Prayer Before Birth by Louis MacNeice

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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22 comments on “Prayer Before Birth by Louis MacNeice
  1. Profile photo of Kerry-Louise Boyne says:

    Through out the poem the poet expresses how an unborn child feels about the world it will soon be corrupted with.

    The unborn child conveys its fear of what the world can do to the innocent, ‘I fear that the human race may with tall walls wall me’ This implies that those who have experience of the world are already destructed and that he fears everything even the human race which should not be seen as a common fear. It does this through the form of prayer which is possibly to God because only he could really understand how he feels, ‘o hear me’; furthermore, he pleads to be saved from the dangers that his future on earth may hold and is already apologising for things he has not yet done, ‘i am not yet born; o forgive me’ This conveys that he knows he will sin even the smallest of things because its in human races will to.

    The tone of this poem can be interpreted in a plethora of different ways. The child seems fearful of the future and as such urgent in his dialect which is portrayed through the short stanzas, ‘my gift and my children curse me.’ This shows how anxious he is feeling because when people are nervous they don’t no what to say and stutter which makes their dialect short. The poem also seems to have an nightmarish feel to it, ‘club-footed ghoul’ The continuous negativity could also illustrate the hopelessness of the situation and show even further that its a child’s mind because of the fairy tale like twists.

    The poem is a plea from an unborn child to a God like figure, ‘o hear me’. It suggests all the horrors that the world may inflict on him, in contrast with the wonders of nature. He will be powerless to stop himself from being used in some way for evil, for which he asks forgiveness. He prays for strength not to be made into a part of a machine, ‘make me a cog in a machine’ which clearly represents an army and war. If this happens, he would rather die.
    The poem highlights the horrors of war by juxtaposing them with the innocence of an unborn child. Although every soldier began in this way, it is somehow much more horrific to imagine them in the context of a baby.The fourth stanza creates an impression of powerlessness. The child will not speak his words or think his thoughts; instead, they will speak or think him. This escalates to the idea of the world using him to commit murder, which is a reference to the war.

  2. Profile photo of Vicky Murkett says:

    Throughout the poem two main themes are constantly emphasised and focused on : innocence and experience. It seems apparent that the poet believes that before birth is the only time when someone is truly innocent and this links to when the unborn baby is asking for forgiveness for ‘the sins that in me the world shall commit’. This shows that despite the child’s innocence , it still knows that it will sin and the word ‘shall’ represents that it is not conditional or inevitable and is in the future tense.
    From this we can understand that the poet is highlighting the evil of human nature which is ‘feared’ by the child and further evidenced by ‘strong drugs dope me’ and ‘with wise lies lure me’. These sins are not the result of deliberate action, however, raising the idea that people are victims of human nature itself.
    The poet also contrasts the experience of humans with nature throughout the poem ‘sky to sing to me’. This positive view and representation of nature and its impact on humans , children in particular as nature is not linked with adults in the poem, contrast with the impact of human being on other human beings.
    Louis later goes on to talk about machinery in an extremely negative way as at the end he says that if he is to become part of it he asks ‘otherwise kill me’. He uses the words ‘cog in a machine’ which shows that man made things are killing humanity and nature and the poet supports this with ‘freeze my humanity’. He shows that he believes the ideas of war and man made products are the cause for killing humanity.

  3. Profile photo of Rhianna King says:

    In the poem ‘Prayer Before Birth’ the ideas of innocence and corruption are addressed.

    Louis MacNeice choose for the entire poem’s narrator to be an unborn child. A baby has connotations of innocence and purity; however, MacNeice suggests that pre-birth is actually the only point in our lives when we truly are innocent and free of sin and corruption. In fact, the baby itself knows that committing sin will be inevitable for them as they implore God to “forgive me/ For the sins that in me the world shall commit”. However, by using the phrase ‘that in me the world will commit’ the baby suggests that they do not have any control over their actions later in life and that the ‘sins’ they will do will not be of their own free accord. This suggests that the society and environment that the baby will be raised and engulfed in will turn the baby into something he does not want to be: corrupt and a sinner.

