Treasure Island

Louis Macneice

(12 September 1907 – 3 September 1963 / Belfast)

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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.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003
Edited: Wednesday, September 21, 2011

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Comments about this poem (Prayer Before Birth by Louis Macneice )

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  • Briony Nicholls (8/30/2014 10:30:00 AM)

    This is a brilliant poem that I will keep re-reading to gain more of its multi-faceted insights into how we are moulded and created. Unfortunately it is just as piercingly relevant today as it was back in 1944. (Report) Reply

  • Fiona Powell (12/5/2013 6:12:00 PM)

    Still my favourite poem from when I first read it as a teenager 35 years ago. It is as relevant now - if not more so - than when it was first written in 1944. Check out more of MacNeice's stuff - it's very modern in thought, imagery and words. Bagpipe Music is another famous one. (Report) Reply

  • Kevin Patrick (10/6/2012 7:14:00 PM)

    Our Identity is influenced by a combination of genetics and environment, it impacts us and shapes us to be what we are, what I like about this is that Mr Macneice is feeling the conundrum of being something that he is not entirely comfortable with, he exists but is not alive as an entity of his own will but as an impulse of the greater world. He is trying to be a man without being compromised by the greater social order. At least thats how I interpret it, either way it’s a wonderful modern poem that says what it wants and can be read with thoughtful understanding. Regards (Report) Reply

  • Susanta Pattnayak (10/6/2012 7:20:00 AM)

    I am not yet born; O hear me....console me.... provide me....forgive me....rehearse me......
    ... O fill me
    With strength against those who would freeze my
    humanity
    .....
    Otherwise kill me.

    Simply, I love the poem! (Report) Reply

  • Lynne Fincherspringarden (10/6/2012 5:14:00 AM)

    A beautiful prayer and lofty sentiments for a life free of the entanglements that lie ahead the minute we enter this world. Wonderfully expressed. Love this poem. (Report) Reply

  • Nathi Vusi (3/19/2012 12:12:00 AM)

    This is a beautiful poem. I love it. I can almost hear the poet's thoughts while writing this poem, so strong and meaningful. (Report) Reply

  • H Fm (2/6/2010 7:23:00 PM)

    I love this poem - I must agree with Maureen, it has stayed with me for many years.
    Strange as this request might appear, I am looking for a serious translation of it into Polish if anyone can help?

    Many thanks
    H :) (Report) Reply

  • Maureen Travers (4/15/2007 1:41:00 PM)

    I first read this poem many years ago. It has stayed with me ever since (as all the best poems do) and I believe it has influenced my personal philosophy. I think that people have much more influence on other people, other creatures, the world, than many of us would like to believe. We all affect those around us just by being on earth. As a novice poet myself, I hope that someday my words may have a profound effect on at least one person. Surely that makes anyone's life worthwhile? (Report) Reply

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