(Poem #1039) 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 to 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.
I love the headlong momentum of this poem. MacNeice's poetry is usually delicately balanced, informed by a world of possibility (and uncertainty). Not so "Prayer before Birth", in which phrase piles on phrase in a desperate catalogue of the perils of contemporary life. The cascading lines, heavy in their use of internal rhymes and repetitions, assonances and alliteration, are insistent, driving, a crazed litany; they're powerful, yet wonderfully poignant. The unborn child speaking this dramatic monologue could be any of us. thomas. [Minstrels Links] Louis MacNeice: Poem #18, Bagpipe Music Poem #521, The Suicide Poem #757, The Sunlight on the Garden Poem #864, Snow Various prayers: Poem #177, Where The Mind is Without Fear -- Rabindranath Tagore Poem #344, The Navajo Night Way Ceremony -- Anon. (Navajo) Poem #349, A Prayer to the Sun -- Geoffrey Hill Poem #987, Prayer -- Carol Ann Duffy Poem #1007, Abide With Me -- Henry F. Lyte Poem #1020, A Prayer for My Daughter -- William Butler Yeats Poem #1029, Prayer (to the sun above the clouds) -- Piet Hein [Somewhat Technical Afterthought] "Prayer before Birth" may look like free verse, but it's actually carefully structured. Apart from the devices mentioned above, note the extensive use of dactyls (metrical feet of one stressed and two unstressed syllables), which contribute to the cadence of the poem: my thoughts when they think me - / - - / - my treason engendered by traitors beyond me, - / - - / - - / - - / - my life when they murder by means of my hands, - / - - / - - / - - / The poet also uses the occasional spondee (two consecutive stresses) to prevent the rhythm from becoming monotonous: 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. - / / / - - / / / -