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.)