Mid-Term Break: Critical Essay

The grief Seamus Heaney suffered when his younger brother died is obvious after reading his poem Mid-Term Break. Heaney reveals his true feelings to us in the poem and makes it real to us by using various techniques. How Heaney achieves this will be the subject of this essay.

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In the first stanza of his poem, Heaney describes the anxiety he undergoes while waiting for his neighbours to pick him up from boarding school. Following this stanza he then describes the events that occurred when he arrived home. Heaney ends the poem with a single sentence saying “A four foot box, a foot for every year”.

When we read the title Mid-Term Break, we expect this to be a happy poem as it indicates a holiday but even though we are unsure what this poem is about, we instantly realise that this is not a cheery poem about a young boy’s holiday. Our first clue is that it says he spent all morning in the “college sick bay”; you do not tend to associate sick bays with good things. Our next clue is that Heaney says that the bells are “knelling” rather than ringing. “Knelling” means the ringing of funeral-like bells, not the ringing of school bells. These clues suggest that someone has died. He emphasizes the effect of these clues by using alliteration. The third clue is that he says he met his “father crying” on the porch. Heaney goes on saying how his father always took “funerals in his stride”, which shows that someone has died who is close to his family. There are two meanings to the sentence “Big Jim Evans saying it had been a hard blow”: Jim could have meant that the death had hit Heaney’s father hard, or Jim may have meant the car hit the person hard.

Heaney continues to describe the unfurling events and now turns his focus to how others are coping with the death. First, he contrasts the gloominess of the last two stanzas by starting with the description of a content baby in a pram. He uses onomatopoeia to describe the cooing of the baby.