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Prayer Before Birth (by Louis Macneice)

By Laura Layfield, Tristan Chan and Chunhim Kai

Laura Layfield

on 11 June 2010

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Transcript of Prayer Before Birth (by Louis Macneice)

Prayer Before Birth
By Laura, Tristan and Chunhim What is the poem about? The Poem and message for each stanza What is the most striking thing about the poem? What poetic techniques did the poet use and why? What rythm and rhym did they use and why? I am not yet born; O hear me.
Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the
club-footed ghoul come near me. Prayer before birth is a poem written by Anglo-Irish poet Louis McNeice (1907 - 1963) during the Second World War. In the poem, Louis MacNeice expresses his fear at what the world's cruelty can do to the innocence children and blames the human race "for the sins that in me the world shall commit".
The poem also contains many religious themes and overtones through the use of double-imagery; the child could be seen as a metaphor for Christ, making reference to certain themes and events said to have occurred during his ministry on earth. The first fear refers to the frightening things of the night, both real and imageinary. I am not yet born, console me.
I fear that the human race may with tall walls wall me,
with strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me,
on black racks rack me, in blood-baths roll me. Next is the fear of being closed in by lies and persuasion, being led by drugs, tortured both mentally and physically, and being made to participate in warfare and other massacres. I am not yet born; provide me
With water to dandle me, grass to grow for me, trees to talk
to me, sky to sing to me, birds and a white light
in the back of my mind to guide me.
The poet makes a request for the good things of life which today are fast disappearing: clean water, love, forests, birds and purity (white light) as a guide. I am not yet born; forgive me
For the sins that in me the world shall commit, my words
when they speak me, my thoughts when they think me,
my treason engendered by traitors beyond me,
my life when they murder by means of my
hands, my death when they live me. The child asks for forgiveness for all the sins that the world is going to make him commit in the future:
•his wrong words
•his evil thoughts
•those times when he is led to commit treason
•the times when he will be forced to kill other people
•ultimately for his own death of spirit because he has been forced to give into these social pressures.
I am not yet born; rehearse me
In the parts I must play and the cues I must take when
old men lecture me, bureaucrats hector me, mountains
frown at me, lovers laugh at me, the white
waves call me to folly and the desert calls
me to doom and the beggar refuses
my gift and my children curse me.
The child asks to be guided into the part he must act in this dramatic performance of life so that he is able to perform his role correctly, and that he be given all the right clues on how to react when important people lecture him or laugh at him. I am not yet born; O hear me,
Let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God
come near me.
A plea is made that tyrants and autocrats (like Adolph Hitler) may not be allowed to come near him. I am not yet born; O fill me
With strength against those who would freeze my
humanity, would dragoon me into a lethal automaton,
would make me a cog in a machine, a thing with
one face, a thing, and against all those
who would dissipate my entirety, would
blow me like thistledown hither and
thither or hither and thither
like water held in the
hands would spill me. He asks for the strength not to become a killing machine or just a part in a machine (cog in a machine):
•he pleads that he be not allowed to become inhuman ("a thing")
•or something that is completely at the mercy of others
•or spilt as if he were just water.
Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me.
Otherwise kill me.
His final plea is that his heart may not turn to stone, or his life be wasted.
Failing that, he would rather be aborted right away.
The poem is about an unborn child who is still in its mother’s womb, seeking for protection and forgiveness from the evil deeds that it shall commit once it is out of the mother’s care. The poet creates a dramatic intense tone, giving a statement on the appalling state of the world. The poem tells us that the child says that living is a painful experience and being born is terrifying. There is a representation of the child’s plea (prayer) of the poet’s suffering, pain and fear in a world that has steadily turned into Hell. The poet allows the reader to paint a picture of a world having empty compassion, love and guilt to the haunting plea of the unborn child. The poem reflects the poet’s complete misery and hopelessness, expressing the thought of a world that will not correct itself, but continue its evils in an ever-rising spiral pattern of violence. The writer used the same opening sentence for each of the stanzas; this reminds the reader the main idea of the poet. The only thing that is different is the verb behind “me” for each different stanza.
The poem has a “ABAA” rhyme scheme, The A sentence ends with a “me” and the B sentence rhymes with something else.
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