example, “town” and “ground.” This change reflects the poem’s central meaning.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines two and three of the first stanza.
- Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “sapless” and “seedlings” in stanza three.
- Simile: occurs when the poet creates a comparison between two unlike things using “like” or “as.” For example, “The present reigned supreme / Like the shallow floods over the gutters.”
The present reigned supreme
The house with the shutters.
In the first lines of the poem, the speaker, who is returning home after a long time away, notes that the “present reigned supreme.” The past he remembers (the home he was familiar with) no longer exists. A new present has taken over. He compares this, through a simile, to the way that a shallow flood “over the gutters” can obscure and change the path “where we had been.”
He specifically mentions the “house with the shutters.” This suggests that the speaker is thinking about one place specifically. It’s “the” house he remembers, perhaps the one he grew up in or one that meant a lot to him.
Too strange the sudden change
The memories that we kept.
The change is “strange’ to the speaker. It has taken him by surprise. He continues to use the third-person pronoun “we” in these lines, suggesting that he isn’t the only one who experienced this change. He is going through it with other people. Perhaps others who have been away as he has been. The speaker is feeling emotional about the past and how he “buried” the times in the past when he left, trying to put his home behind him in order to start somewhere new.
Now, the past is only “memories.” He can’t come home to the world he used to know; it only exists in his mind and in the minds of those who experienced it.
Our sapless roots have fed
The wind-swept seedlings of another age.
The Virgins to the water’s edge.
In the next few lines, the speaker suggests that there is a new intergenerational rift he’s aware of. His “sapless roots,” which are all worn out, have fed the “seedlings of another age.” The new seedlings have taken all the life from the “roots” of his generation. He may be trying to express that his generation was firmly rooted in place while this new generation, barely started, is taking advantage of what the past generations established. The seedlings are “wind-swept,” a term that suggests that they lack the strength and the establishment that the past “roots” or his generation did.
He returns to the image of his home being allowed to fall into disarray. There are “luxuriant weeds” growing where “we led / The Virgins to the water’s edge.” This might be an allusion to the speaker’s youth and the time he spent with women. He has these pleasant memories, but now, those places are overgrown and changed negatively.
There at the edge of the town
Lived in by new skeletons.
The fourth stanza mentions the “house without a shadow.” The house is a symbol of the way that the speaker’s home has had what made it “home” removed. The house is lived in “by new skeletons.” It lacks what made his home worth loving and appreciating. The image is a dark one, suggesting that there is no way to get back the warmth of the past. The fact that the house has no shadow is an exciting addition to the image. Like the wind-swept seedlings, it may suggest that the house has no impact on its surroundings.
That is all that is left
And longed for returning.
The fifth stanza concludes the speaker’s description of his changed home. The previous stanzas and what they describe are all that’s there to “greet us” when we return home from pacing the world. It’s not a cheerful ending to the piece, suggesting that the speaker has to adjust to this new home as there is no way to change it back.
The tone is depressed and resigned. The speaker knows that he can’t change the world that he’s returned to. The life he knew is over, and the paths he walked had fallen into disarray.
The purpose is to express how effective it can be to return home and find that everything has changed beyond one’s expectations. The speaker doesn’t know how to deal with the fact that the place he knew has changed irrevocably.
The speaker is someone who has been away from home for a long time and has just returned. It’s likely that Lenrie Peters was channeling his own experience when he wrote this piece.
Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Homecoming’ by Simon Armitage – describes the narrator returning home after getting their jacket dirty during a late-night foray to the phone box.
- ‘Home’ by Edward Thomas – an ode to the place he feels most comfortable in the world – home.
- ‘Home is so Sad’ by Philip Larkin – a thoughtful poem about the importance of home. The poet explores what happens to a home when people leave it.