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Prayer before birth -Introduction to Literary Studies I

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Prayer before Birth

Louis MacNeice
Proseminar-Paper

Introduction to Literary Studies I

1 Prayer before Birth 1

2 Introduction 2

3 Lyric Speech Situation 3

4 Theme 3

5 General Structure 4

6 Metre and Rhythm 4

7 Rhymes and Other Sound Patterns 5

8 Rhetorical Figures on the Morphological and on the Syntactic Level 5

9 Semantic Structure 6

10 Conclusion 8

11 Bibliography 9

12 Webliography 9

1      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.

Louis MacNeice

2      Introduction

Dealing with literature poses always a challenge. Especially to analyse profound literature as the poem Prayer before Birth from Louis MacNeice, requires a high amount of knowledge about the author’s life and backgroundinformation. Most people do not know much about the author, and therefore wounder about the negativeness and the actual meaning of his works.

Nevertheless, the depressing temper of his works is not surpriseing at all.

His sceptical personality is a result of his educational background and childhood. Louis MacNeice is one of those persons, whose childhood experiences remain crucial a life-long. He spend his early years almost solely with his family – his mother, his mental ill brother, his sister and his father. Due to the very close relationship to his mother, MacNeice suffered from her illness and her sudden death.

He expresses his feelings about this event in the poem Autobiography. Furthermore, his first marriage ended with divorce, that is described in The Strings are False. Also the political happenings left their marks on Louis MacNeice. Many companions of MacNeice have left records of his adult personality, which is particularly described as shy, suspicious of ex.....[read full text]

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However, the poem continues to become more negative and ends with the words “otherwise kill me” – the instruction from the speaker to kill him/herselfe if he/she can not avoid all the negativeness described in the lines before.

6      Metre and Rhythm

The metre in the poem is extremely unregular. However, it shows an interesting rhythmic structure. Due to the use of numerous rhetorical figures and the selection of words, the author creates a special rhythm. The rhythm is mainly fast-paced. Especially the use of internal rhymes and alliteration supports the hectic rhythm. Another factor, that creates and intensifies the rhythm is the use of more than one element (e. g. alliteration, internal rhyme, metaphore, figura etymologica…) within a single line.

Furthermore, MacNeice conciously selected his words, for example, “the bloodsucking bat…wise lies lure…racks rack…my treason engenderd by traitors beyond me…to doom…my children curse me…”, these are words that sound very gloomy when the are read out aloud, which is another factor that helps to create rhythm.

7      Rhymes and Other Sound Patterns

In the poem we find internal rhymes, for example, 1st stanza “bat or the rat” and 5th stanza “old men lecture me, bureaucrats hector me”. It emphazises the hectic and tragedy expressed throughout the whole poem. The persona pleads for help, when his/her freedom, his/her decisions are affected by anyone. Not only the meaning, but already the sound of these words evoke rather negative associations to the reader.

Additionally, the internal rhymes contibute also to the rhythm of the poem.
Futhermore, MacNeice makes frequent use of alliteration, for instance, 2nd stanza “with tall walls wall me, with strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me…”. This lines are very intense, due to the use of numerous sound effects and rhetorical figures. “with tall walls wall me” is alliteration and coevally it includes a figura etymologica, the same is true for “racks rack me”.
Another interesting feauture can be seen in the last stanza “blow me like thistledown hither and thither or hither and thither”.

This example is onomatopoeia, the words hither and thither immitate a slow movement, like the seeds of dandalions blowing in the wind.
Moreover, MacNeice uses words which sound very murky, for instance, “with wise lies lure me, on black racks rack me, in blood-baths roll me .and the desert calls me to doom…and my children curse me…let not the man who is beast…would dragoon me into a lethal automaton”.

The use of these words lead to the fact that the poem is very negative, depressing and pessimistic.

8      Rhetorical Figures on the Morphological and on the Syntactic Level

The author uses many rethorical figures to intensify the poem. For example, “with tall walls wall me”, MacNeice uses alliteration and at the same time it is a figura etymologica, due to this he creates a special rhythem. Furthermore, the rather frequent use of this rhetorical figures intensifyes the meanings. The persona is afraid of being caged, not only in a physically sense, but rather in a psychical sense.

