In a ‘Prayer
before Birth’, the poet, Louis MacNeice uses a variety of literary language to
get their point across but also to add effect to their writing.
example of this in ‘Prayer before birth’ is the use of the anaphoric refrain ‘I
am not yet born’ at the beginning of every stanza except the last. This reminds
the reader that the narrator of this poem is still not born. This adds effect
by making us as the reader makes us feel bad as it shows that everyone starts
off the same and these men who are fighting in the wars are no different to
us. The repetition of I am not born is the
unborn baby trying to dodge its way around the blame, it is innocent yet
already being blamed for mistakes in the world.
example ties in with the first in the use of repetition. ‘I am not yet born’ reminds
the reader at the beginning of every stanza that this baby knows what is going
on, on earth yet hasn’t experienced it yet. The other main repetition in the poem
is that of ‘me’ at the end of the first and last line of every stanza except
the last. This ‘me’ makes the poem more personal to the unborn baby, it is
about them rather than the poem being directed at us.
MacNeice combines alliteration with the assonance such as ‘wise lies lure me’ the
alliteration in ‘lies lure’ but the assonance in ‘wise lies’. The assonance in ‘rat’
and ‘bat’ and the alliteration in ‘…the bloodsucking bat or rat…’. This combination
of assonance and alliteration throughout the poem creates a feel of internal
rhyme and different points throughout.
Throughout the third
stanza the personification of ‘trees to talk to me, sky to sing to me…’ This is
MacNeice showing us that because the unborn child knows about the evil doings that
man is doing, he wants to be with nature more. This is made out to be because
nature is pure, man isn’t. However, MacNeice then contradicts herself with ‘the
white waves call me to folly and the desert calls me to doom…’. This suggests that
what MacNeice is trying to portray here is that nature is also bad and
everybody or everything does bad things. This backs up her point of ‘… forgive
me for the sins that in me the world shall commit, my words when they speak me,
my thoughts when they think me’. Here MacNeice is trying to get the fact across
that if we live in this world we are going to do bad things, no matter how hard
The use of
metaphors and similes in the penultimate paragraph also adds effect such as ‘…make
me a cog in a machine…’ or ‘…blow me like thistledown hither and thither…’
These again suggest how little control the unborn bay has on the world and what
evils it will do to it. The baby can try as hard as he wants yet the world will
still force him to do evil things, it even forces nature to do them.
The final and
main technique that MacNeice uses in ‘Prayer before Birth’ is the way the stanzas
are structured. Throughout the poem the lengths of each stanza increase except
stanza 6 here it shortens again. The increasing length of stanzas suggest a
build up to the final, short one. The sixth is different as it only asks and explains
one thing whereas all the others ask for more that. However the build up
towards the last stanza suggests that is the most important one, that is the one
MacNeice wants to get across to the reader. This is basically saying that the unborn
doesn’t want to be born if any of the rest of the poem doesn’t happen.
Therefore, the literary
techniques and structure of the poem in ‘Prayer before Birth’ help MacNeice get
the reader to feel hurt by it but also to help her get her main points across.