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Prayer for the Children of Longing | Summary and Analysis

Analysis of Prayer for the Children of Longing By Paula Meehan

Prayer for the Children of Longing by Paula Meehan is part of the collection Painting Rain” published in 2009. Meehan was commissioned by the community of inner-city Dublin to write this poem in memory of the youngsters who lost their lives to drug addiction. The poem explores the themes of suffering, death, social justice and community. The tone of the poem is mournful and some parts are like a payer, the poet prays for the souls of the dead youngsters. The poem uses free verse and an uneven rhyming structure. The Pattern, Buying Winkles and The Exact Moment I Became a Poet are some of her popular poems, the analysis of which may be accessed in the link below: 

Analysis of The Pattern by Paula Meehan

Analysis of Buying Winkles by Paula Meehan

Analysis of The Exact Moment I Became a Poet by Paula Meehan


Prayer for the Children of Longing | Summary  

This poem is commissioned by the community of Dublin’s north inner city for the lighting of the Christmas tree in Buckingham Street, to remember their children who died from drug abuse. The poem uses poetic devices like personification, imagery and anaphora. Anaphora is used to emphasize the payer like quality.

The youngsters who were addicted to drugs longed for a better life but instead got only suffering. They were exploited by drug dealers and others who only took advantage of them. They were promised everything but got nothing in return. Their lives were filled with darkness but now that they are gone the poet wishes that they find peace. The poet also talks about how the community has failed those youngsters. The lives of those youngsters were lost to crime and violence. Through this poem the poet wants to commemorate those kids, to remember their sufferings. The purpose of the poem is to keep them alive in the memories of the people of the community.


Prayer for the Children of Longing | Analysis


Prayer for the Children of Longing,  Lines 1-4                                                   

“Great tree from the far northern forest

Still rich with the sap of the forest

Here at the heart of winter

Here at the heart of the city”

The great tree refers to the Christmas tree that is lighted up during winter at the centre of the city. The tree is a symbol of hope, full of light. This stands in direct contrast with the suffering of the youngsters. Most of them lost their lives because of addiction. Anaphora is used in “here at the heart”, with the repeated use of the word “heart” the poet wants to express that these youngsters will remain in the hearts of the people in the community. The loved ones of the lost souls light up this tree in their remembrance.


Prayer for the Children of Longing, Lines 5-9

“Grant us the clarity of ice

The comfort of snow

The cool memory of trees

Grant us the forest’s silence

The snow’s breathless quiet”

The imagery of nature is used evokes serenity and comfort. The lights guide the lost souls towards a better path. These lines are spoken like a payer. It’s like a plea for the souls to rest in peace. Nature is associated with peace, spirituality, tranquility and healing. Thus the poet wants to evoke peace through payers for the poor youngsters who died.


Prayer for the Children of Longing, Lines 10-13

“For one moment to freeze

The scream, the siren, the knock on the door

The needle in its track

The knife in the back”

These lines describe a more gruesome part. They describe the struggles of youngsters who were victims of drug abuse and how they get caught by the police. The repeated use of “the” emphasizes their awful condition. Their lives turn violent and dreadful. These lines evoke the horrible and awful conditions of the youngsters. The harsh words such as “scream”, “knife”, “needle” and “siren” all emphasize the terrible reality of their lives. These lines are in contrast to the peaceful lines above. While living the kids suffered from violence and horrors, thus the poet wishes them to have peace after death.

Prayer for the Children of Longing, Lines 14-17

“In that silence let us hear

The song of the children of longing

In that silence let us catch

The breath of the children of longing”

During the silent Christmas night, the youngsters who are suffered should be remembered. Their hardships should be acknowledged. Again spoken like a payer. The people of the community gather around the tree to pray in silence for their dead children. In that silence, the “song” and “breath” of the kids will finally be heard. Those kids longed for a better life. Again the poet wants to evoke a feeling of peace and tranquility.

Prayer for the Children of Longing, Lines 18-25

“The echo of their voices through the city streets

The streets that defeated them

That brought them to their knees

The streets that couldn’t shelter them”

“That spellbound them in alleyways

The streets that blew their minds

That led them astray, out of reach of our saving

The streets that gave them visions and dreams”

Their screams echo in the streets. Most kids are banished from their homes, they have nowhere to go thus they take refuse in the streets but these streets don’t keep them safe. They struggle a lot on the streets for food and shelter. They get abused and harassed as well. The streets are personified here. They represent the drug dealers and criminals who tempted the kids promising them everything. However, the drugs only created an illusion of happiness while the kids suffered in reality. These streets provide them with dreams and aspirations but at the same time, they also connect them with trouble. The streets offer drugs and the kids lose their ways in life and fall into the trap of addiction. The community fails to save them. Their young mind dreams of a lot of things but the drugs ruin their lives.

Prayer for the Children of Longing, Lines 26-32

“That promised them everything

That delivered nothing

The streets that broke their backs

The streets we brought them home to”

“Let their names be the wind through the branches

Let their names be the song of the river

Let their names be the holiest prayers”

These streets offered them many temptations but in the end, became a cause for their defeat. They died while struggling on the streets. The repeated use of “the streets” is used to highlight how the community failed those kids. This is still their home, perhaps afterwards their families tried to bring them home or in the end, the streets become their home permanently as they were buried there.

With the repeated use of “let their names” the poet wants to express that she doesn’t want people to forget their names. Their names should be the same as the wind, the river and holy prayers. Like some higher power, pure. Again a payer kind tone is used. The poet hopes the kids to receive grace in death.

Prayer for the Children of Longing, Lines 33-36

“Under the starlight, under the moonlight

In the light of this tree

Here at the heart of winter

Here at the heart of the city”


The lines state the names of the children should be present in the day, at night in the hearts of people during the winter and in the lights of the Christmas tree right at the centre of the city. While alive the kids lived a life full of darkness but in death, they should be remembered in light. The community that failed them will now mourn them. Again by using anaphora in the word “hearts”, the poet wants to emphasize that the kids will remain in the hearts of the people who loved them.


Prayer for the Children of Longing | About the Poet

Paula Meehan is an Irish poet and playwright. She was born in working-class Dublin and earned degrees from Trinity College and Eastern Washington University. She was inducted into the Hennessy Hall of Fame for her achievements in poetry and was installed as the Ireland Professor of Poetry by President Michael D. Higgins in 2013, she also has various other awards and honors. Return and No Blame (1984), Dharmakaya (2001), and Painting Rain (2009) are some of her well-known works.





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