‘Mid-term Break’ was written in 1966 by Seamus Heaney. This poem is autobiographical as it was written about a real event of Heaney’s life. It is about him and his family grieving from the death of his four year old brother. When the tragedy struck he was only fourteen. This poem focuses on how people reacted to the death. The title of this poem is unusual as a mid-term break is normally thought of as a break off school that has been planned beforehand but in the poem it is unexpected. I feel that Heaney is very honest when he writes about how people reacted to the death of his brother. The poem is set into eight stanzas, the first seven contain three lines and the last only contains one.
The first stanza is set in the sick bay of what we think is his boarding school. Heaney was waiting on his neighbours to pick him up and take him home. We wonder why he was sitting in a sick bay and not at home with his family. Heaney seemed bored of waiting: “I sat all morning… counting bells knelling classes to a close.” This phrase ‘counting bells’ suggests that time was passing by slowly. The word ‘all’ is emphasised as if he is really bored and can’t wait to leave the sick bay.
The quote also includes alliteration on the letter ‘l’ showing the long chiming of the bells. The connotations of the word ‘knelling’ are it reminds us of funerals and church bells which also suggest something not so nice has happened. Throughout the stanza we wonder what he is waiting for and why the neighbours are picking him up and not his parents, which suggests that something has happened to them which leaves us with an uneasy feeling.
The second stanza is set outside the family home on the front porch. When Heaney arrives home he meets his father crying which is unusual for him as his father normally took ‘funerals in his stride.’ Heaney also meets ‘Big Jim Evans’ who is suggested to be a family friend or a farm worker. ‘Big Jim Evans’ makes a tactless comment by saying ‘it was a hard blow.’ On first reading you don’t realise how awkward the situation would be for Heaney after the tactless comment was made. Some people may react very harshly to the comment as it is a very upsetting time for families and friends, although we only realise the full extent of this gate at the end of the poem.
The next three stanzas are set in the living room with many grieving family members and friends paying their respects. These stanzas are joined by enjambment as the poem carries on after each stanza without full stops. As Heaney entered the living room his youngest sibling ‘cooed and laughed and rocked the pram’ in excitement, an activity that seemed out of place for such a sad event. He was also embarrassed by the older men shaking his hand as he walked through the door. He felt very awkward as it was an unusual thing to happen to him. The old me were telling him how sorry they were for his trouble.
Strangers where being informed that he was the eldest, away at school. Heaney noticed that they were whispering which would have meant the situation would have been awkward for him. Heaney’s mother took his hand in hers which wasn’t only to comfort him but to comfort her as well. As she held his hand she ‘coughed out angry tearless sighs.’ She was probably very distressed and angry, not only at herself but also the driver who had hit her son. At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived with his brother’s body. In the poem Heaney refers to his brother’s body as ‘the corpse’ which sounds very impersonal and a strange word to use describing a family member. I think Heaney wasn’t allowing himself to believe it was his brother. The body arrived ‘stanched and bandaged by the nurses.’
The next two stanzas are set the next morning upstairs in the bedroom. Throughout these two stanzas Heaney uses personal pronouns but before he had spoken about his brother as another body. Heaney sits alone next to his brother’s body. These two stanzas have a feel of a calm and soft atmosphere which contrasts with the first five stanzas. The first five stanzas have a more awkward, tense and sad atmosphere. In the room the unusual feeling is gone. The metaphor used at the start of stanza seven, ‘wearing a poppy bruise’ reminds us of death and unhappy times. The bruise placed upon his left temple, was probably the same size, shape and colour as a poppy. Heaney uses the word ‘wearing’ to describe his brother’s bruise. By using this word it makes it sound as if it was just there and could be taken off, not something that was permanent and part of his brother. Heaney described his brother as if he was lying in his cot not a coffin.
By doing this it conveys the feeling that he is just asleep, all well and peaceful a bit like a baby. He looks normal as he had ‘no gaudy scars’ on his body. We find out that Heaney hadn’t seen his brother for six weeks and seeing his brother just lying there with no expression of happiness at his arrival must has made him feel angry and extremely sad but still he never shows any personal emotions in the way he writes. The last line of stanza seven is where we find out what happened to the little bot. Heaney’s younger brother had been hit by a ‘bumper’-part of a car-which had ‘knocked him clear’ hence the lack of horrible cuts and scars. As the boy lay In his coffin he was ‘soothed’ by snowdrops and candles which helped to calm and create a peaceful environment for grieving family members.
The last stanza of the poem is structured with only one line making it standout and seem important. This stanza is very emotional not just for the family but also for the reader as you find out exactly how old the younger brother was when he was hit by the car. Heaney uses the word ‘box’ which sounds more homely, less threatening, not so much like a coffin. A box makes it sound very small unlike a coffin which is normally quite big. The alliteration on the letter ‘f’ in the last line helps Heaney emphasise the age of the little boy. The last line is placed on its own separated from the rest just like the little boy removed from the world alone by death: ‘A four foot box, a foot for every year.’
The simplicity of the poem’s structure emphasises the emotions that were carried out throughout the poem. During the poem you get the feeling that Heaney is grieving for his younger brother by holding back his emotions because it would be too painful and uncomfortable for him to express it openly. In the first few stanzas Heaney tries to distance himself from everyone and the fact that his brother has passed away by using the word ‘corpse.’
Heaney uses emotionless statements in his first few stanzas which to me shows that he had emotions but was trying really hard not to show them. I have enjoyed reading ‘Mid-term Break’ even though it is an emotional poem as it has given me a lot to think about. I have thought about Heaney must have felt knowing he wasn’t going to see his brother again. This poem was very interesting and emotional even though Heaney at times, tries to hold back his emotions and it is interesting to see how people coped in their own different ways with the death.
Courtney from Study Moose
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