    This therefore, suggests that the baby is not pleading for his own future but is also praying for human salvation so that the world does not remain a cruel and manipulative place which it currently is to the extent that even an unborn child knows it.

  4. Profile photo of Deana says:

    The poem is written in the style of a prayer, and each stanza begins with describing the speaker as an unborn child in the form of a monologue. It is expressed through the ‘voice of the poem a strong disgusted for the evil world of today. The poem starts off with the unborn child pleading to God to keep him away from the evil creatures ‘bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat…’ The child does this because he believes if he does not encounter these creatures then they will not influence him in the actions that he takes and become evil like the rest of the world. Therefore the child is asking to be protected from such creatures; otherwise he wants to be killed. This is because before birth as the foetus this is the only time we are ever seen as perfect until we enter the world and infected by the bad. Mcneice uses an unborn child to portray his fear of the world as children are symbolised as innocent and fragile. ‘Prayer Before Birth’ suggests that the world will never be able to overcome the cycle of evil that it is falling in to, and this implies that being born into this world should be a scary experience for the fear that the world will turn you evil too.

    The poet effectively displays evil and hellish images to the reader of the devilish world he believes the world is going to turn into. Moreover the poem was written during the event of the Second World War. The phrase ‘a cog in a machine’ suggests that the child did not want to be turned into something valueless and unimportant. This resembles how the soldiers of the Second World War were also treated as worthless beings as their only purpose was to win the war for their country; they were seen as machines not people.

  5. Profile photo of Lauren McCorkell says:

    The poem ‘Prayer Before Birth’ is one of which is supposedly written by a child in the womb of his mother. Through-out it makes references to human nature and how it will destroy him. This child, unborn, with no experience is desperately paying to God before he is born to forgive him of the sins he will commit in this life.

    The first stanza begins with the idea of the supernatural ‘bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the club-footed ghoul’ these are animals of which exist however amung them is the ‘club footed ghoul’. How is an unborn baby supposed to know of that it does not exist, but, you could say as this child shows throughout the poem a great in-depth knowledge of the words evils and it’s temptations it has much experience behind it but does not know the basics of what is real and what is not. This confusion of knowledge shows how innocent this baby truly is, it is not just an intelligent predecessor, it is still extremely pure and childlike.

    ‘I am not yet born; forgive me/ For the sins that in me the world shall commit’ explains how it is part of human nature to sin. The child already knows this before birth showing how he must have been taught this in some way before being conceived or has the child witnessed life before in some way. It infers how the world will nurture the child to make him sin, be corrupt and unjust. It is not natural to be a bad human being but here it is saying how it wont be his fault as the world is an evil place. The child is trying to shift the blame because maybe it is so scared what the punishments may be for living a life of humanity, the child seems to fear God and as I have mentioned before maybe it has witnessed God’s power and intelligence so therefore is the educated in human nature.

    Overall, throughout the poem we are shown how this child who has not even been born fears living in such a corrupt and unjust world. ‘Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me. Otherwise kill me’ connotes how if he has to live in the world of which it will be corrupted it does not want to live. He would prefer to die than become something that he is not.

  6. Profile photo of Rhianna Creasey says:

    In the poem Prayer Before Birth by Louis Macneice, it is based upon a plea from an unborn child to a divine power. It suggests all the horrors that the world may inflict on him, in contrast with the wonders of nature.Macniece creates a horrifying image of the dehumanising effect of war. This is particularly effective because of the juxtaposition of these horrors with the innocence of the unborn child. In doing this, it raises the point that this should not make it more horrific – everyone was an innocent, unborn child once. The theme of innocence is raised elsewhere in the poem, when the child asks to be forgiven for the sins that will be committed in his lifetime. These sins are not the result of deliberate action, however, raising the idea that people are victims of circumstance. This suggestion of powerlessness is continued in the stanza relating to the war machine.

