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ANALYSIS OF A POEM — MID TERM BREAK BY SEAMUS HEANEY
In Mid Term Break by Seamus Heaney, how does the poet manage to convey a sense of his grief.
Mid Term Break by Seamus Heaney is a poem in which the writer gives an account of a family tragedy. In this poem he expresses feelings of dismay on seeing his father crying, feelings of disbelief on seeing older men standing up for him and shocking grief to discover that his four year old brother had died in an accident. As well as these feelings, Heaney also comments on ideas such as the baby blissfully oblivious to the tragic event unfolding in the family. Through the techniques he uses, the poet manages to show how both he and his family cope with grief caused by the event being described.
In the poem Mid Term Break the poet Seamus Heaney is himself the speaker; he recalls the time when he was a child away in school and was suddenly recalled home. On returning home he witnesses his father crying and a gathering of people who came to offer him condolences. Furthermore, he sees his mother in anguish but on the other hand his baby sibling in the pram appears to be oblivious to the tragedy he was about to discover. The next morning the ambulance brought the body of his brother who had been knocked down by a car. There was a bruise on his forehead and he lay in a coffin four-foot long; his brother was only four years old.
Each person so mentioned in the poem reacts very differently to the death of the boy. We are told that the father appeared to be crying although he was a man who could take death in his stride. This is understandable because it is his very own son who is now dead. Heaneys mother on the other hand is full of anger and anguish. She is angry because faith had dealt a cruel blow in that her little four-year-old son had died in a car accident. The poet himself seems confused; he then was possibly a young teenager not quite ready to deal with a tragedy unfolding in his family. His confusion is further underlined by older men standing up for him. Seeing his father crying must have troubled him. Finally the arrival of his brother’s body had him understand the situation he was not quite ready to accept.
In this poem, sounds are very important and powerful. In the first stanza the school bells are described as knelling. Immediately this suggests an atmosphere of foreboding. However the apprehension suggested is hidden from the reader until Seamus Heaney goes home. Later on we are told the mother “coughed out angry tearless sighs” Cough is normally related to a health condition but here it underlines the deep sorrow the mother experiences. This is in contrast to the baby who “cooed and laughed” – these sounds are in contrast to the other sounds of grief in the room. Hence the baby’s reaction highlights the mother’s grief.
In the first five stanzas the atmosphere is one of subdued and controlled grief not withstanding the disposition of the baby. However, in the final few stanzas the atmosphere has changed to one in which the author appears to have understood the tragic circumstances of his brothers death. The word soothing shows the reader the poet is now slowly beginning to accept. The point that Heaney is making here is that children are quite adaptable in extreme circumstances. The final line sums up the overall feeling of the poem, which is that life is fragile, and you maybe be called upon to accept it.
Mid Term Break is clearly a poem about a painful and tragic event in the poets life. In order to fully express the grief this experience caused to both the poet and his family, he has used words such as knelling, crying, funerals, angry tearless sighs, corpse and poppy bruise. He also uses symbolic language as in poppy bruise to describe the cause of death. Finally the last sentence “A four foot box, a foot for every year” completely sums up the tragedy. He has managed to show the reader that although young in years he had managed to live past the tragic experience in his early life.