In all three poems, the poets give as insight into the various aspects of human behavior. MacNeice in “Prayer before Birth” emphasizes the negative aspects in which a person will be treated through out their life and focuses in on how people will enslave you, manipulate you etc. In “Mid- Term Break”, Seamus Heaney comments on the nature of human behavior in public domain and how one reveals their true feelings in private. John Betjeman makes a satirical observation that people come to church for reasons other than spiritual satisfaction in “Diary of a Church Mouse”.
Each poet also uses different literary techniques to heighten the experience. Prayer before Birth” is unique in that the speaker in an unborn child that has an awareness of what is going to happen in his life. Through the fetus, MacNeice tells us about all the negative ways in which others will treat you in all walks of life. One of the most important insights into human behavior is that people in power try to limit ones freedom (as in communist and fascist regimes) and MacNeice draws our attention to this in stanza 2, “I fear that the human race with tall walls wall me’, where it suggests that creativity and freedom of speech is being confined, which is of utmost importance to MacNeice as a poet (and critic).
In the last stanza, MacNeice is concerned about being forced to alter his identity as the fetus asks for strength against those who “freeze my humanity…. make me a cog in a machine”. This infers to the communist and fascist countries where people are only permitted to do what they are told and perhaps he felt in this manner as he was uncertain weather Britain would win the Second World War. In the fourth and fifth stanzas, he points out to us that we are often manipulated and corrupted by others in power into wrong doing, when “old men lecture me, bureaucrats hector me” to commit “murder by the means of my hand, my death when they live me”.
Through this MacNeice indicates to us the severity of the sins that we commit. MacNeice conveys his thoughts on life and human behavior using a variety of literary techniques. Each stanza in the poem begins with “I am not yet born;” which is followed by an order to us the reader, and by doing so, we are obliged to listen. There is a constant hammering of monosyllabic diction, which is blended with assonance, adds cold harshness to the sensitive nature of the words and it is as shocking as it is direct, “on black racks rack me, on blood baths roll me”.
The details of this world are described in a powerful and graphic nature, with unpleasant imagery as the stanzas continue, each adding more and more unpleasant details and contrasts, “White waves call me to folly and the desert calls me to doom”. Also, the stanzas become longer and more intense, until the final stanza of the poem which has an abrupt yet paradoxical ending which makes the message of the poem all the more shocking. There is a great deal of repetition which helps to emphasize the pathetic situation of the fetus and adds force to the message, and it becomes part of the meaning of the poem.
Mid Term Break is about the reactions of the poet (when he was younger) about the death of his younger brother. Seamus Heaney through his personal experience tells us about how difficult it is to be in touch with ones feelings in public. When he comes home to find his father crying in the porch and old men shaking his hand to tell him that “they were sorry for my trouble,” he feels “embarrassed” because they were treating him as though he was an adult; he couldn’t express his true feelings of sorrow with many strangers about in the house. Also when the body of his brother arrives, he describes it as “corpse, stanched and bandaged… He was unable to access his feelings and he has not understood what has happened to his younger brother.
The next day when he goes see his brother, he is calmer, “Snowdrops and candles soothed the bedside”. As he is alone he is fully able to reveal his true feelings: sadness mixed with calmness. Seamus Heaney divides the poem into three parts to heighten the experience. The general tone of the poem changes through each part and it symbolizes the boy’s feelings about the death of his younger brother. The first part has a melancholic touch to it, as words such as” knelling” is used, as he hears the news about the death of his brother.
The second has a more embarrassed and uncomfortable feeling to it since he is unable to express his true feelings. In the final part, the poem abruptly becomes calmer and touching as he has finally come to terms with what has happened. Through this technique Seamus Heaney makes it profoundly clear about the nature of human behavior in public. “Diary of a Church Mouse” is a dramatic monologue about the life of a frugal and pathetic church mouse. During Harvest festival, the mouse is able to fill his stomach; however he finds it annoying that the other mice “with no proper business there” come for the free food which is served after the mass.
The mouse also notes that the church becomes “full with people I don’t se at all” during Harvest festival. This brings about an odd similarity between the humans and rodents. However, it is ironic that the mouse says “within the human world I know, such goings on could not be so”. But in fact Betjeman is making a satirical (because he compares mice as humans! ) comment that humans only come to church when it suits them and when they get something out of it, in this case free food. Betjeman pokes fun at human behavior and their attitudes towards religion but this is delivered in a light hearted manner.
Betjeman uses anthropomorphism and this makes the poem interesting and humorous. All three poems give us an insight into the various aspects of human behavior. In “Prayer before Birth”, Louis MacNeice comments about the negative way in which people will treat you in all stages of life. In “Midterm Break”, Seamus Heaney talks about how difficult it is to express ones feelings in public and in ” Dairy of a Church Mouse”, Betjeman explains that most people onl7y do things when they need to or when they need to be seen doing it. Thus all 3 poets have conveyed to us different insights into Human Behavior using a variety of literary techniques.