Go back to the Heaney page for more texts and other resources.

Mid-Term Break

A critical essay on Heany's poem.

{Mid-term Break }by Seamus Heaney is a true account of a tragic incident that happened to him as a child. The poem is about the death of his 4yr old brother.

The poem consists of three separate scenes, the college sick bay, the room full of visitors and the bedroom where his brothers? body is laid. The poet has chosen these scenes for their importance and drama, when remembering that fateful day these are the scenes that are engraved in his memory. There is no importance attached to the journey home except that his parents did not collect him, and it was more than likely just a blur.
The order of the scenes again are important to him, as the college sick bay would be a place of dread, as no-one who was not sick or injured was sent there, unless to receive bad news from home. The next scene again was unusual to him because of two things, his father crying and adults showing him a child, respect which was unimaginable in that time. The next scene is where the enormity of what had happened sinks in, and therefore is the most descriptive scene.

The first scene takes place at school, from stanza 1, line 1 and from stanza 4, line 2-3 we are told that he is at boarding school.
The Author places a lot of emphasis on time, the whole of the first stanza, line 2 of the fifth stanza, also the first and third lines of the sixth stanza, all refer to time, this indicates the sense of heavy foreboding he felt, also the bewilderment and surrealism of the situation. The authors use of alliteration in the first stanza, line two tells us two things, the first is again the importance of time and how slowly it passed, but the clever use of the word ?knelling? gives the sense of death, as in the quote ?the funeral bells knell?.

The second scene takes place at his home in a room full of visitors, the bewilderment and surrealism of the situation is really brought to the fore in this scene. The shock of seeing his father cry, the role reversal of the ?old men standing to shake his hand?, his mother not shedding any tears, and amongst all this tragedy the baby is happy in his pram. The atmosphere of this scene is very important, and the author emphasis this by having the stanzas 2-5 run into each other. The sense of rhythm of the baby is also well portrayed with the place of the extra ?and?, placed in the first line of the third stanza. This adds imagery to this scene along with the second line in the fourth stanza. The Author also gives a sense of period and religion by the use of dialect, for instance in stanza four line one, and also stanza five line three, the first shows that the time is most likely to be around the 1950?s in rural Ireland, the use of the word corpse, portrays the ritual of Irish Catholicism, and how they perceive the dead.

The final scene takes place in the bedroom; in this scene the unity of life and death the author feels, is apparent as he does not see the corpse as his brother but when referring to seeing his brothers? body for the first time he speaks of him as if he is still alive, by mentioning ?how pale he looks?. When referring to the bedroom he is very impersonal which suggest two things; firstly that he and his brother shared the room, and also that the reality of the situation has not sunk in yet, that it is as if it is happening to someone else. In stanza six, lines 1-2 the author portrays innocence, and the time of year. Stanza seven line one shows the tragedy and irony of the event, he does this by good use of imagery and symbolism. As we know snowdrops flower at the beginning of the year and are white, so from this we get both the innocence and season. Poppies are commonly used to portray the violent, tragic death of a young person.

The title is successful in showing the irony of the poem, at first glance you think the poem will be about a normal school break, of a happy time, but before the end of the first line you know this is not the case, and right away your curiosity is aroused. The author implies a tragic death to a close family member, and captures your intrigue by keeping the identity and age of the victim till the end. In the seventh stanza you know that the victim is young, but it is not until the last line that you learn the age of the child. This is the point when there is a sharp intake of breath from the reader as they feel as if they have just been slapped in the face, this effect is caused by the clever use of the rhyming couplet at the end, giving the poem a very hard hitting dramatic ending.

The idea of loss is presented from two different perspectives, firstly from an adult point of view and then from a Childs, which are very different. It is plain to see that the adults in the poem understand what has happened, where as the author, a child at the time of the tragedy does not comprehend the severity of the situation, and is more concerned with what is happening to him than the death of his brother.

The loss that the adults feel is shown very clearly by; his father crying, the old men shaking his hand and giving him their condolences, the whispering strangers and his mothers ?angry tearless sighs? whereas the author himself shows no signs of the loss he has suffered, this is shown in the embarrassment he feels at the old men standing to shake his hand, and also when in the bedroom he sees the corpse but does not associate it with his brother. He does not realise until the very end of the poem that he will never again see or play with his brother. This is due to his age; because he is so young he has no concept of death.
Having dealt with death both as a child and an adult, I can clearly understand the authors? presentation of the idea of loss, it is not until you are an adult that you can understand and deal (to some extent) with the reality of death.

Authors | Quotes | Digests | Submit | Interact | Store

Copyright © Classics Network. Contact Us