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Prayer Before Birth for IGCSE English: Anthology Section C: Exam – Comparative Poetry. An introduction to this text and to the examination comparison task Mr Elkin-Jones, Cokethorpe School, September 2011 [email protected] Louis MacNeice 1907-1963.

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Prayer Before Birth for IGCSE English: Anthology Section C: Exam – Comparative Poetry

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Prayer before birth for igcse english anthology section c exam comparative poetry

Prayer Before Birthfor IGCSE English: Anthology Section C: Exam – Comparative Poetry

An introduction to this text

and to the examination comparison task

Mr Elkin-Jones, Cokethorpe School, September 2011

[email protected]


Louis macneice 1907 1963

Louis MacNeice1907-1963

Louis MacNeice born September 12, 1907, in Belfast, Ireland.

Attended Oxford University: classics and philosophy.

1930, married Giovanna Ezra.

1930 accepted post as classics lecturer, University of Birmingham.

1941 joined BBC as a staff writer and producer.

MacNeice found an audience for his work through British radio.

MacNeice was as mistrustful of political programs as he was of philosophical systems.

Was candid about the ambiguities of his political attitudes.

Chose to live the majority of his adult life in London

MacNeice frequently returned to the landscapes of his childhood.

Took great pride in his Irish heritage.

In addition to poetry and radio dramas, also wrote verse translation The Agamemnon of Aeschylus (1936), translated Goethe's Faust (1951), and collaborated with Auden on the travelogue Letters from Iceland (1937).

1963, on location with a BBC team, went into mineshaft to check on sound effects. Caught pneumonia.

He died on September 3, 1963

He was 55 years old.


Which are the poems on the theme of childhood

Which are the poems on the theme of ‘Childhood’?

If

Prayer Before Birth

Half Past Two

Piano

Hide and Seek


Prayer before birth for igcse english anthology section c exam comparative poetry

“Prayer Before Birth”

What is the GASP?

Genre:

Poetry; free verse

Audience:

1944: citizens also experiencing WWII

2014/15: students of poetry; the literate

Subject:

The pre-natal prayers of the unborn child to protect it against the horrors of the contemporary world of 1944

Purpose: (context related)

1944: possibly cathartic expression of MacNeice’s fears of the state of war-torn Europe

2011: possibly as warning against a return to apocalypse?

Excellent YouTube reading and BBC documentary:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fpdoq5-TVE8

[accessed 09/11/2011]

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.


Context

Context

Social & Historical

Literary and Cultural

Written in 1944

Bombing of London

War grinding to climax

“The writer today should be not so much the mouthpiece of a community…as its conscience, its critical faculty, its generous instinct.”

-Louis MacNeice, 1946


The subject matter clarified verse by verse

The subject matter clarified verse by verse


Verse 1 positioning the reader

Verse 1: positioning the reader

  • How are we positioned by the text in this opening verse?

  • What do we mean by ‘being positioned by the text?’

  • How are these guys ‘positioned’ by the words cracked, growled, roared…?

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.

The first fear refers to all the frightening things of the night, both real and imaginary.


Verse 2 fear of coercion

Verse 2: fear of coercion

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.

Next is the fear of being closed in by lies and persuasion, being led by drugs, tortured both mentally and physically, and being made to participate in warfare and other massacres.


Verse 3 the vision of a better world

Verse 3: the vision of a better world

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.

The poet makes a plea for the good things of life which today are fast disappearing: clean water, love, forests, birds and purity ("white light") as a guide.


Verse 4 forgiveness for future actions

Verse 4: forgiveness for future actions

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.

The child asks for forgiveness for all the sins that the world is going to make him commit in the future: his wrong words, his evil thoughts, those times when he is led to commit treason, the times when he will be forced to kill other people ultimately for his own death of spirit, because he has been forced to give into these social pressures.


Verse 5 desire to act with guidance

Verse 5: desire to act with guidance

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.

The child asks to be guided into the part he must act in this dramatic performance of life so that he is able to perform his role correctly, and that he be given all the right clues on how to react when important people lecture him or laugh at him. Note the metaphor of the stage. Note too the extended personification: mountains frowning, deserts calling, etc.


