Prayer Before Birth by Louis MacNeice

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photo © Demi Hopkins Photography 2016  WEB << here >>


Hope you enjoy this recording of ‘Prayer Before Birth by Louis MacNeice  which was performed by my student Estée Spencer as part of her LAMDA Grade 8 Verse & Prose exam (Gold Medal). You will also find a transcript of the poem below.

It’s an extraordinary poem – the words of an unborn child considering the harsh world he or she will be born into.

Some interesting links below along with a note of Estée’s other choices.  If you have time add your comments and thoughts on this poem in the comments box at the end.  



Prayer Before Birth by Louis MacNeice


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.


This wonderful poem is currently part of LAMDA’s Grade 8 (Gold Medal) Verse & Prose Syllabus.  Estée’s other selections for this exam were – 

  • Prose: ‘How to build a Girl, by Caitlin Moran’
  • Shakespearean Sonnet: Sonnet 18

links to all selections below (student offer available)

Thank you to Demi Hopkins for permission to use  photos from Estée photo shoot last year.


Books (student offer available on books below- get £10 off on £40 spend)

  • Poems by Louis MacNeice << here >>
  • How to Build a Girl, by Caitlin Moran << here >>
  • The complete Sonnets & Poems by Shakespeare << here >>


  • Interested in finding a LAMDA tutor << here >>
  • Photographer:  Demi Hopkins Photography << here >>

Comments 1

  1. Janet Ann Hewett

    Thank you. I know this poem from a long time ago. Hearing it expressed so beautifully by a young voice was a pleasure. Albeit a pleasure tinged with regret and outrage for the relevance of MacNeice’s sentiments are as telling today. In fact more so. Best wishes, Estee.

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