It was once said that “poetry uses the best words in the best order.” In many cases, poetry helps us associate the given situation with our life and feelings. “Prayer Before Birth”, written by Louis Macneice during a time of conflict, uses various technical devices such as soaring stanzas, a progressing structure, chanting rhythm and confronting imagery to strengthen the message of the poem: corrupted and turbulent society we live today and the affected future generation.Throughout the poem, we find series of contrasting and confronting images that emphasizes the violence and the corrupt nature of humankind.
“I am not yet born; O hear me”. The idea of a baby looking for attention and care before it is born is very confronting to the “Blood baths”, “Black racks” and “tall walls” that the “human race” provides. The use of these conflicting images and the baby pleading creates a powerful voice, with a sense of innocence that expose the reality we live in.In order reinforce this message; the poet uses juxtaposed imagery in stanzas two, three and four. Stanza two contains images of conflict such as “strong drugs”, “wise lies”, “blood baths” and “black racks”. These images describe situations where an outer influence affects your physical body and mind.
In contrast, stanza three contains positive imagery such as “water to dandle me”, “grass to grow for me” and “a white light in the back of my mind to guide me”. These images are necessities that all babies need. Indeed, this short and positive pause implies a more negative and impacting effect on the next stanza. Stanza four is embodied with images of the reality we live in; the reality we give to the babies. “…Sins that.
..the world shall commit..
. treason engendered by traitors…murder…death.
” These words seem to stand out and impact our conscience, as we were previously focusing on what babies deserve. The poet uses juxtaposed imagery to magnify the confronting feelings between what babies deserve and what reality gives to babies.The poem’s development shows a progression of ideas in contrasting and confronting images. The ideas start weakly with childhood fears such as “bloodsucking bat” and “club-footed ghoul” and then moves on to stronger images as shown in stanza seven: “lethal automaton” and “cog in machine.” These images become stronger and more confronting. This causes a build up of emotions andThere is a further progression of ideas in the development of the baby.
“O hear me…provide me.
” At the beginning of each line, there is a plea; this could be anyone of us. Firstly, babies need to be heard in this world. Secondly, it needs to be consoled for it sees all the grief in this world.
Thirdly, it must be provided for, as it is a burden. With provision comes the chance of evil, hence the forgiving. It then needs rehearsing to be corrected and then it needs support to be “filled…with strength against those who would freeze my humanity”.
“I am not yet Born” is the statement made at the beginning of each stanza. This is used to intensify the message of the poem and it is used to reinforce the confronting emotions, since it indicates a child pleading before birth, before it could ever experience anything from this world. It is very persistent, because it appears at the beginning of each stanza. This stress the urgency for change in this world before is too late; before the baby is born.The verbs at the beginning of each stanza are imperative. This suggests the idea that the baby is giving orders to God to change this world of sin and provide the baby “water to dandle”, “trees to grow” and a “white light”. This stresses the fact that the poem is a prayer, as the title “prayer before Birth” suggest.
This makes it confronting to the reader, since this “prayer” is not answered but is ignored and contradicted by this world of “treason”, “murder” and “sins”.The repetitive use of personal pronouns such as “I”, “me” and “my”, throughout the poem echoes persistently to the reader. Babies are egocentric and self-centered; they only focus and care for themselves.
This highlight the fact that the baby is pleading only for itself and only cares for its troubles and conflicts. The use of this device creates a feeling of persistence and urgency to answer its prayer, which causes the reader to feel compassion towards the unborn baby.Prayer before Birth uses Dactyls (metrical feet of one stressed and two unstressed syllables) to make the poem sound like a religious chant praying for help, or like an interior monologue.My thoughts when they think me- / – – / -My treason engendered by traitors beyond me,- / – – / – – / – – / – -The poet occasionally uses spondee feet (two consecutive stresses) to prevent rhythm from becoming too monotonous and repetitive.I fear that the human race may with tall walls wall me,- / – – / – / – – / / / -with strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me,- / / / – – / / / -“Old men lecture me, bureaucrats hector me”. The cascading lines, heavy in their use of internal rhymes and repetition, assonance and alliteration, are insistent and powerful.
The shape of the stanzas is like a growing womb, swelling bigger and bigger as the poem progresses. There is an image of urgency; since it creates tension to the reader and makes us want to find out what happens to the womb before it burst. Yet stanza eight appears flat and small compared to the previous ones. This is because stanza eight represents the birth of the unborn baby. This structural feature helps the development of the poem.
“Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me. Otherwise kill me”. In the final stanza the unborn baby makes this ultimatum to force a change. The baby chooses to be “killed” rather than to be converted to a “stone.” The word “stone” connotes a senseless being. “Spill me” is polysemous; it can mean two things, “spill” as in birth, since the waters “spill” in the womb when the baby is about to be born and “spill” as in spilling blood; killing.
The baby decides to die pure and innocent rather than to live and be like a “cog in a machine” or a “lethal automaton” in this conflicting sinful world.”O fill me with strength against those who could freeze my humanity”. Macneice makes good use of juxtaposed imagery, confronting imagery and swelling stanzas to convey the message of the poem. Macneice uses the image of a baby talking before it is born to make the reader understand the desires of human beings and to make us feel compassionate towards the future generation. The poet overshadows the benevolence and kindness in nature with the negative aspects of humanity.
Although this poem does not have a particular audience, it is directed to everyone in general. This unborn child speaking this dramatic monologue could be any one of us.