Verse 6 protection from tyrants

Verse 6: protection from tyrants

I am not yet born; O hear me,

Let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God

come near me.

A plea is made that tyrants and oppressors (like Adolph Hitler) may not be allowed to come near him.


Verse 7 chaos the metaphor of the machine

Verse 7: chaos; the metaphor of the machine

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.

He asks for the strength not to become a killing machine ("lethal automaton") or just a part in a machine ("cog in a machine"): he pleads that he be not allowed to become inhuman ("a thing") or something that is completely at the mercy of others ("blow me like thistledown hither and thither") or spilt as if he were just water.


Verse eight deneumont

Verse Eight: deneumont

Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me.

Otherwise kill me.

His final plea is that his heart may not turn to stone, or his life be wasted. Failing that, he would rather be aborted right away.


Prayer before birth for igcse english anthology section c exam comparative poetry

  • Key features: overview

  • Form:

  • Eight verses (not stanzas; not consistent lines)

  • Free verse (no beats)

  • No end line rhymes (but does have internal ones)

  • Shape significant – reminiscent of Psalms (sung prayers, sung)

  • Or Isaiah, or Jeremiah – prophets of the future

  • Structure:

  • Repetition of “First line” as a ritualistic refrain;

  • Statement, then imperative tense command

  • Ends with final command

  • Language:

  • Use of the vocative “O” in supplication to “God”

  • Biblical language: imagery, sentence structure

  • Also very modern lexis as well

  • Sounds emphasized

  • Only one simile throughout

  • Present tense used: “I am not yet born”

  • Imperative verbs much used “console me.”

  • Excellent YouTube reading and BBC documentary:

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fpdoq5-TVE8

  • [accessed 09/11/2011]

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.


Prayer before birth for igcse english anthology section c exam comparative poetry

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.

Forms compared:

“Prayer Before Birth” and Psalm 51, verses 17-23.

What do you notice about the forms (shapes) of these two texts?


Form structure language

Form, Structure, Language


Verse 1 positioning the reader1

Verse 1: positioning the reader

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.


Verse 2 fear of coercion1

Verse 2: fear of coercion

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.


Verse 3 the vision of a better world1

Verse 3: the vision of a better world

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.


Verse 4 forgiveness for future actions1

Verse 4: forgiveness for future actions

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.


Verse 5 desire to act with guidance1

Verse 5: desire to act with guidance

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.


Verse 6 protection from tyrants1

Verse 6: protection from tyrants

I am not yet born; O hear me,

Let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God

come near me.


Verse 7 chaos the metaphor of the machine1

Verse 7: chaos; the metaphor of the machine

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.


Verse eight denouement

Verse Eight: denouement

Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me.

Otherwise kill me.


Comparing poems an exam approach

Comparing poems: an exam approach

Try this 4 paragraph essay planning task yourself


Macneice s contribution to poetry

MacNeice’s contribution to Poetry?

“His early work revealed technical virtuosity, a painter’s eye for animage...suspicious of all rigid systems, whether political or philosophical, he worked to establish some pattern from life’s flux. He used most of the classic verse forms, but his contribution was his deployment of assonance, internal rhymes, and half-rhymes, and ballad-like repetitions that he had absorbed from the Irishy of his childhood.”

The Oxford Companion to English Literature, ed. Margaret Drabble 1985


Further links and references

Further links and references

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_MacNeice Full biography and background to texts.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/northernireland/learninggetwritingniwh_macneice.shtml Superb BBC profile, with links to his life and work. Plenty of images and video clips.

http://www.poetsgraves.co.uk/macneice.htm Grave in Northern Ireland.

http://www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/singlePoet.do?poetId=1559 Archive recording of the author reading the text.


Prayer before birth for igcse english anthology section c exam comparative poetry

That concludes this presentation on:Prayer Before Birthfor IGCSE English: Anthology Section C: Exam – Comparative Poetry

An introduction to this text

and to the examination comparison task

Mr Elkin-Jones, Cokethorpe School, September 2011

[email protected]


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