The poem talks about a boy at school, in the sick bay; when the news comes that his four year old brother has been killed in a car accident. Arriving home, he sees his father crying. The boy is embarrassed by old men who are standing up, waiting for him to shake his hand. They tell him that they are sorry for his trouble. The next morning the boy goes upstairs to see his brother lying “in the four foot box as in his cot.
This poem captures a boy’s unfolding consciousness of death by recounting the facts of his experience of being kept in the sick bay until his neighbours go fetch him, his father crying, the awkward behavior of the old men, and the “poppy bruise” on the corpse’s holy place. In the end he expresses death’s finality: “A four foot box, a foot for every year.” Meaning the age of his little brother, which was four.
It was a harsh but different death, “no gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear”. This indicates the death was quick and relatively painless. This is probably what his parents told him, as death is painful enough for grieving loved ones, without dwelling on the manner of death of such a close and loved family member. Big Jim Evans used a metaphor to describe the death as a “Hard blow”, or otherwise meaning an emotional “hard blow” for the family.
The next morning Seamus looked at the death differently, the strangers had left his home, and time enabled him to come to terms with the death.
“Next morning I went up into the room”, this sounds very impersonal until he saw his brother. Candles and snowdrops in the transferred epithet soothed the atmosphere inside the room. “He lay in the four foot box, as in his cot”, the child’s appearance changed only as he was “Paler now” and he was “Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple”. Seamus had now realised that he had lost his brother, as personal pronouns are used in the sixth stanza as he describes, “I saw him for the first time in six weeks”.
The title represnts a break british schools often have. This particular one was actually different. It meant that for the death of his brother he had had his “holidays” longer, or an extra day as a child would think. The title is kind of ironic but it makes sense when you think about it.