Mid term break
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Mid-term Break. by Seamus Heaney. Mid-term Break. by Seamus Heaney. Think about what the title implies. What will this poem be about? And don’t say potatoes!. Context. In 1951, Seamus Heaney was 12 years of age and he went to St. Columb’s College in Derry where he was a boarding pupil.

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Mid-term Break

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Mid term break

Mid-term Break

by Seamus Heaney

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Mid term break1

Mid-term Break

by Seamus Heaney

Think about what the title implies. What will this poem be about? And don’t say potatoes!

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Context

Context

  • In 1951, Seamus Heaney was 12 years of age and he went to St. Columb’s College in Derry where he was a boarding pupil.

  • Whilst attending the college, Heaney’s younger brother Christopher was killed in a road accident and this poem involves the poet recalling the events that happened to him after this.

In what sense is the title misleading?

What effect does this have on the reader when they realise what the subject really is?

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Mid term break

The poem begins with the narrator recalling being a child in the college sick bay – he was not ill and had been taken there as something had happened.

I sat all morning in the college sick bayCounting bells knelling classes to a close,At two o'clock our neighbors drove me home.In the porch I met my father crying--He had always taken funerals in his stride--And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pramWhen I came in, and I was embarrassedBy old men standing up to shake my handAnd tell me they were "sorry for my trouble,"Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,Away at school, as my mother held my handIn hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.At ten o'clock the ambulance arrivedWith the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.Next morning I went up into the room. SnowdropsAnd candles soothed the bedside; I saw himFor the first time in six weeks. Paler now,Wearing a poppy bruise on the left temple,He lay in the four foot box as in a cot.No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.A four foot box, a foot for every year.

A neighbour then arrived and took the poet home, where it becomes clear that something

terrible has happened. His father was crying and this was entirely out of character and

the family friend Jim Evans was there. Old men greet the child and shake his hand.

Then the body arrives.

The poem ends with a change of scene and time, as the child enters the room of his dead

brother the next morning and he attempts to make sense of what has happened.

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Mid term break

‘knelling’ suggests funereal bells rather than a change of lessons. Fore-shadowing events to come

Why is he in sick bay?

I sat all morning in the college sick bayCounting bells knelling classes to a close,At two o'clock our neighbors drove me home.In the porch I met my father crying--He had always taken funerals in his stride--And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pramWhen I came in, and I was embarrassedBy old men standing up to shake my handAnd tell me they were "sorry for my trouble,"Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,Away at school, as my mother held my handIn hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.At ten o'clock the ambulance arrivedWith the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.Next morning I went up into the room. SnowdropsAnd candles soothed the bedside; I saw himFor the first time in six weeks. Paler now,Wearing a poppy bruise on the left temple,He lay in the four foot box as in a cot.No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.A four foot box, a foot for every year.

Suggests the boredom of waiting, the confused calm before the storm

Stark image of a distraught parent. He’s unable to cope as at other funerals. Why?

‘hard blow’ has a double meaning and emphasises the nature of the scene.

What are the two meanings?

Alliteration stresses the feeling of something ending

Emphasises the passage of time and contrasts with the slowness with which the poet experienced it

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Mid term break

The baby doesn’t know what’s happening and this is in contrast to Heaney’s reactions

Heaney draws the reader through this unusual scene.

Heaney himself is ‘embarrassed’ by the attention of the ‘old men’

What reaction would he have to his mother’s ‘angry tearless sighs’

I sat all morning in the college sick bayCounting bells knelling classes to a close,At two o'clock our neighbors drove me home.In the porch I met my father crying--He had always taken funerals in his stride--And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pramWhen I came in, and I was embarrassedBy old men standing up to shake my handAnd tell me they were "sorry for my trouble,"Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,Away at school, as my mother held my handIn hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.At ten o'clock the ambulance arrivedWith the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.Next morning I went up into the room. SnowdropsAnd candles soothed the bedside; I saw himFor the first time in six weeks. Paler now,Wearing a poppy bruise on the left temple,He lay in the four foot box as in a cot.No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.A four foot box, a foot for every year.

Assonance used by Heaney. The short ‘a’ sounds could suggest the abrupt end to his brother’s life.

Heaney doesn’t seem to see his brother; he sees a corpse wrapped in the failed attempts to save him.

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Mid term break

I sat all morning in the college sick bayCounting bells knelling classes to a close,At two o'clock our neighbors drove me home.In the porch I met my father crying--He had always taken funerals in his stride--And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pramWhen I came in, and I was embarrassedBy old men standing up to shake my handAnd tell me they were "sorry for my trouble,"Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,Away at school, as my mother held my handIn hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.At ten o'clock the ambulance arrivedWith the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.Next morning I went up into the room. SnowdropsAnd candles soothed the bedside; I saw himFor the first time in six weeks. Paler now,Wearing a poppy bruise on the left temple,He lay in the four foot box as in a cot.No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.A four foot box, a foot for every year.

