Mid-term Break Seamus Heaney’s ‘Mid-Term Break’ is a shocking and heart-rending poem about a schoolboy going through the after effects of the death of his four years old younger brother. It shows the reader the emotions and events that the boy has to go through, and explains what the words ‘Mid-term Break’ really mean to the young boy. The narrator is a schoolboy, telling us the story of his experiences through the wake, remembering every detail and addressing us with every memory and emotion he can remember.
The poem is talking in the past tense, as though the boy is looking back at his past and telling us about it at the same time. The poem is a true story about the poet when he was younger, and now Heaney reflects back to his emotions and feelings. At first glance, the title tricks the reader into thinking that it’s a happy poem, most people associate the words mid-term break with joy and playfulness, but by reading more into the first stanza, it is obvious that this is not the case.
The simple three lines stanza structure makes the poem look rather appetising for the eye and makes it easy to read. Heaney has used enjambment to mark out the different scenes, making it easy to understand where and when the poem moves on, and the lack of punctuation makes the poem flow when read aloud. The first scene is set in the school’s sick bay- a quiet place for the boy to come to terms with the news. The use of the words ‘sick bay’ is a sign that there is something wrong, and although we do not know what the problem is yet, this indicates that he needed a quite place to be alone.
The narrator gives a clue to the problem by using the word ‘knelling’, which implies that there has been some kind of a death, ‘Counting bells knelling to a close. ’ It shows that the time is dragging on, while he counts the bells, bringing him closer and closer to the end of the day. This could mean that he is somewhat dreading the day ending, or is agitated to be picked up and to go home. The fact that he remembers the exact time when he’s picked up shows how clear the memory is and how he can remember every small detail that went on.
When his neighbours drive him home, it comes to a surprise to the reader, and the reader starts to question why. It indicates that there has probably been a death in the family, as his parents are too busy to come and pick him up themselves. Of course, we do not know this for certain yet, but it may imply that the relative was quite close family as his parents are too preoccupied. The next stanza is set on a porch, supposedly of his house, where the narrator is met by his father and ‘Big Jim Evans’, who could either be a relative or a family friend.
The fact that his father is crying and that normally funerals do not affect him, ‘He had always taken funerals in his stride’, is another sign that the death was very close to him and his family and the fact that it’s a funeral backs up the thought that it’s a death. The words of Big Jim Evans have a double meaning. The reader can assume two main things, that something might of hit the person hard, and that that was the cause of death, or that the death was a emotional ‘hard blow’ to the family.
This would explain the fact that his father is crying, and he might have meant that there was a lot of grief and shock to everyone in the family, especially the father. As we are slowly introduced to the death and what is actually happening, the reader gets small clues to what has happened, and by this moment there is a slight suspicion to the cause of death, and although the reader might assume that the death was part of the family, we do not know anything about the person’s age or how close he/she is to the narrator. The next three stanzas are linked; Heaney uses enjambment to show that the scene carries on across the stanzas.
The scene is set in the sitting room, where lots of friends and family await. He describes a variety of different aged people, starting with a young baby who’s oblivious to the disaster, ‘The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram’, to old men who try and comfort him, ‘…And tell me they where “sorry for my trouble”’. He describes the strangers to him, being informed that he was the eldest, which shows that it must have been a very big occasion for them to come and visit. The fact that his mother is ‘coughing out angry tearless sighs’ is quite surprising.
Normally, you would imagine the mother as crying her eyes out, while the father stands by her side trying to comfort her, but still grieving. This is not the case here, if not the opposite. The use of the word ‘angry’ to describe his mother may have several meaning. She might be angry at herself for letting her son get killed, she might be angry at her husband for breaking down in front of all these people, she might be angry at the car for running into her son, we simply do not know, but she might be in shock as she is ‘coughing out angry tearless sighs’.
This might show that she is too shocked to even cry or is trying her hardest not to show how much grief she feels or let down her family pride in front of her friends and family. The last two lines of the fifth stanza are very detached from the narrator, and although there is a lot of detail that shows how vivid the memory is again, the narrator does not let on any emotion. This might mean that the corpse maybe unfamiliar to him now, after he has been tidied up, and maybe he feels as though he is not his brother anymore, just an empty body that looks like his brother.
We might suspect this because he refers to him as ‘the corpse’ instead of maybe a name or even ‘my brother’. Heaney does not use enjambment to link stanza 5 and 6, which states that we are again in a different scene, this time the next day. He describes the room quite detailed, personifying and using onomatopoeia to give a calm impression, ‘Snowdrops and candles soothed the bedside’. This is creating a scene of relaxation, as though the family want to leave the boy in peace until the end.
It sounds like a very peaceful place for everyone to say their last goodbyes and to show their emotions to the corpse and not be in front of other people while they do it. It is quite emotional and sad when he says that it’s the first time he’s seen him in six weeks, and now he is dead and that it’s the last time he’s ever going to see him again. This makes the reader feel the pain that Heaney’s going through and can relate to the young boy and feel pity. He compares what his brother looks like from when he last saw him, ‘paler now, wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple’.
This shows how he must feel to see him in front of him, not much changed in his looks, yet totally different. He describes the bruise on his head like a poppy, a symbol of remembrance, and yet a sign that he was hit by something. He describes the small coffin as a cot; ‘He lay in the four foot box as in his cot’. This indicates just how small his brother must have been, and makes the reader feel even more sorry for the young schoolboy. He describes that there were ‘no gaudy scars’ and that ‘the bumper knocked him clear’.
The schoolboy might feel upset that he lost his brother to such a small thing, not even a scar to prove the death. He may feel regret that he wasn’t there to help look after him, and then maybe he wouldn’t have lost him to such a stupid accident. By now the reader knows that a car knocked him down, the use of the words ‘bumper knocked him clear’ make it obvious. The difference in the structure at the end, give a very tense effect and giving the last sentence it’s own line emphasizes the severity of the disaster.
The rhyme at the end is very effective, as it is the only rhyme in the whole poem. Heaney has chosen the final stanza to have one line to make it shocking, moving and effective, and in my opinion he has succeeded to create those feelings. Although it is short, the last sentence succeeds to be very moving, with a hidden meaning that makes the reader think, ‘A four foot box, a foot for every year’. This is the only time we get to know how old the child was, and leaves the reader thinking and moved even after finishing the poem.
In my opinion it is a very successful poem, very moving and sad, and makes the reader really value their and their family’s lives. This shocking poem moved me dearly, and very nearly brought me to tears, the effectiveness and it’s detailed truth makes it a very interesting and moving read, and shows just how the mind remembers every small detail of such a big occasion, and although he might have tried to forget it, the thoughts and emotions are still there. I love this poem, for it’s sheer power and emotion, and could read it over and over again and still feel sadness and shocked with every line. arcoiris95
Cite this Mid Term Break – Seamus Heaney
Mid Term Break – Seamus Heaney. (2018, Feb 20). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/mid-term-break-seamus-heaney/