Rudyard Kipling

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How do Kipling and MacNeice convey future hopes and fears in "If" and "Prayer Before Birth"?

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Both "If" by Rudyard Kipling and "Prayer Before Birth" by Louis MacNeice present fears about the world which they hope they themselves, or the person they are writing about, can overcome.

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In "If" by Rudyard Kipling , the speaker hopes that his son will become his own man, but at the same time, he fears that his son will succumb to the same flaws to which so many other men succumb. For example, he hopes that his son "can keep [his]...

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head when all about [him] / Are losing theirs," and he hopes too that his son can bear "being lied about" without himself "deal[ing] in lies." In other words, the speaker fears that his son will become irrational and dishonest as so many people do, but he hopes that his son can be different and become his own person.

In "Prayer Before Birth," the poet writes from the perspective of a baby still in the womb. This unborn baby fears that "the human race may with tall walls wall [him]," and he also fears "those who would freeze [his] humanity" and "make [him] a stone." The walls he is afraid of perhaps metaphorically represent the prejudices that humans draw upon to separate themselves from others. His fear of being metaphorically frozen or made into a stone implies that he is afraid of losing his humanity and becoming, for example, desensitized to violence and suffering, or, on the other hand, numb to the wonders of the world. He is, in short, afraid of becoming just another unthinking and unfeeling person, going about his life like a machine simply going through the motions.

"If" is a more ostensibly hopeful poem than "Prayer Before Birth." In "If," the speaker mostly expresses his hopes for what his son might become, and the speaker's fears for his son are mostly implicit. In "Prayer Before Birth," however, the speaker very much focuses on his fears for what might be done to him, and it is the hope which is implicit. In "If," the tone is optimistic and defiant, whereas in "Prayer Before Birth," the tone is fearful and pessimistic.

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