The persona fears that someone would heist his/her freedom, would forbid him/her to take decisions on one’s own and make the speaker to a puppet on a string. In order to meet the requirements of this bad forces, they had to tell him/her lies to destroy all the good of the speaker’s soul, the speaker would have to take drugs, to become stronger and more powerful.
Also in the next lines of the 2nd stanza the author uses the same stucture. “on black racks rack me”, for example, is again alliteration combined with .....

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9      Semantic Structure

Metaphors are one of the most importand figures in this poem, especially antropomorphizing metaphors. For example, “Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the club-footed ghoul come near me.” MacNeice conciously uses animals with rather bad connotations, animals who are known for dispersing illnesses and dealing with the powers of darkness, who stand for the human race.

The human race is described as very bad. The persona fears that they would suck out his/her blood or the good of his/her soul or even the life.
On the semantic level the 3rd stanza is very interessting, because it is the only stanza with a positiv atmosphere. “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 guid me.” These lines show the beauty of the world and the good things people can do as well as it expresses again the wishes of the speaker but this time without a negative attitude. “water to dandle me” is an anthropromorphizing metaphore.

The speaker is the tenor, who wishes for someone to dandle/protect him/her and to feel safe and secure (the water as the vehicle). Furthermore, he/she longs for someone to talk to. The persona would like many different people to communicate, everyone of this ”trees” has other experiences and point of views, due to this, one can learn many things from the variety of people. (“trees to talk to me” – an antropromorphizing metaphore, tenor = lyric “I”, vehicle = trees). ”A sky to sing to me” is again an anthropromorphizing metaphore, which could also express the speakers wish for someone who talks to him/her.

Like a beautifull sunny sky, the persona wants many warmhearted fellow men and does not want to let the evil come near him/her and capture him/her.
”birds and a white light in the back of my mind to guid me” – The bird stands for freedom in all areas of life and light heartedness, like a bird in the sky, who does whatever it wants to and is independent. Furthermore the speaker requests to be kind-hearted, the colour white stands for the good.

He/she wants to avoid to be ill-natured and to be governed by ill-natured.
The lyric “I” pleads for forgiveness in the 4th stanza. However, the persona asks for forgiveness for the sins that so.....

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The simile shows the caducity of life. The water (vehicle), that somewone holds in his/her hands and plays with it stands for the speakers life (tenor). As one can play with water – to see-saw it, to drop it down and pick it up again, spill it… – some kind of spiritual being (e. g. God, Buddah, Allah, etc.) or even humans can play with someone’s life.
”Let them not make me a stone” – an anthropromorphizing metaphore.

The lyric “I” is the tenor, who does not want to become cold, feelingless and ignorant, rather unimportand and unremarkable, like a stone (the stone is the vehicle).
Throughout the poem the speaker asks for consolation, however the last stanza is different. It beginns with “I am not yet born; O fill me” but ends with “otherwise kill me”. This sounds like extortion.

If the persona does not get what he/she demanded (a good life, freedom, etc) he/she does not even want to be borne.

10   Conclusion

As this proseminar paper hopefully shows, analysing a poem or a piece of literature and paying attention to certain techniques an author can use to cause certain effects can easily change the readers perception of a text. Moreover, it emphazises our awareness of the fact, that a poem is not only a poem, but has a certain message to transmit and in the majority of cases one has to take a closer look at the poem in order to try to understand what the author realy wanted to say.
This poem provides a perfect insight in the world of ideas of someone who sufferd a rather unhappy childhood, affected by illnesses, war or/and to be an orphan.

Therefore, it nudges the reader to start thinking about one’s life and all the negative and positive aspects of the world we are living in. Certainly, not every reader will have the same mental attitude as the author, but, in our world we are never satisfied and everything seems to be insuficient. However, when we start thinking, we come to the conclusion that we have everything we need, but there are other parts of the world where people do not have the same level of living.
Louis MacNeice has created a piece of literature, which offers much material to think about for the reader.

The totally depressing, murky and negative temper throughout the whole poem and the lyric speech situation creates a special atmosphere. Therefore, only the thoughtfull reader can understand what is h.....

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