Louis MacNeice - Prayer before Birth
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I am not yet born; O hear me,
Let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God
come near me.
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.
Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me.
Otherwise kill me.
(Ok now I will explain it as best possible)
The poet looks through the eyes of an unborn child at all the fears that face modern humanity, and asks God (or humanity?) to spare him these terrors.
The first fear refers to all the frightening things of the night, both real and imaginary.
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.
The poet makes a plea for the good things of life which today are fast disappearing: clean water, love, forests, birds and purity ("white light") as a guide.
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.
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.
- Note the metaphor of the stage.
- Note too the extended personification: mountains frowning, deserts calling, etc.
A plea is made that tyrants and autocrats (like Adolph Hitler) may not be allowed to come near him.
He asks for the strength not to become a killing machine ("lethal automaton") 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 ("blow me like thistledown hither and thither")
- or spilt as if he were just water.
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 poet examines the despair which faces modern man.
- Social pressure and prejudice are today almost unstoppable.
- The poet makes an impassioned plea for children to be able to lead lives free from this.
There is a sense, however, that his plea will fall on deaf ears.