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Prayer Before Birth

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Miriam Edelmann

on 15 January 2014

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Transcript of Prayer Before Birth

Prayer Before Birth
Repetition/anaphora -> "I am not yet born" = ritualistic refrain/prayer
Harsh-sounding words -> "Bloodsucking bat ... club-footed ghoul" = creatures that would terrify a young child
Assonance -> "tall walls wall ... black racks rack" = emphasises that a child is speaking, creates rolling, inevitable pace; like a children's rhyme or song
Imperatives -> "forgive", "hear", etc = desperation of the child's plea
Oxymoron/sibilance -> "wise lies" = child is tricked/betrayal
Horrific Irony/Pathos -> "For the sins that in me the world shall commit" = the child knows it is doomed before it is born; reminiscent of Jesus.
Juxtaposition -> "children curse me" = vicious circle.
Repetition -> "hither and thither or hither and thither " = desperate pleading of child
Metaphor -> "make me a cog in a machine" = implies that MacNeice does not agree with the communist mindset.
Simile/euphemism -> "like water held in the hands would spill me" = dependent child. Spill me is a euphemism for death.
Euphemism -> "make me a stone" = emotionless
Pathos -> "Otherwise kill me" = the child is not yet born but already wants to die.
Life of Author
Louis MacNeice was born on the 12/12/1907 and died on the 03/09/1963.
He was the son of a priest and a schoolmistress.
At Marlborough College MacNeice made friends with Anthony Blunt,
He developed a sympathy for Marxists and Communists under the influence of Blunt.
He was accepted at Oxford University, where he started writing poetry more often, publishing in
The Cherwell
Sir Galahad.

In 1930 MacNeice married Giovanna Marie Therese Babette, however both their parents did not attend the ceremony.
In 1934 MacNeice and Giovanna had a son, Daniel John MacNeice.
MacNeice was betrayed by his wife who left him for an Russian-American graduate student in November 1934.
In 1936 MacNeice began to have an affair with Nancy Coldstream, drawing to a close two years later.
In 1941 MacNeice was employed by the BBC.
MacNeice married Hedli Anderson in 1942 and a baby girl, Brigid Corinna MacNeice, was born a year later.
In 1947 MacNeice was sent to India to report on the Indian Independence.
In 1951 he returned to England and Daniel left for America in 1952 in order to live with his mother.
After two assignments in Egypt and Ghana in 1956 and 1957, respectively, he bought a holiday home from J.B. Priestley on the Isle of White.
In later years he started drinking heavily and having affairs, causing his marriage to become strained.
He died of viral Pneumonia.
Connection Between Poem And Life
Clearly the way the poem is structured like a prayer and has the title "Prayer Before Birth" was influenced by his father being a priest.
MacNeice says he does not want to be a "cog in a machine" reminding the reader of the capitalism in the 19th Century, which was influenced by his Marxist friends.
The use of sibilance can be linked back to his cheating wife Giovanna, who left him and their son behind just months after his birth and his son, Daniel, who went to live with his mother instead of with MacNeice. The unborn child symbolises purity and innocence.
The point of view of the poem, from that of an unborn child may have been inspired by his daughter's birth one year earlier.
The idea of a child being innocent could have been influenced by the fact that his son was innocent and not corrupted before he was born but was "poisoned" by his mother after he was born. However it could also have been inspired by the fact that his life did not turn out like he had wanted.
"Tall walls wall me" shows the clear influence of war on the poet. Tall walls can be seen as a metaphor or euphemism for trenches.
More Techniques
General Overview
Dramatic monologue spoken by an unborn child
8 verses
No rhyme (at the end of each line)
Shape reminds the reader of Psalms

-The world is cruel and dangerous
-The world is manipulative
-A plea for human freedom
(Even) More Techniques
Personification -> "water to dandle me", "trees to talk to me" = ideal world the child wants to live in, as nature is still unaltered by humans. Nature is "innocent" like the unborn child. Shows the good aspects of life.
Personification -> "mountains frown at me" = nature (mountains), the only refuge, has deserted the child
Repetition -> "me" = selfish undertone, which highlights a human weakness
Euphemism & metaphor -> "tall walls wall me" = remind the reader of trenches in the war
Short sentence -> "Otherwise kill me" = shows finality of its decision
Stanza 1: Introduction
Stanza 2: Fear of coercion
Stanza 3: Vision of a better world
Stanza 4: Forgiveness for future actions
Stanza 5: Desire to act with guidance
Stanza 6: Protection of tyrants
Stanza 7: Chaos
Stanza 8: The end
Full transcript