Louis MacNeice, ‘Two Poems’, in The Penguin New Writing, ed. John Lehmann, No. 19 ([June] 1944), pp.73-75.


Hearing off-stage the taps filling, the bath
The set dissolves, to childhood - in ther cot
Hearing that ominous relentless noise
Which the grown-ups have started, who are not
She knows, aware of what it means; it means
The Dark the Flood, the Malice. It destroys
All other or meanings - dolls or gingerbread;
It means a Will that wills all children dead.

Hearing the gas fire breathe monotonously
She waits for words but no words come, she lifts
A soapstone hand to smoote her hair and feels
The hand is someone else’s - the scene shifts
To a cold desert whom the wind has dropped
And the earth’s movement stopped,and something steals
Up from the grit through nerve and bone and vein
To flaunt its iron tendrils in her brain.

Hearing again the telegraph wires’ again
Humming again and always, she must lean
Against the humming post and, search her mind
For what it is they say; in some latrine
She knows she wrote it first upon the wall
In self-incrimination, duly signed;
And, unrevoked since then, that signature
Runs round the world on wires, accusing her.

Hearing the church-bells, too, she knows at once
That only she can hear them for it is no
Church or even belfry where they hang,
There are no ropes attached or ringers down below,
These bells are disembodied, they express
The claims of frozen Chaos and wilt clang
Till this and every other world, shall melt
And Chaos be Itself and nothing felt.

Lastly, hearing the cock in the grey dawn
Crow once, crow twice, she shivers and dissolves
To someone else who in the hour of trial
Denied his Master and his guilt devolves
On her head only. If, she could speak up,
She might even now atone for that denial
But the grey cock still crows and she knows why;
For she must still deny, deny, deny.

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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.

lam notyet born, forgive me
 For the sins that in me that 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, bueaucrats hector me, mountains
   frown at me, lover 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; 0 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 me a stone and let them not spill me
Otherwise kill me.

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