    In the first stanza the poem is thought to be narrated by an unborn baby. This is because the first stanza implies the child’s imagination. The alliteration of b in “Blood-sucking bat” and the line “club-footed ghoul”. Therefore these lexical phrases implies that unborn children are being corrupted by humans in their imagination.

    However, this juxtaposes the third stanza which is the only positive stanza in the poem. This is because it is something that the child wants rather than wants to be protected against. It describes the wonders of nature, which are contrasted with the man-made horrors of the later verses. The final thing it asks for is a light to guide him – effectively a conscience. This is linked to the concept of prayer.

  7. Profile photo of Sofia says:

    In ‘Prayer before birth’ written by Louis MacNeice the concept of innocence and experience are explored.
    The title already suggests that things have gone wrong before birth and the mother is praying; however, it could be the unborn child that is praying before entering the outside world which connotes a sense of fear. In the first stanza, animals and supernatural creatures are mentioned, “…bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the club-footed ghoul,” Here this quotation has negative connotations as well as being associated with fear. A ‘club footed ghoul’ does not exist and therefore portrays that the speaker is not able to tell the difference between supernatural and reality which further conveys a sense of innocence.
    All the stanzas begin in a similar manner, “I am not yet born, console me.” “I am not yet born; forgive me,” The speaker here (which is the unborn baby) is asking God to help him; even though he has not experienced anything, he/she feels that you are only truly innocent before birth and at birth we are corrupted by others such as people’s prejudices and influences that may change who you are which reinforces the idea that you cannot have innocence without experience. The poem is portraying society full of in just people and that the world will make you do things that you do not want to do. Therefore, the unborn baby is praying to God because he/she knows that humans are going to sin so the speaker is asking God for his forgiveness which is the idea that we all act in God’s power and any human act is in God’s name.
    However, the third stanza juxtaposes the corrupt idea of the world that is explored in the rest of the stanzas because the third stanza is positive and includes religious lexis such as “dandle me” which can be referred to baptizing. The words, “White light” can have connotations of heaven and God. It further reinforces the idea of innocence and that the human race is corrupted.

  8. Profile photo of Hannah Gillespie says:

    The poem Prayer Before Birth was written by Louis MacNeice during the second world war. MacNeice shows innocence in many different ways.
    The title ‘Prayer Before Birth’ shows that the speaker is talking to God through the use of the word ‘Prayer’. The title shows that the only time we are truly innocent is before birth and soon after we are corrupted when we enter the world. At the ends of each first line of every stanza, there is a list of instructions, “O hear me”, “console me”, Provide me”, “forgive me”, “rehearse me” and “O fill me.” These instructions seem to be the child in the womb asking for help to stop him from becoming human. The entire poem is about the concept of innocence and the corrupting nature of human’s existence.

  9. Profile photo of Phoebe Cushion says:

    The poem ‘Prayer Before Birth’, by Louise MacNeice, is written from the point of view of an unborn child and is addressing God in the form of a prayer.
    The unborn child is conveying their fears of the world that they are about to be exposed to. As the child is not yet born, they have not experienced the world and are therefore innocent. “Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the
    club-footed ghoul come near me” supports the idea that the child is innocent as they cannot distinguish between what creatures are real and harmless, and those that are supernatural and supposedly dangerous.
    The speaker fears many aspects of the world. One fear that they have is the prejudices of the human race. “I fear that the human race may with tall walls wall me,” exemplifies this fear of peoples’ prejudices narrowing the speaker’s thoughts.

