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Recently I have been studying two similarly themed poems both concentrated upon the chilling reality of death. In the following essay I will to analyse & compare the similarities & contrasts between “Mid term break” Written by Seamus Heaney & “Treasure in the Heart” written by Joolz.
I will attempt to delve & explore the subconscious meanings behind the structure and wording of these poems.
I will attempt to give a brief overview of relevant background information concerning Heaney & Joolz which had a substantial effect on the poems written by both poets.
Seamus Heaney was born in April nineteen thirty nine, the first of a closely knit family what would eventually turn out to be nine siblings. This ment Seamus felt a lot of responsibility to his family from a young age. This is surely a contributing factor to why he wrote this poem as he would have surely blamed himself in part for his brother’s death.
This is very similar to one of the reason why Joolz would have written her poem both were very close to these people and felt a lot of anguish at there passing.
Both would have wanted to be able to pay there respects in a more memorable & effective way for themselves.
Seamus family was a mixture of “old Ireland” his father being a second generation cattle. But his mother was a descendant of the “new Ireland” a family with many Irish industrial ties. This surely gave Seamus a unique and very diverse view when it came to his surroundings.
When Seamus was only twelve years old he was awarded a scholarship to St.Columb College. This gave him a real opportunity to do what he could with his life. Evidently family was a very important subject in Heaney’s life & I am sure that is why he found it so important to write a poem about this event.
From studying the title of his poem “Mid term Break” you would expect a happy poem with children playing having fun. You would not expect the opposite and that is exactly what this poem really represents. The poem is about death and the wave of misery & destruction that affects the concerned people.
Another way you could look at the title of the poem is that he wanted to make his last memory of his brother a fond one.
As he was also older when he wrote this final reflection it would have ment it would be a more mature & reflective title, this however would surely of been different had he wrote it at the time of the death the title would have probably been more an angry outburst of sadness & hatred upon his part.
The word “angry” in the title could first of all represent a break in the routine of everyone’s life, as if once the terrible accident happened everything halted to a stop as people took time to mourn. This word break could also symbolize a time of great time of sadness & grief just like “bells knelling”.
The start of the poem starts slowly rather ambiguously like a sick joke slowly revealing the punch line. He begins the poem with slow & cagey vocabulary it signifies a young boys nervous, clammy state of mind. You can identify with how he would feel when he says:
“I sat all morning”
From this you can feel the tension in the air like a tightly pulled string about to snap.
When you think of having to wait some-where for a long time alone it conjures up memories of boring and sad times. This really sets the theme and tone for the rest of the poem just in this one line a very effective way to begin. He leaves it very mysterious at the start but you know what the general flavour of the poem is going to be from this one taste.
The whole poem is set in first person. This gives it a more immediate impact as if you are living the occasion right now. This is more of an effective style when trying to show the reader the circumstances of the writers anguish. Rather than being set in third person it is more in your face and this gives you the sense of almost viewing the whole scene as a bi-stander.
The use of wording in the second line is a very significant & begins to give you an inkling of what has happened when he says:
The way knelling is slotted into the poem is a useful indicator of what has happened, as seen by the actual definition of knelling which is: (verb) 1. To ring a bell slowly & solemnly, especially for a funeral.
So as shown by the very descriptive use of wording used at this stage the bells were a very significant part his memory of this saddest of times.
The bells would have also have been very significant to him at the time as I am sure time was going so slowly for him. He would have felt sick, agitated but the bells would re-assure him of the fact that time was still going & that no matter how bad he felt life goes on.
Then he moves on to an even more awkward situation you can feel the cold sadness in the air of this journey, the tears streaming down his face when he moves onto:
“Two O’clock our neighbours drove me home”
The inclusion of time is very significant, as it shows how slow time really would have been going for Heaney right then. The way he describes the drive home in general give you a chill down your spine after all he says is:
He makes the whole experience feel very in-personal & foreign as if he was being taken home by some complete stranger like a police officer after doing something horrific.
The whole of the first verse runs on as is then the theme for the rest of the poem. You would tend to believe this is down to the face that when he wrote this poem it was along time after and the memory had all become one jumbled up mess. So this would lead you to think these certain scenes are imprinted into him like a scar deeply running into his darkest parts. As if the memory will be with him for life so he has to get it down on to paper to lighten some of the weight of his pain.
Then he moves onto a scene that was at the time almost as scaring to his conscious being as his brothers death was:
“I met my father crying”
This would have been a very shocking & and uncomfortable situation for Seamus at the time. Surely this one scene would have driven home to him how he must stay strong for his family as they needed him to.
The use of such a miserable revelation as a parent crying over there lost son also shows the reader the effect it had on everyone & how much of a horrific and un-natural situation it is and that no one should have to suffer.
But then just to finish you off he drops in this one really tiny piece of info that really gets to you:
“He had always taken funerals in his stride”
Just as if you didn’t feel for him and his family how terrible this was. When a grown man cries it really shows you how terrifying a fact it is that this one simple act of carelessness can rip a grown man to shreds.
