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In Rudyard Kipling's If, the speaker's voice is that of a father instructing his young son on becoming a man. The speaker wants his son to develop a specific type of character; a character in keeping with gentlemanly notions of morality, goodness, and manhood. Instructing his son in the specific behaviors and habits that will make the boy "a man," the paternal speaker thus conveys his own hope that the boy might grow into the type of person described. At the same time, the speaker conveys his fear concerning his son's development of character. For if the boy does not prove capable of the stern and trying standard espoused by his father, he will, by implication, not "be a (true) man." We sense that such a turn of events would doubtlessly bring shame and disappointment upon his father.
In Prayer Before Birth, Louis Macneice uses the voice of the unborn speaker to convey universal hopes and fears. Like Kipling's father in the poem If, Macneice's unborn speaker conveys hope and fears in the form of instruction. In this case, the instruction is general; the prayer is directed toward the heavens, as well as toward those already born. The speaker's words read as admonition, warning, and promise. They convey hopes such as finding redemption, experiencing forgiveness, and feeling wonder. They also convey existential fears: of being boxed in, of having to fit into roles, of rejection, and of being alienated from self and community.
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