  10. Profile photo of Evelina Peterson says:

    The poem “Prayer before birth” is the dramatic monologue from the perspective of an un-born child, who expresses their disgust in the world of which it soon will be faced with. The two main themes which the writer emphasises on are ‘innocence’ and ‘experience’ and how both of them contradict and affect each other. The writer portrays his idea that a human is only innocent went it has not yet entered the real-world, before it comes face to face with the ‘human race’ which influence him to become evil. “Human race may with tall walls wall me”. Throughout the poem, various references to human nature are made, saying how this will destroy the innocence of the child. The unborn-child pleads for God to keep him away from all the creatures which he deems as harmful; those who may change its purity into something other than that “Let not the blood-sucking bat or the rat or the stoat”. The connotations of a corrupted society is further portrayed in “for the sins that in me the world shall commit” where the child already knows it shall commit sins, due to the heavy role evil plays in society, further showing the corrupting nature of human existence.

  11. Profile photo of Ellie says:

    In the poem Prayer Before Birth by Louis MacNeice it is written by a baby who is no yet born addressing God with a prayer.
    The idea of innocence is portrayed throughout the poem. “For the sins that in me the world shall commit” this conveys the corrupted world where it makes you do bad things making you no longer as innocent and as pure as you was when you was born.
    “Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the club-footed ghoul come near me”. This furthermore has connotations of innocence hence them not being able to tell the difference between creatures who are actually real and cause no harm to those who are super-natural and meant to be dangerous.

  12. Profile photo of Georgina King says:

    “I am not yet born”, the phrase repeated at the beginning of each stanza within ‘Prayer Before Birth’, is used to reinforce the innocence of the speaker and their incapability to have committed a sin. They pray for forgiveness and help to overcome the flaws already within their DNA. This implies that the unborn person can predict what sins they are likely to commit due to the imperfections and corruption within humans. The speaker says “O fill me/ With strength against those who… would dragoon me into a lethal automaton… make me a cog in a machine,” to show that man is corrupt through the lies and tainting of innocence immediately after birth. Everyone is therefore corrupted and innocence ceases to exist as people are fashioned through society into a sinful and dangerous person; people are no longer individuals as they mimic each other’s behaviour and become a danger to future generations who will mimic them. As a result, after birth humans become “a cog in a machine”, a metaphorical machine being used to destroy humanity, and each individual person plays a part in the destruction. However, throughout the poem there seems no escape from becoming corrupt; there is no solution to resolve the sins or prevent them from happening. Therefore, is corruption destiny? The poet raises this as despite the prayers of the innocent, an omnipotent God is yet to change humanity. And without change, future people will become corrupt but they have no way to avoid it. People are therefore presented by the author as irresponsible for the sins the world commits as there is no way for them to change it. The events that often occur after birth are inevitable as a result.

  13. Profile photo of Jake Leggat says:

    The poem ‘A prayer before birth’ includes many religious ideas throughout, mainly because the poem is a prayer, hence the name the poem is given. Louis MacNeice decides to begin each stanza with the phrase ‘I am not yet born’, followed by a command. The command which, for me, has the most religious connotations is the instruction ‘forgive me.’ This is interesting, because the person is not yet born, but is already asking for forgiveness. People ask for forgiveness from God when they have sinned, therefore the poet is saying that as soon as the baby is born and enters the world, there is no way of shopping him from sinning. MacNeice could be saying this because he believes that the world is so corrupt and has so many defects, that as soon as we are born it is inevitable that we will sin. However he could also be asking for forgiveness because some people believe that nobody is perfect apart from Jesus, so the only time you are perfect and haven’t sinned is before you are born. The poet could be saying that it is a human flaw that we are not perfect, and it is in our nature to sin. All these ideas cumulate to the point in which we can conclude that MacNeice is saying that we live in a fallen world that is not perfect, and has many flaws, some made by humans.

  14. Profile photo of amy p says:

    The poem ‘Prayer Before Birth,” has many connotations of innocence and experience. For example, in the first stanza, creatures such as the “club-footed ghouls,” “stout,” “rat,” and “bat,” are mentioned. This represents how the narrator, an unborn baby, cannot distinguish between the supernatural and reality, thus emphasizing their innocence.