They literally sooth Heaney and allow him to start the grieving process.

These images are symbolic, both for the family and the reader, of new-life and

Change of scene from the hectic, embarrassing business of Heaney’s return home.

Heaney comes to terms with the loss and accepts ‘the corpse’ as his brother.

Stark image is left hanging at the end of the stanza

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Mid term break

I sat all morning in the college sick bayCounting bells knelling classes to a close,At two o'clock our neighbors drove me home.In the porch I met my father crying--He had always taken funerals in his stride--And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pramWhen I came in, and I was embarrassedBy old men standing up to shake my handAnd tell me they were "sorry for my trouble,"Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,Away at school, as my mother held my handIn hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.At ten o'clock the ambulance arrivedWith the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.Next morning I went up into the room. SnowdropsAnd candles soothed the bedside; I saw himFor the first time in six weeks. Paler now,Wearing a poppy bruise on the left temple,He lay in the four foot box as in a cot.No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.A four foot box, a foot for every year.

The bruise is not a part of his brother. Heaney sees him as metaphorically ‘wearing’ it, as if it could be removed

Why has Heaney chosen a poppy?

Think about the symbolism associated with poppies and think of it as a visual image as well

Contrast between the peaceful, clean image with that of earlier

As a baby might, sleeping. Again the contrast between the hectic start and calm end is obvious

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Mid term break

For the first time we learn the child’s age as Heaney bitterly jokes that the coffin is a measure for his life

Clear factual understanding of what has happened and Heaney doesn’t shy away from that

I sat all morning in the college sick bayCounting bells knelling classes to a close,At two o'clock our neighbors drove me home.In the porch I met my father crying--He had always taken funerals in his stride--And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pramWhen I came in, and I was embarrassedBy old men standing up to shake my handAnd tell me they were "sorry for my trouble,"Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,Away at school, as my mother held my handIn hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.At ten o'clock the ambulance arrivedWith the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.Next morning I went up into the room. SnowdropsAnd candles soothed the bedside; I saw himFor the first time in six weeks. Paler now,Wearing a poppy bruise on the left temple,He lay in the four foot box as in a cot.No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.A four foot box, a foot for every year.

Final line stands alone and draws the readers full attention.

Again the poignantly humorous reference to the coffin as a box stresses Heaney’s childlike bitterness

The rhyming couplet serves to stress the tragedy in the reader’s mind

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Mid term break

Enjambment and caesura used until the the final two stanzas. This could suggest the confusion of the events surrounding the death and Heaney’s arrival home

I sat all morning in the college sick bayCounting bells knelling classes to a close,At two o'clock our neighbors drove me home.In the porch I met my father crying--He had always taken funerals in his stride--And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pramWhen I came in, and I was embarrassedBy old men standing up to shake my handAnd tell me they were "sorry for my trouble,"Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,Away at school, as my mother held my handIn hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.At ten o'clock the ambulance arrivedWith the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.Next morning I went up into the room. SnowdropsAnd candles soothed the bedside; I saw himFor the first time in six weeks. Paler now,Wearing a poppy bruise on the left temple,He lay in the four foot box as in a cot.No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.A four foot box, a foot for every year.

This is an incredibly personal piece of poetry.

As a reader, what is your reaction to reading this poem?

End-stopping of the final stanza stresses the calm, contemplative nature of the young Heaney’s private grieving

Heaney uses contrasting images and emotions throughout this poem. Why might this be?

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Comparisons

Comparisons

  • Cold Knap Lake / On the Train – Both of these poems deal with the idea of loss and the way death or the prospect of death can affect people.

  • • The Field-Mouse / The Man He Killed – These poems deal with loss and also question the suffering that has taken place and its pointlessness.

  • • On My First Sonne – This poem concerns the loss of a child and has been written to make sense of what has happened – more positive than ‘Mid-Term Break’.

Are there any other comparisons you can think of?

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Themes

Themes

  • Childhood – The poem involves the poet recalling an event from his own childhood.

  • It involves the narrator ‘growing up’ due to the terrible nature of the experience.

  • Death / Loss – The fact that the poem deals with the death of a child, encourages the reader and narrator to question the pointlessness of death.

  • Focus of the poem is on the reactions of people to death and the way people attempt to make sense of the loss.

  • Memory – Poem recalls an event from the past and this links it to other poems in the collection that involve looking back in order to see the present and future clearly.

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Review

Review

  • Note the reactions of the two parents - how does the reader react to this?

  • With whom, do you think, is the mother angry?

  • How does the poem contrast the fuss of the homecoming with the calmness of the scene when Seamus sees his brother's body?

  • What do you think is the meaning of the poem's last line?

  • What is your reaction to this poem?

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