Sunday, November 11, 2012

Prayer Before Birth by Louis MacNeice

Here I reproduce a marvellous poem by Louis MacNeice, a great under-estimated and under-read poet having lingered under the shadow of Eliot and more under W. H Auden, getting ritually clubbed with Stephen Spender and C. Day Lewis under 'the poets of the Thirties'.

About this poem, I take this opening para from ‘Prayer before birth is a poem written by the Irish poetLouis McNeice (1907 - 1963) at the height of the Second World War. In the poem, Louis MacNeice expresses his fear at what the world's tyranny can do to the innocence of a child 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.’

However, the poem is open to varied interpretations and I find the emotions, images and inner turmoil of the poem so very contemporary with the last two lines putting Hopkins' ‘sprung rhythm’ experimentation to  convey a most effective jolt to the reader. One can hear the poet read this poem at


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.


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