    The poem also conveys how corrupt the world is. The quote “tall walls wall me,” connotes prejudice and how people judge other people. However the second stanza utilizes the quote “birds and white light,” to portray imagery of positivity and heaven. This implies that there is still hope and juxtaposes previous ideas of prejudice and racism. In addition the phrase “forgive,” highlights how it is in human nature to sin and so the narrator needs ‘consoling,’ and that no-one is perfect except Jesus.

  15. Profile photo of Brooke Roberts says:

    ‘Prayer before birth’ by Louis MacNeice uses repetition. The line ‘I am not yet born’ is repeated seven times, at the start of every stanza. Each time it is followed by a pleed such as ‘O hear me’, ‘provide me’ or ‘rehearse me’. this portrays the idea that even before a child is born it is needy. This also illustrates the things a mother does for her child which suggests this is who the unborn child is adressing.

    One pleed the child makes is ‘forgive me’. This suggests that even before entering the world it has sinned. However, this idea is changed when the next line says ‘for the sins tat in my the world shall commit.’ Although this is a complexed thought and not one an unborn baby would think of, the fcat that the child is almost balming the world for it’s sins connotes a childish aspect to the adult idea.

  16. Profile photo of Katie Scott says:

    The poem ‘Prayer Before Birth’ by Louis MacNeice begins by describing beings to be feared such as the “bat”, “rat” and “stoat” which are separated by the beginning of a new line, from the final being, the “club-footed ghoul”. The use of the phrase “club-footed” portrays images of the devil and the supernatural, as they are all linked to death and the afterlife. The separation of the concepts of reality and the supernatural implies that the unborn speaker is attempting to display knowledge on what the living may be considered oblivious to. However, it is the writer that distinguishes between the supernatural and reality, not the speaker, which suggests inexperience and naivity.
    The use of punctuation is very significant in the next stanza; the use of a comma opposed to using a full stop makes the break shorter, as though the two clauses are closer related. This could symbolise the connection between a mother and her unborn child, indicating that they are loved and incredibly similar to those already living, therefore strongly discouraging abortion – a sin of mankind.
    The poem has a plethora of religious connotations, especially in the fourth stanza. “… the sins that in me the world shall commit…” This creates the image of Jesus, who died on the cross for the sins of humanity; much alike the other quotation “murder by means of my hands” which demonstrates his death on the cross.

  17. Profile photo of charlie says:

    Prayer before birth is written in the view of a foetus in the womb. The poem has themes of inexperience,corruption and innocence. The title portrays that the foetus is praying to Jesus because he knows he is going to sin and the foetus is praying because it has a fear of the real world. MacNeice uses the poem to illustrate the idea of that we are only innocent before birth. “Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the club footed ghoul come near me” mentions real creatures and not real creatures which portrays the innocence of the foetus as it does not know the difference between real and not real.

    “I am not born yet, console me” shows that the foetus wants reassurance that everything will be ok when they are born and that nothing bad will happen in their life. The use of the comma breaks up the line and highlights the importance of the word “console” which shows that it is important for the foetus to have reassurance and needs it. “tall walls wall me” paint a picture of the hospital where the baby will be born and how the baby feels isolated by all of the walls around them. “wise lies lure me” portrays the people’s prejudice and how the foetus fears it and highlights how the reader feels about it.”blood baths roll me” evokes that there was a complication with the birth which creates a sense of fear and danger. Throughout the poem there is a lot of references to religion, in the 3rd stanza it focuses on nature and refers to the 7 days of the creation of the world which evokes the idea of that we act in God’s power so any human act is in God’s name. “let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God come near me” refers to the devil and that the foetus wants protection so that he cannot be harmed by the devil or anything bad. The last stanza portrays how powerful God is. The rhyme scheme lures you into the second stanza which shows that the writer is intelligent.

