Mid Term Break by Seumas Heaney
The title of the poem is deliberately deceptive because the phrase
'Mid Term Break' suggests a term-time holiday, which is normally a
happy occasion. In reality, the meaning of the title is considerably
less cheerful as, later in the poem, we learn that Heaney's younger
brother has died. Therefore, the word 'break' in the title refers to a
break in the family.
In the first stanza, we are immediately aware that there is tragedy
underlying the poem. The phrase "Counting bells knelling classes to a
close" signifies that there has perhaps been a death; bells 'knelling'
are often linked to funeral processions. Heaney has also used
alliteration in this line, which helps us to stir up some of the
unhappiness. Long vowel sounds such as ou, ell, ass, ose and 's' are
used to reflect the sound of bells, which give this stanza a slow,
pounding rhythm. Again, this could be to signify the somberness of the
Our suspicions of a death are confirmed in the second stanza, when the
narrator describes his father as having "always taken funerals in
their stride." In this instance though, the father's tears indicate
the passing of someone incredibly close to him - immediate family. The
third line, "Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow," tells us that
the death is a particularly tragic one, and one that will be difficult
to come to terms with.
We learn in stanza three that the narrator has a younger sibling and
how his or her reactions are in such stark contrast to the solemn
reality of the scene. "The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the
pram." In this line, we notice that there are no commas. This informs
us that these three things, cooing, rocking and laughing, were all
done at the same time. The baby seems happy on such a grave occasion,
which for me makes the poem more moving. The baby is clearly far too
young to understand what is going on, and so has no reason to feel any
sadness. Later on in the stanza, the narrator comments on how he feels
uneasy at having the older men shake his hand.
"I was embarrassed by the old men standing up to shake my hand"
In stanza four, the phrase 'sorry for my trouble' is in inverted
commas. This is indirect speech, as 'my' is written instead of 'your'.
This draws attention to what the old men have said - being stuck for
words at such a hard time, they use a cliché. People often find it
hard to talk to the bereaved - they aren't sure if their words will be
found comforting or irritating. They stick to clichés such as 'sorry
for your trouble' because they know that nothing else they say will
make anyone feel any better. At almost any other time, people can
speak confidently and at ease; however, when a death occurs, they find
it difficult and are lost for words.
The narrator's mother holds his hand...