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The panic of growing older by Lenrie Peters

By Nkem Egenuka on Thu, 06/10/2016 - 12:38

The panic of growing older by Lenrie Peters


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

and ten. Hope

is not a grain of sand.


Inner satisfaction

dwindles in sharp

blades of expectation.

From now on the world has you.


About the Poet

Lenrie Peters (1932-2009 wrote the poem The Panic of Growing Older. He was a Gambian writer, poet, singer, broadcaster and surgeon. He studied in Gambia, Sierra Leone and 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.

Dr Lenrie Peters was born in 1932 in Bathurst (The Gambia). In 1956 he graduated with a     B Sc. from the Trinity College of Cambridge. He worked with the University College Hospital of London 1956 to 1959.

In 1959, he received a Medical and Surgery diploma from Cambridge. He holds a Master’s degree in Arts. From 1954 to 1955 he was the president of African Students’ Society of Cambridge. He worked as journalist of African programs with the BBC from 1955 to 1968. He was the president of the Historic Commission of Monuments of the Gambia and President of FESTAC community in 1977. Mr Peters was the President of the board of directors of the National library of the Gambia and Gambia College from 1979 to1987.

He was a member and President of the West African Examination Council (WAEC) from 1985 to 1991. He was a member of the jury for the Literary prize of the Commonwealth in 1995 and passed away on 27 May 2009 in Dakar after a brief illness.

Summaryof the Poem

The poem is about the different phases of human development starting from birth through adulthood and old age. As one grows older, there are so many changes in one’s appearance and lifestyle. With age, the body loses strength and flexibility. Bones shrink in size and physical limitations set in. ageing comes with psychological and physical effects which cause panic and the anxiety of ageing makes it hard to accept these physical changes. Life is measured as the clock ticks towards the twilight. One reminisces on the journey towards mortality with fears or satisfaction.


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 and exploration’’. “The panic of growing older spreads” certain feelings of anxiety. “From year to year”, one evaluates each phase in terms of achievements, failures and the room for improvement. At the age of twenty, life blossoms with high hopes and dreams. It gives enough room for “time and exploration” of one’s career. At twenty, the body is agile with renewed vigour. It is that time of the youth that one explores all possibilities and engages in all sorts of activities, moving here and there without feeling exhausted. The energetic drive of this productive stage of someone’s life, if it is well planned, brings “gigantic success”.


At thirty, the agility starts declining as one feels sudden throb of pain in the body with any arduous task. Yet, laboratory test cannot really certify the real cause. It is part of the ageing process. The body systems can no longer fight stress and everyday physical activities become onerous. The legs develop cramps and can no longer carry out even domestic chores. Unlike in the twenties, the legs cannot engage in “sudden leaps at the moon”. One’s dexterity and career “leaps” dwindle with age. At thirty, the body starts showing wrinkles. In fact, at this stage of life, one is expected to be married and occupied with hurdles of parenthood and family life. At thirty-five, female fertility declines and the body starts experiencing abrupt changes.

As one approaches old age, weakness sets in and one loses agility. Towards the tail end of an individual’s life, one meditates on how far one has gone in achieving his or her dreams. The persona’s record book (copybook) is divided into two equal parts, with one part showing the successes and the other part smeared with “red ink and failures”. The persona seems to ponder more on the failures that have been accrued over the years. With “nothing to show the world”.


In the end, he has nothing to show the world except children, which the he does not consider an achievement because One does not need a “specialist’s effort” to procreate


 Moreover, the poet’s life seems to be unfulfilled and this makes growing older more dreadful.  

With the introduction of science, there is hope that one can prolong one’s existence and live “twice three score and ten”. Scientists have come up with anti-ageing medical procedures which give humanity hope of immortality. But hope, the poet says, “is not a grain of sand” that is ever present or reliable. In other words, the hope scientists give is mere conjectures


At this declining phase of one’s life, “inner satisfaction” wanes by the “sharp blades of expectation” one has set up at the beginning. The unrealistic expectations are unachieved and one faces failure on a grand scale. With such dissatisfaction with one’s life, the feeling of weariness sets in. Left with no choice, one resigns to fate and concedes defeat to the world.









About the Author