PRAYER BEFORE BIRTH

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PRAYER BEFORE BIRTH
By Louis MacNeice (1907-1063,
England)
ABOUT THE POET
Born – 12 September 1907
Birth Place - Belfast, Ireland
Graduation – Marlborough
and Merton College, Oxford
Died - 1963
HIS CAREER
• Classics lecturer at the University of
Bermingham from 1930 – 1936.
• Greek lecturer at Bedford College for Women
University of London until 1941.
• Staff writer and producer in BBC FROM 1942 –
1949.
ABOUT THE POEM
• Written during the Second World War when
Mac Neice volunteered as an air-raid warden.
• Experiences influenced his writing of this
poem.
• Because the poet lets an unborn child speak,
the poem stays relevant to all times and
cultures.
TONE
DESPAIR, SADNESS, PESIMISTIC
• The poet looks through the eyes of an unborn
child.
• All the fears that face modern humanity.
• Asks God to spare him these terrors.
THEMES
• The poem makes a statement on the deplorable
state of the world.
• Living is a painful experience, being born is a
terrifying one.
• Man’s inhumanity to man.
• Common human fears.
• Personal choices.
• Loss of human integrity and identity.
• The poem reflects the poet’s utter dejection and
hopelessness expressing the thought that the
world will not correct itself, but perpetuate its
evils in an ever-ascending spiralling pattern of
violence.
IMAGERY and POETIC TECHNIQUES
• The poet paints a picture of a world devoid of
compassion, love and remorse through the
haunting appeal of the unborn infant.
• APOSTROPHE: Not clear who is being
addressed and the speaker is not part of the
world.
• ENJAMBMENT: Emphasise the child’s
impassioned plea.
STRUCTURE
• Each stanza grows in length and complexity as the
poem develops.
• Free verse (no set rhyme or structural pattern)
• First person perspective – the speaker is the unborn
child.
• Repetition (I am not yet born) followed by a logical
progression of requests: “O hear me”, “console me” etc.
• Last two words of the first and last lines of each stanza
rhyme.
• Indents – add to intensity of pleas.
• Short last stanza stands out.
I am not yet born; O hear me.
pleading
REPETITION: Emphasises innocence
Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the
Alliteration
club-footed ghoul come near me.
I am not yet born; console me.
Alliteration and Assonance
I fear that the human race may with tall walls wall me,
with strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me,
Oxymoron
on black racks rack me, in blood-baths roll me.
Medieval torture method
I am not yet born; provide me give
With water to dandle me, grass to grow for me, trees
to talk Personification
to me, sky to sing to me, birds and a white light
Metaphor: Source of purity, conscience
in the back of my mind to guide me.
I am not yet born; forgive me
World/people
For the sins that in me the world shall commit, my words
Personification
when they speak me, my thoughts when they think me,
my treason engendered by traitors beyond me,
Alliteration
my life when they murder by means of my
hands, my death when they live me.
Paradox
STANZA 5: 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. That he’d
be given all the right clues on how to react when
important people lecture him or laugh at him.
I am not yet born; rehearse me
Metaphor: Life on a stage vs. life
consisting of different roles
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
Personification
Alliteration
waves call me to folly and the desert calls
me to doom and the beggar refuses
my gift and my children curse
me.
STANZA 6: A plea is made that tyrants and autocrats
(like Hitler) may not be allowed to come near 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.
Metaphor: Satin/devil or
bad people like Hitler
STANZA 7: He asks for the strength not to become a
killing machine or just a part 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 split as if he were just water.
I am not yet born; O fill me
With strength against those who would freeze my
Killing machine
humanity, would dragoon me into a lethal automaton,
would make me a cog in a machine, a thing with
A nobody
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.
Society will mould
the child to become
part of everything
around him
(worthless and
insignificant) Links
with World Wars.
Simile: blown in every
direction no control of where
it lands.
No control of water in
cupped hands
STANZA 8: 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.
Let them not make me a stone and let them not
spill me.
Otherwise kill me. Shortest line - emphasis
ANSWERS
1a Children fear ghouls / spirits.
b Spook / boogie-man
c Vampire
2 The holocaust of Nazi-Germany – WW2
The Russian Revolution
The genocide of Rwanda in Africa
Syrian gas attack (2013)
War in Iraq
Civil war in Libya
Egyptian Riots (2013)
3a Acting
b It is appropriate as we each play out / enact many
different roles in our lives.
c “rehearse” “cue”
4 Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin
5 He fears
•
becoming hardened and inhumane
•
being weak and soft that people can manipulate
him into being part of terrible deeds like killing
others
6 “freeze my humanity”
“dragoon me into a lethal automaton”
“make me a cog in a machine”
“a thing with one face”
7 “blow me like thistledown hither and thither”
8 a He does not want to become like a stone. A stone
is hard and cold and lacks emotions / is heartless.
b He does not want to be such a soft, weak person
that people take advantage of him without care /
respect, like spilling water.
9a Yes, if his prayers are answered he should be able
to cope OR He is prepared for the worst in the
world before arriving in it.
b He needs a “white light” to guide him through the
world. This could refer to a pure heart or a clean
spirit, untainted by the evil around him.
10 He could be forced by those around him to kill. E.g.
as a soldier who carries out orders.
11 If a beggar, who has nothing, refuses his gift, it
would be the ultimate rejection. He would need
advice on how to deal with this.
12 He would like to be strong enough to resist being
manipulated and being pushed around by others.
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