The State of the World Illustrated in MacNeice's Poem, Prayer Before Birth

The State of the World Illustrated in MacNeice's Poem, Prayer Before Birth

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In prayer before birth, Louis MacNeice uses a baby to convey his thoughts and emotions on the current state of the world. MacNeice wishes to emphasize how harsh and ruthless the world is, and how it can strip away a young unborn baby of its innocence. The poem, ‘Prayer Before Birth’ is a dramatic monologue giving voice to a child in the womb, as yet unspoiled by the ways of the world he is about to enter, and a clean slate on which the world will write his fate.
The poem is set out like an appeal, a cry for help. The title itself, using the word "prayer" shows that the baby is trying to get help for something which troubles him- which raises a question; why would a soon-to-be born fetus that has its whole life strewn in front of it be worrying about ‘sins’ that he hasn’t even gotten the chance to commit. We find it strange that a fetus has the ability to think or even ‘narrate’ such a poem, suggesting how even though he isn’t yet subjected to it, the evil omen outside is so intense that he could sense it from within his mother’s womb.
The poem flows from stanza to stanza in a rapid incantation of all the possible dangers the child may face beginning with the creatures of fable and nightmare, and moving on rapidly to include the horrors created by humanity.
The most relevant technique that MacNeice uses is the irregular structure of the poem. Although it is presented as a prayer, the subject matter is contrasted to be vulgar, morbid and violent, heightening the effect all the more. The varied length of the stanzas and lines is a mere reflection of the chaos in the world. The deterioration of humanity is effectively brought out through the cascading lines in the poem – we are left with the feeling that with every second that pas...


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... breathless sentence and the repetition of words and sounds show the agitation of the speaker. At this point, the reader has had the catalogue of possible evils given to him - and now the child prays to be taught how to cope with the worst that the world may throw at him or he will end up a man totally undone, completely lost.
Overall, by the end of the poem, we are filled with disdain and disapproval of the state our world has come to. Louis MacNeice has brought us face to face with the undeniable reality through the eyes of an unborn baby. Moreover, as the child is not yet part of the world, the truth is delivered without bias and we come to grips with the actual state of things. The poet has suitably used language to depict a world of corruption and to open our eyes to the horrific truth we shield ourselves from.


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prayer before birth - louis macneice

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