The poem ‘Prayer Before Birth’ by Louis MacNeice is a compelling monologue portraying the theme of conflict while expressing an unborn child’s fear about the corrupt world it is to be born into. Louis MacNeice tries to convince his audience that world is cruel, callous world that will manipulate you into doing its bidding and if you resist you will be cast out. Firstly, the poet creates a gloomy and hopeless tone to the poem through the anaphora ‘I am not born yet’.
The repetition of the phrase makes it evident that even though the child hasn’t been born yet, he is aware of the devilry that affects the world. Furthermore, the phrase ‘dragoon me into a lethal automaton’ portrays how society manipulates its believers into doing its bidding. The word ‘dragoon’ has military connotations of being coerced into doing something and the phrase ‘lethal automaton’ could refer to an emotionless killing machine.
The unborn child fears that he will be nothing more than a ‘thing with one face’. Moreover, it is clear that the unborn child doesn’t want to live in such an unscrupulous world; he can’t tolerate the conflict because, at the last stanza of the poem, the unborn child begs the powerful deity it is praying to, to kill him. The unborn child believes that it will not be handled with care, he believes that he will be made into something impassive and emotionless. This point is apparent in the phrase ‘Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me’.
The phrase ‘spill me’ suggests the unborn child is fragile and vulnerable to manipulation. Furthermore, the poet uses the word ‘stone’, suggesting something unmoving and apathetic. The poet uses an internal rhyme in the first stanza to craft a sense of expectation but towards the end of the line, the rhyme scheme is disrupted.
This portrays the unborn child’s expectation of the world that he has pictured but is destroyed by the corrupt reality. The poet has structured the poem to show how controlling society can be. Each line in each stanza moves further away from starting line but the starting of the following stanza starts where the previous stanza started.
It resembles the people in a community trying to change but society forcing them to be whatever they need them to be.