Friday, September 02, 2005

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.

(by Louis MacNeice)

I always feel moved when I read this poem. The odd little abstract phrases that convey very real fears. The idea that an unborn child may yet live life as a meaningless 'thing'. The portrayal of so many things that are done 'to' a person, and so few that are done 'for'.

I recall reading somewhere that the shape and length of each verse/stanza is related to the stages of childbirth (or something similar). I wouldn't know, but it seems to fit. The newborn coming into the world with 'Otherwise kill me' makes for a rather melancholy start to life!

But the poem also reminds me of the playful spirituality that helps make us human, and of the paths we can take that help make us inhuman.


Blogger Rob said...

By 'eck! Your post took me back. O spotted the title in the list of posts and had a flashback to when I was about fourteen, doing choral speaking in school. Don't know if people do it much these days, but it does what it says on the tin: a bunch of guys (we were an all-boys' school) speaking in unison. One of the pieces we did, and the one that has stuck in my mind, was "Prayer Before Birth". Choral speaking makes you very conscious of the rhythm of a poem, and this one had terrific rhythm. I didn't know about the stanza lengths being connected with birth stages: must look that up.

Actually, the only line I always had slight doubts about, as making a slightly cracked note among the chimes, is "would dragoon me into a lethal automaton". Is it just me or does that clunk just a bit?

And thinking of "Otherwise kill me" being a melancholy start to life, remember Pozzo in "Waiting For Godot"? "They give birth astride of a grave. The light gleams an instant, then it's night once more." I suppose the juxtaposition of Macneice's "playful spirituality" and somewhat gloomy prognosis is no stranger than a line like Beckett's in what is for the most part a very funny play indeed.

Anyway, thank you for reminding me of the poem.

3:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the poet leavs the reqader with a sense that the unborn child's plea wil fall on deaf ears which is perhaps symbolised by there only being 8 stanzas as opposed to 9 which would signify the 9 complete months of pregnancy.

4:30 AM  
Blogger matt said...

I particualarly enjoyed your analysis which "I" thought was very good and "not" bad in any way. I did not feel "born" until i read this post As Wham said at a petrol station gig "fill me" up before you go go. Your use of random "quotes" was very insightful as it shows you obvious do not "rehearse" what you put on these posts. I also found that the stanzas represent Dale Whinton's perfectly combed hair (or something like that). "Good bye"

8:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good poem good poem

3:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This poem makes me feel asif someone punched me in the stomach as it is actually so true that everything we say or do is determined and controlled by the 'big guys' through propaganda. the thing that was most gripping for me is the structure and the use of 'Biblical' word such as "O" "console" "provide" forgive" "fill" makes the poem seem like a prayer.But since he isnt born yet its kind of ironic that he knows about all of these evio things as children in general dont really notice the cruelty of the world like adults do.That made me think that maby the whole poem could be a 'prayer' of the mother on behalf of the unborn child, trying to protect him from the dangers and cruelty of life. i dont know , maby im way off track..just want an opinion because we're writing exam about this poem ...

4:49 PM  
Anonymous Beverley said...

This a prayer that the writer is uttering before HIS birth and one, i think, that we would all reiterate. It is a prayer that we will not have to experience the things written about but also that we will be able to deal with them without becoming a stone. To those of us in later life who have experienced these things i can only say that our situation is hopeful because we have the final freedom of choosing how to react when these things are done to us. We do not have to become stones and can retain our humanity even in the worst situations

6:56 AM  
Anonymous Mrinalini said...

I had to learn this poem in the tenth grade,and it's one of my favorites.My english teacher pointed out that the stanzas are in the form of a womb.
This poem really got to me,as I was only 15 at the time(now I'm 18) because of the last line,which says "Otherwise kill me",as it leaves you with this disturbing thought that the unborn baby would rather die.

11:22 PM  

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