Explain the message in the poem “Unto Us” by Spike Milligan. Then by close examination of poetic technique, explain how successful Milligan is in getting his message across. In the poem “Unto Us” by Spike Milligan the poet very effectively conveys his anti-abortion message by using various interesting poetic techniques. The poem is written in first person from the perspective of the unborn child. It describes the foetus’ feelings, firstly the baby’s excitement to live and then it’s reaction to the abortion and the change in feelings towards the parents.
The title of the poem is taken from the Bible, it comes from the quotation “unto us a child is born” but in this case the quotation has been cut short. The poet leaves out the second part of the line – “a child is born”. By doing this the reader can begin to see what the poem is about, a child which will not be born. Also by quoting the bible in the title we are reminded of, for example, the Catholic church’s opinion against abortion.
The use of the foetus as the narrator does help to give the poem a strong message. By implying the foetus has thoughts and feelings the reader feels sympathy for the child. Also many people who are pro-choice make the strong argument that the child has no awareness therefore is not alive, but in this poem the foetus is portrayed as being intelligent and perfectly capable of realising what is going on. Writing from the unborn child’s perspective we can see the contrast in the despair felt by the foetus and the callous, uncaring attitude of the parents after the abortion. This deep sympathy for the foetus really does make the reader explore their views on the subject and really begin to question if abortion is right.
Throughout the poem Milligan uses interesting word choice and poetic techniques. One example of this can be seen in the first lines of the poem “Somewhere at sometime They committed themselves to me”. The repetition of the prefix “some” in the line “Somewhere at sometime” suggests the vagueness and the lack of planning which went into the creation of the foetus. This highlights the parents’ careless attitude. The use of the word “committed” seems to contrast with this vagueness as a commitment is meant to be a strong bond which should not be broken. The poet uses this word to suggest the parents have a responsibility towards the foetus, as the reader knows the parents’ are going to abort the child – obviously disregarding this responsibility. This develops the readers dislike toward the foetus’ parents.
The poet uses very effective repetition throughout the poem. One example of this can be seen in the lines, “And so I was! Small but I was! Tiny in shape”. These lines are obviously used to try and undermine the pro-choice argument. By saying the foetus “was” it implies it is a living thing which people who are for abortion claim it is not. Milligan emphasises this point using the repetition of the word “was”. The use of exclamation points suggests to the reader the foetus’ excitement to live and to be born. We then feel resentful that it is not going to get the chance. Another example of repetition in these lines is the two references to the unborn child’s diminutive size in the words “tiny” and “small”. This reference to the baby’s size make the foetus seem helpless and vulnerable.
Milligan very effectively uses alliteration in the line “Lusting to live”. It emphasises the unborn child’s desire to experience life and to be alive. The ironic thing about this line is that we the reader know that even though the foetus passionately wants to live he will never get to fulfil this desire as it will never get to live it’s life. We feel after reading this line resentful towards the parents for cutting the foetus’ life short just because of their own selfishness.
Metaphor is used in the line “I hung in my pulsing cave”. The “pulsing cave” referred to is the womb of the mother. The use of the word “hung” suggests the foetus is hanging on which again highlights the foetus’ desire to live. We commiserate with the foetus after reading this as we know despite its efforts it’s life will be taken from it. Repetition is used effectively in the lines “Soon they knew of me My mother my father”. This repetition if the word “my” shows the connection the foetus feel with it’s parents. Although it is not born it still feels as though they share a bond which again suggests the responsibility the parents hold for the child. This line causes the reader to build on their hatred of the parents as we know they are not honouring this bond.