Moving on next you get one character that you will normally find at funerals trying to consol everyone with cheap words. But all everyone really longs for are those precious ties to be relived with the little boy who they all loved but was taken away from them in one “break”.
You then get the sharp but beautiful contrast of something so special it really gives you that glimmer of hope. When you are reminded in your glum, unforgiving state that life is still growing & that there are still more happy memories to be lived. But also it would feel ignorant & rude to laugh at a funeral, but it feels right when a baby laughs. This gives you a reminder of the innocence of the young and how life will poison this if you do not die young. Next you move onto a totally different scene:
“Old men standing up”
This shows the respect they have for this boy as if for today he was a man & with that comes the pain of life.
Heaney uses this situation to his advantage however. Every man has suffered this some time he does not know what is going on or how these men are here or who they are. But there is one thing he does know he should be nervous & embarrassed after all they are here paying respects for this brother and he doesn’t even know who they are.
But even under all this you feel the character of a boy now a man shine though. You can feel the bitterness conveyed when he says:
“Tell me they were sorry for my trouble”
He understands even then when he was just a young boy the hypocritical vibe he feels from them. I mean how can they even know his brother he was only four he had barely even seen the world so what makes these men so special?
You then get the other end of the spectrum another stage in the routine of mourning. Anger of course she’s angry who wouldn’t be if there son was tragically knocked over in some freak accident? But you know you never get the real impact of death concerning a little child until you realise how bad the mother is feeling. That is what really makes this part so personal and gripping:
“Coughed out angry tearless sighs”
It hits you the reader how bad she must be feeling. So sad & angry she can’t even face releasing her eyes to gush out the tears she so richly deserves to let go. No instead she locks away herself to the world & just grips to her son like a young girl clutching her comforting teddy.
But no he still won’t release himself to mourn he must stay strong for the family.
Even hours after the death the true tole of what has happened still doesn’t truly hit then young man still counting the time like the clock of death ticking away A prominent theme though out the poem of course from that solemn tolling bell. But still it hasn’t hit him as now his brother has gone not even a person just:
“The corpse, stanched & bandaged”
The memories are as if they have no left the body all that is left is the empty meaningless shell. Even though is written in first person the description is so in-personal it’s almost cruel.
But then the final nine lines are like one big jumbled description more like a final saying goodbye. He describes such a simple but beautiful just as he would want his brother to have the best. Not an empty corpse this time this is as if his brother is only sleeping for a long time. The scene is the most beautiful & ironically happiest part of them poem.
“Snowdrops & candles soothed the bedside”
This gives the impression of it being a very tranquil & comfortable scene where finally he can mourn & try to come to terms with his brother’s death. The use of snowdrops describes a very beautiful & pure room as if angels are watching over his brother from above. As he would want now his brother is with them.
He the goes on to use an intriguing word to describe the bruise on his temple:
“Wearing a poppy bruise”
It’s almost as if it is not a bruise on his head but a sign of remembrance not just for him but it also signifies the wasteful way so many young men & women lose their lives. It not a bruise on his head really it’s an emblem an icon never to be forgotten neither shall is brother be forgotten as he continues to remain young:
“A four foot box a foot for every year”
Really that is when it hits you the use of this simile is just enough to make you think what really is the point when people are dieing so young.
I think in the reality the last line is there to create a memorable finish that will stick in your mind forever.
In final analysis of the poem I find the poem to start off slow with a sort of dull boring way for effect. But then in the second stanza the poem reads through very quickly this continues until the sixth stanza, I believe this is to display how much a blur the whole memory is. Until he comes to the most significant last two stanzas:
“Snowdrops & candles soothed the bedside”
This is a beautiful & calm analogy unlike the previous few stanzas it is a more calm & thoughtful description. Throughout the last two stanzas he uses a lot more punctuation like commas and full-stops for example. This is because it was probably the most memorable part of the whole experience after all it’s the last time he saw his baby brother.
I find this poem to be a very beautiful & realistic poem. He uses good effects such as descriptive words & an ever changing pace to keep the reader glued and keeps them thinking. He uses some very good similes such as:
“He lay in his four foot box as in his cot”
This sad but beautiful simile is a great way to finish off any poem and in all I think it is a great poem.
Also the most interesting aspect of the middle stanzas he takes you though different people & there contrasting ways of dealing with bereavement
Now moving onto Joolz and the information behind her life and why she would put what she has in her poem.
Joolz born in Colchester in 1955 actually once said herself:
“I was a difficult child”
Brought up in Cosham near Portsmouth she would often spend lots of time with her Nan as her mother worked for the electricity board & her father would spend long periods away with the army. This is probably the main reason behind why she was angry at the death of her grand mother and the setting of her funeral.
Joolz was a troubled youth, she hated school everything except art. She could make herself ill on demand, a weapon she surely used more than once. She moved to Harrogate, Yorkshire in her childhood where she would be based for many years. As an adolescent she was difficult to look after and was put on tranquilisers.
When she was only sixteen years old talented at poetry she went along to a folk club at the time she was the only girl.
