Views of life in 'If-' and 'Prayer before birth'

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  • Views of life in 'If-' and 'Prayer before birth'
    • If-
      • The poem offers guidance from an older to a younger man through the use of the conditional throughout 
      • hopes and fears are important, but Kipling perhaps emphasises the importance of not hoping or fearing too much 
      • the poem has a very regular rhyme and rhythm which works together with the repeated pattern of ‘If’, ‘And’, and ‘Or’ at the beginnings of lines to emphasise future possibilities 
      • there is, however, some variation in the rhyming words which are sometimes single syllable words (‘lies’ and ‘wise’), and sometimes two or more (‘waiting’ and ‘hating’). Kipling uses ‘you’ and ‘you’ as the first rhyme stressing the didactic nature of the poem mirroring the narrator’s hopes and fears for the future 
      • it works by a series of contrasts: trust and doubt, triumph and disaster, kings and common touch 
      •   ‘Triumph’ and ‘Disaster’ are personified as if to indicate that they can take a human form but nonetheless are ‘impostors’ 
      • the poem builds up to its climax of the last two lines, emphasised by the exclamation mark which shows the fulfilment of hopes for the future 
      • the capitalisation of ‘Man’ adds to its significance as an aspiration 
      • ‘my son’ adds a personal touch at the end, but it could be argued that the hopes and fears in the poem are for every young man. 
    • Prayer before Birth
      • the poem is organised round the idea of hopes and fears, with the unusual perspective of the unborn child giving a new way to evaluate the actions of humanity 
      • the majority of the poem is based on a description of a range of different kinds of fears ranging from the surreal and the horrific to the very real dangers in society 
      • stanza three highlights the unborn child’s hopes and suggests the restorative powers of nature and the ‘white light’ for guidance 
      • the form and structure of the poem are very striking, with the actual visual image on the page very noticeable 
      • repetition is significant in the poem and is employed throughout, with words and sounds repeated, in particular ‘me’ 
      • rhyme is internal, and linked to repetition: ‘tall walls wall me’, ‘thither or hither and thither’ 
      • the images are varied, intense and sometimes violent 
      • the enjambment and line/sentence structure create a fast, often breathless pace 
      • the poem concludes with a short stanza and the rhyme ‘spill me ... kill me’, encapsulating hopes and fears in the poem. 


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