This poem was written in 1944, towards the end of World War II, and has the fearful and claustrophobic quality of those times, yet it may seem just as relevant today, when we have new perils and new tyrannies of thought to contend with, and when those of us who feel we have, as it turned out, been lucky enough in our time of birth to have lived through the late afternoon of a still decent country may be just as apprehensive now as MacNeice was then about the kind of world that we are leaving our grandchildren and their children to grow up in.
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.