This lesson might begin with a brainstorm. Ask the students to name as many things as possible that they would consider a 'world issue'. Write their suggestions up on the board. (I imagine they will say things like: terrorism, over-population, Aids, global warming, cancer, incurable diseases, nuclear arms, etc.) You might like to select one or two of their suggestions and open it up by asking the students to say exactly what threatens human beings in this particular case. For example, if you choose 'global warming', the threat may be more precise by listing things like: polar ice caps melting, torrential rains, new deserts forming, etc. This is quite important to do as it helps the students move from the abstract to the specific which may help images form later on in the lesson.
Then ask them to list privately on paper some of their more personal anxieties. (Perhaps suggest they structure their list as past, present or future anxieties. Remind them that this list is private and no-one need know what is on their list unless they choose to show it. Now ask the student to open up one or more of these as they did before.)
Explain to the students that they are going to hear a recording of a poet reading a poem written during the height of the Second World War. (You may want to mention that it sounds slightly old-fashioned so they are prepared for this. You may want to say that the poet is imagining that he is not yet born... but this may not be necessary.)
Play the recording once for the students to simply listen to and gain a general sense of the poem.
Now explain to the students that you will play the poem a second time. Ask them to jot down as many things as possible that they think the poet is frightened by. Ask them to also try and listen for some positive wishes. Students can also be asked to note down any image or phrases that they especially liked for their sound.
For some students a third hearing may be helpful at this stage, or it may be better to wait until they have the poem in front of them for a third hearing.
Briefly share the students' initial responses as a class, encouraging them to use technical language wherever possible by example, but only as it naturally arises.
Distribute hard copies of the poem and play MacNeice's reading again. Students can be encouraged now to underline on their sheets the images, phrases etc. You may also ask someone or several students to read the poem stanza by stanza and take some more developed responses about what they think the poem is about and how the poem is written. Students should be able to identify the effects of line length, repetition, rhyme, assonance, alliteration etc. (Students may enjoy saying at loud some of the images or phrases that they find most compelling. They can do this all at the same time or all the students who have chosen the same ones speaking together, or simply in pairs.)
Now ask the students to have a go at writing their own version of 'Prayer Before Birth', emulating the style of MacNeice. They may even like to use the opening phrase for each stanza: I am not yet born
. But they should try and make the rest of the poem full of their own personal and 'world' concerns, whilst still following the form of the MacNeice. (Some students may find writing in this form difficult and could be allowed to try a free verse poem or other type of writing.)
- A good way to conclude this lesson may be to hear work in progress. Students might be happy to share a stanza or more of their new poems. Hearing work of others at this stage can be very inspiring to other students.
- You may also like to play the recording again.
- Ask students to bring a more polished version of their poem to the next lesson.
- Students will have listened to and discussed a poem by Louis MacNeice.
- Students will have explored some of the problems of their personal and collective life.
- Students will have written their own poems/stanzas of a poem.
- Students will have extended their knowledge and appreciation of poetry.