Prayer Before Birth
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Prayer before birth is a poem written by the Irish poet Louis McNeice (1907 - 1963) at the height of the Second World War. In the poem, Louis MacNeice expresses his fear at what the world's tyranny can do to the innocence of a child and blames the human race "for the sins that in me the world shall commit". The poem also contains many religious themes and overtones through the use of double-imagery; the child could be seen as a metaphor for Christ, making reference to certain themes and events said to have occurred during his ministry on earth.
There is great use of alliteration and assonance: "strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me" to create rhythm in the poem. Also repetition of "I am not yet born" is used to emphasise innocence. MacNeice also talks of being a "cog in a machine" - this shows that he feels that society will mould the child to become part of everything else around him, he will be worthless, insignificant and merely a part of an entire collaboration. This also links in with the First and Second World Wars, where soldiers were "dragooned" into being an "automaton".
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The poem is an agonized plea from the mouth of an unborn infant in its mother's womb. The child seeks protection from the Divine and begs forgiveness for all the deeds of evil that it shall commit once it is out of the mother's protective care. Dramatic in intensity, the poem makes a sweeping statement on the deplorable state of the world. Living is a painful experience, being born is a terrifying one. The child's plea is a representation of the poet's anguish, grief and fear in a world that has steadily metamorphosed into a hell. The poet paints a picture of a world devoid of compassion, love and remorse through the haunting appeal of the unborn infant. The poem reflects the poet's utter dejection and hopelessness expressing the thought that the world will not correct itself, but perpetuate its evils in an ever-ascending spiraling pattern of violence. The foregone conclusion that the child will live a life of treason and its apology proffered in advance for its death after it has lived as a "lethal automaton", offers a picture of a world akin to nothing but hell.