Recap of Mid-Term Break

We briefly looked at Seamus Heaney’s Mid-Term Break. Here is a recap:

Seamus Heaney wrote this poem as a reflection on the death of his infant brother, Christopher, who died in a car accident in 1953 when Heaney was fourteen.

He was at boarding school forty miles from home at the time his brother died.

The title has multiple meanings. It refers to both an official and an unofficial school break.

The word knelling is often associated with death (as with the “knelling” of a funeral bell) so this adds a morbid tone to the opening of the poem.

The fact that he is picked up by his neighbours not his parents leads us to wonder why his parents cannot pick him up.

Heaney brings the reader with him as he has to walk into the house through the porch to meet his father; “Big Jim Evans”; the baby in its pram; the old men gathering in the living room; and finally his mother coughing out “angry tearless sighs”, which show she was hiding how she really felt, perhaps for the sake of her son.

The baby does not realise what is happening.

There is a contrast between the way the mother and the father react to the son’s death. The mother is more angry than sad while the father is filled with tears.

His feelings at the house when he gets there were those of embarrassment as he was treated like a mature adult by old men standing to shake his hand.

Heaney uses the snowdrops and candles to show how people need ceremony and ritual to soothe the pain of losing a loved one.

The poet’s brother died because he was hit by a car. We discover that it was a car accident in the second-last line.

Even though he never says how he feels, you get the sense that he is deeply unhappy.

In losing his four-year-old brother, Heaney also lost his own childhood innocence, as he discovered the brutal reality of the world.

The effect of the isolated last line is to focus on the tragedy of the boy’s death.

This poem records his experience quite dispassionately; we know how other people feel but not much of how he felt. Yet he remembers everything of that day.

Heaney is in between the very young and the old. He is outside.

Apart from the last line which reveals the brother’s age, the poem is written in 3-line unrhymed stanzas.

The poem has such a powerful effect because the emotions are so understated. Heaney describes only what he sees, not commenting, never letting any feelings reach the surface. His emotions are restrained.

You can find the poem and an interesting comment on the poem here.

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