When only 19 she married a maintenance fitter & motorbike kid. After that for a while she stopped writing poetry but after five years they split up and she moved to Bradford. This show how will full she was and independent she must have truly believed in being herself & obviously it must have been very hard for her at her Nan’s funeral evidently.
From the title of Joolz poem:
“Treasure in the Heart”
You can tell this is going to be a very loving & beautiful portrayal of some ones life. Obviously to reflect on a true treasure in Joolz heart. The use of these words is a very poetic way to start. The title of Joolz poem is more to the point & gives you an idea of what the poem is going to be about. Unlike Heaney’s title which is rather misleading & elusive.
Both ways are effective but in different aspects, Heaney’s for shocking you after such a normal & uninspiring title. But then there is Joolz title which is just so beautiful & really gives you the sense of passion from the start.
This really sets the tone for the whole poem & you know from then on there is going to be a lot of regret & passion blazed on these stanzas.
Her passion is displayed by the strong words she uses like “shouted” the wording shows how much she cared.
Just like in Heaney’s poem Joolz sets hers in first person. This as I said is significant as it gets the reader more immersed & just like Heaney’s poem it means the emotions from the poem can shine through.
All through the first three lines she begins them with “I should”. This shows how angry she was at herself and evidently she wish she could make it up to her Nan. But even more important she wishes she could go back & change everything.
But crucially I think she is writing this poem as some sort of minor reprisal for the way she let her Nan down, but also for her to vent her anger the only constructive way she knows how.
Also she wants to immerse the reader and by opening with this repetitive start it intrigues the reader and compels them to read on.
But she’s not just angry at herself just like she has lived her life she is angry at the system:
“In that sickly, stupid, hideous place”
This really shows the root of her furious tone. She knows that the chapel was never good enough not for her Nan not for no ones.
She knows that nothing but the best would be good enough & you know from the way she reacts she just wanted it to be perfect.
What she did not want it to be was fake, un-respectful & thoughtless but that’s all it really was:
“Full of fake fabric flowers… taped organ music”
This she knows should have been a happier occasion after all her nana had a long life…she was lucky when you think of Heaney’s brother & the way he was taken she would have known her nana was lucky too.
But why such a fake terrible service to remember her after all was her Nan not good enough for some real beautiful flowers at some gorgeous antique church?
Even then more insults seemed to sprout from every where for instance all ten people who turned up, after all those years her Nan had lived did she not deserve for a at least a few more people to pay there respects?
A far cry from the hundreds of people who were there for Heaney and his family after his brother’s death, what a difference a few people make.
But then the biggest insult of them all, this really seemed to push Joolz to breaking point but at the same time drew the writer in:
“this fat, untidy…woman rolls out sonorously…imbecile clichï¿½s”
Even then she knows no matter how bad the ceremony was still a great person:
“her terrible strength & sword sharp truthfulness”
This is why Joolz loves her Nan & why someone would not have loved her would have probably bewildered her. But how even her Nan had fallen from that once great person who she will always love and cherish but now she is just:
“Shell thin and faded silvery”
This must really hurt Joolz to see her Nan the most motherly figure she probably had, turned into nothing more than skin & bones. Overall her Nan was ten times better than that fat untidy Christian woman could ever be and that is what she hates most.
She hates how she was at her funeral this is evident all the way from lines twenty five- thirty!
“Snotty nosed…still a child”
This is very important as it shows through all the anger & her thoughts that she was still only a child & must understand how is was not really her fault. In fact Heaney was at a very similar age he neither knew what to do but they dealt with it the same at the end of the day but in there own little ways.
I understand totally after all when you are only a teenager you are fully aware of death but it still remains some one else’s problem till it hits you.
But even then she knew very well that her nana deserved more time than she got:
“Nine minutes that stupid ceremony took”
Time is important to her after all the years her nana spent looking after her all the opportunity she has to pay her respects is nine pitiful minutes. Of course this is going to make her angry everyone deserves the chance to mourn for longer than nine minutes no matter who you are:
“Listen to me!”
The line she has probably rehearsed in her head a thousand times but she lets it pass. She would have been fierce like her nana would have wanted. This is the passion she really wants to show on that fateful day, or just to say how disgusted she really was. Then she could have rallied her ceremony to make it that little bit more perfect:
“She deserved more than this…in the end”
She would have said everything she needed to say then and she would never have needed to write this poem. But then you would never of had this ending of such sad proportions:
“But I said nothing…im really sorry”
These are really important words as then finally say what she has all along been longing to bellow.
The whole poem is set out more like one whole paragraph for the majority. More of speech than a poem, in truth the lines are simple sectioned into groups ranting about different topics. The poem flows well all of it relating into the next part as it is very well though out.
I personally find the poem to be good but it is a more personal topic. I find it harder to relate to this poem rather than Heaney’s however the use of description & the whole poem is very impressive.
Finally I found Heaney’s poem to be the better & most effective. The fact that the poem was about a year olds death compels me more than Joolz topic.
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