Louis Macneice--Irish/British

       
Louis MacNeice
(1907-1993)

 

Born in 1907 in Belfast, Ireland, Louis MacNeice attended Oxford majoring in classics and philosophy. In 1941, he became a staff writer and producer for the British Broadcasting Company (BBC). While at the BBC, Macneice wrote plays and became a well-published poet. Throughout his professional career Macneice found himself being critical of politics. His poem, “Prayer before Birth,” written during World War II, expresses his concern for what influence the world’s tyranny can have on an unborn child. Macneice died at the age of 55 following a short illness with pneumonia. His last book of poems, The Burning Perch, was published in the year of his death, 1963.

 

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 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.