I remember reading an amazing poem in high school English lit and yesterday I remembered it. I found it online and thought I would share it with you. It’s an interesting critique of modernity and the dread many of us feel when we think about the world today.
It’s by Louis MacNeice and is called 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.
The last part is especially relevant to modernity: “…would dragoon me into a lethal automaton, would make me a cog in a machine, a thing with one face…” The poem was written during WW2, and MacNeice was referring to soldiers being turned into automatons to fight wars. It is interesting that around this time many people were beginning to critique modernity and to question the principles upon which it had been founded.
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.
This stanza is also absolutely terrifying. It points to the fact that we have very little control over what we do, think, say, want, feel. Our words are spoken for us, our thoughts are thought for us, and worst of all, while this is happening we think we are in control.