  18. Profile photo of Jessica mccullagh says:

    The poem “prayer before birth” is based massively upon the innocence of an unborn child, and the fears of the hazards of the outside world. Juxtaposing this, the wonder of nature and natural elements. “With wise lies lure me” this suggests the unborn child is worried that outside world will change them and people will manipulate them into becoming something they don’t want to be. Additionally, it could also portray that the unborn child will be heavily influential. This is supported where it says “I am not yet born; forgive me” this shows us that the unborn child knows that the world will make them sin, thus is apologising in advance.

  19. Profile photo of Yasmin Aumeeruddy says:

    ‘Prayer Before Birth’ by Louis MacNeice illustrates the fear that the unborn child has towards the evil in the world. This is presented by the mentioning of animals and the speaker addresses this to God. “Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the club-footed ghoul come near me” The unborn child asks God to keep him safe from these nocturnal creatures as the foetus is aware that harm may be caused by them. The worry conveyed in the poem is highlighted as the corruption of society and the unborn child is aware that being exposed to this is how the foetus will lose its innocence.
    Furthermore, an instruction to God displays that the unborn child does not yet take responsibility for becoming experienced instead of innocent. “Forgive me/ For the sins that in me the world shall commit.” This demonstrates the knowledge that the foetus has about sins that society force others to commit and illustrates how an unborn child is not to blame for the loss of innocence as its sins are inevitable. Thus, the unborn child is pleading for forgiveness before it has gained experience.

  20. Profile photo of Sophie Thomas says:

    Prayer Before Birth by Louis MacNeice states many different thoughts and feelings through-out. Some of these are represented through the theme of Society and it’s impact upon people.

    At the beginning of each stanza, MacNeice uses the phrase “I am not born yet;…console me…forgive me…rehearse me…”. From this we understand that MacNeice is speaking in the person of an unborn child- this character hold connotations if innocence and inexperience; however, the phrases “console me…forgive me” etc, state that the child has already done something wrong juxtaposing the previous connotations.
    MacNeice further explains how he fears that the “human race may with tall walls wall me, with strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me…”. MacNeice generalises the human race as one; not as individuals- this suggests that he is taking about society on a whole and the effect it has on previously ‘innocent’ people. He states that “with tall walls wall me”, this suggests that society will capture him and trap high within it’s inescapable “tall walls” in which are superior to his individual. This portrays how MacNeice feels about the society believes in and how he feels it is hard to escape the effect and almost seemingly curse that society has on the human race.

  21. Profile photo of Meg Abery says:

    The poem ‘Pray before birth’ was written by Louis MacNeice as a dramatic monolog spoken by an unborn baby, this allowed MacNeice to expresses his strong views on the human life. In the first stanza he begins by asking God to protect him from various dangerous creatures that may harm him such as ‘blood sucking bats’ and land ‘rats’. The poet tone is that of a negative style as he merely talks of dark and dreary things such as fear and does not wish to speak of joy, he makes this evident as his style of writing and use of vivid language and imagery creates a poignant tone evoking the reader’s personal fears to recollection. The poet sees the society turning its members into uncaring human beings unable to think for themselves because of pressure from other people surrounding them, this could be intact the writers fear that the human race is Turing its back on the true meaning and essence of life.

  22. Profile photo of jenna says:

    Throughout the poem “Prayer before birth” the author uses repetition. The first line of each stanza begins “I am not yet born” followed by a preposition. “I am not yet born… O hear me… Console me… Provide me… Forgive me… Rehearse me… O hear me… O fill me.” These phrases are from the unborn baby to the mother. These are demonstrations of the things that a mother does for her child whilst carrying him/her in the womb. The repetition of “I am not yet born” emphasises the relationship between a mother and her child as it illustrates that even before birth a child relies on the love and care provided by its mother which keeps it alive.
    However, the phrases such as “O hear me” and “Provide me” could connote an unhealthy relationship between a mother and her child. The repetition and different prepositions could be used to illustrate the unborn child pleading for the mother to care for it, this reinforces the need for repetition in each stanza which suggests desperation of the phoetus.

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