The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Before I Knocked” is a monologue consisting of seven six-line stanzas and a concluding stanza of four lines. The speaker throughout is Christ, who describes his consciousness of his own existence, and the conditions under which that consciousness functions, from the prenatal state to his incarnation in human form.

In the first stanza the speaker describes his essence, before he became a fertilized egg in the womb, as liquid, shapeless as water. This essence might also be understood as the seminal fluid. Christ already possesses, before his growth in the womb, a relationship to the world: He was a brother to “Mnetha’s daughter” and sister to the “fathering worm.” Mnetha is a character in “Tiriel,” a poem by William Blake, whose daughter’s brother is named Har. Har is usually seen by commentators as old and senile, which links the unborn Christ in the poem to the tragic world of human process, an interpretation that is supported by the image of the worm, a symbol of death.

Stanza 2 reveals that the unformed, unborn Christ was unaware of the passages of the seasons and had no knowledge, at least by name, of sun and moon. Yet even when the “flesh’s armour,” his human body, was still in “molten form,” he could feel, and he had an awareness of the sexual act that created him in time.

The speaker’s relationship to the physical world is the subject of stanza 3. He knew winter, with its hail, snow, and wind,...

(The entire section is 557 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Each stanza has three feminine (unstressed) endings that all end with the r sound. These occur in lines 1, 3, and 5. In stanza 1, for example, the feminine endings are “enter,” “water,” and “daughter.” In stanza 2 they are “summer,” “armour,” and “hammer,” and so on throughout the poem. Masculine (stressed) endings occur in lines 2, 4, and 6 of each stanza. Stanza 1, for example, produces “womb,” “home,” and “worm.” The masculine endings are always monosyllabic and usually have one consonant in common: m in the first and second stanzas; s in stanzas 4, 6, and 7; l in stanza 5.

One of Thomas’s most frequent poetic devices is partial rhyme. He employs it extensively in one of his most famous poems, “The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower,” which was written within a few weeks of “Before I Knocked.” Partial rhyme is a noticeable feature of the latter poem, occurring with both vowels and consonants. Examples include enter-water, womb-home, womb-worm (stanza 1); name-dome, winter-suitor, snow-dew, dew-day (stanza 3); suffer-cipher-liver; bones-lines-brains (stanza 4); structure-mixture (stanza 5); creature-adventure (stanza 6); neither-feather (stanza 7).

The language is less dense and more lucid than is usual in Thomas’s early style, and the predominant imagery establishes an interplay of the cosmic with the individual and the infinite with the...

(The entire section is 424 words.)