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Poems
Prayer Before Birth
MS (8.4.1929 / Marton, Lancashire)

Prayer Before Birth

Poem By Louis Macneice

Simile – what looks like something else –
that’s a fun game for the senses,
for the mind: oh look Dad,
there’s a scarecrow in that field
that looks just like a man, does it
really scare crows?

Oh look Dad, there’s a beggar in the street
who looks just like a scarecrow,
I wonder if the same crows
see him too?

But metaphor – ah, that’s something else:
explanations don’t quite explain it:
you see something; it brings to mind
something very different; maybe
you just forget it, pass on; maybe
you’re a poet, and you think,
that other thing casts a subtle light
on this first thing, I’ll see if others
find the same.. and, sometimes they do,
sometimes they don’t…

Metaphor brings the whole universe,
world upon world, to the mind:
you could write a poem full of metaphor
as long as the circumference of the world,
and when you’d written it out, you’d find yourself
right here again just where you were.. but
what a lot you’d seen on the way…

We’re so used to some metaphors
because by now, they’re shared,
written into language (lucky the people
who inherit languages such as these,
they’re born into poetry…) :

take ‘bread’: you walk past the baker’s shop
in the early morning when the air is clear –
or better, go in to buy your breakfast rolls:
the smell couldn’t be more wonderful,
more promising.. the bread’s so delicious,
and best eaten today..

ah yes, ‘daily bread’ – that becomes a metaphor
for all that each and every day brings –
waking up, new thoughts, new experiences,
all that brings life to life…
that covers so many subtle things…
where does it all come from?
that’s for you to say…

Sometimes it seems that the whole world
is a metaphor for something…
for what? For its own unity,
for its very creation,
for that which we call God,
for our very self?
that’s for you to say…

Metaphor. When you meet it,
does it make you think of
English class, another boring
poem, another boring question
to answer as you chew your pen –
‘What does the poet mean when
he speaks of, lies like oyster shells
to be penknifed for their pearls? ’…

or - does it fill your heart with joy
as if someone had given you
a golden key to a secret garden
which is all you ever hoped for;
more than you could ever imagine…
and yet you recognise
it’s all really just yourself? …

In the corner of your room
there's a little girl curled up
in a large armchair, reading a book.
Don't disturb her.
The book she reads with all her self today,
may never read again, doesn't need to -
is a metaphor for
all she needs to know today
about the world, about herself;

she finishes the book,
closes it thoughtfully,
looks up at you;
she knows herself
a little more today.

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Comments (1)

Michael this really is a wonderful read, such imagery, so much to think about. I guess this metaphor is really for our own true selves. I thank you for this enlightening poem, I'm sure Rumi would have approved. Bob


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