?Mid-Term Break? By Seamus Heaney Essay, Research Paper
Mid-term Break C.E.
The poem I am evaluating in this essay is titled ?Mid-term
break? and was written by Seamus Heaney. The poem is about
the laying out to rest of a four year old told from his older brother?s perspective. I will be dealing with and trying to
explain the use of words, images and techniques and their
effects on the poem.
Starting off with the title. There is a dramatic irony to it
that is noticed when read through a couple of times. It relates to the
Child?s position in that his life was broken short i.e. “Mid-term Break”. It had not been completed. As one read on one will
realise that when the title is decrypted the atmosphere is amplified
again. The sad empathetic feeling.
This is achieved through a number of factors. The most
important is the fact that it’s told from the brother?s point of view. The very first word in the poem is “I”. This immediately brings the reader into the poem. It opens our minds by making us think, so that the poem can be appreciated, as it should be.
?I sat all morning?. Here the emphasis is directed on all. This simple word makes us think how long, drawn out and boring this morning must?ve been for the brother (who is presumably the narrator). Also there?s a fearful expectancy, the idea of a suspenseful wait. But where was he waiting?
?In the college sick bay?. This suggests there is something wrong with the narrator. This hints he may be ill while at the same time helping to reinforce of expecting, suspense.
While he was sitting he was ?Counting bells?. This adds to the continuously surmounting pile of anxiety, fear, expectancy and suspense. This is because he doesn?t just hear the bells ringing in the background; he?s counting every ring.
He isn?t just counting out of boredom (although this is one reason). He is counting because the bells are ?Knelling classes to a close?. A very sinister phrase. Knell is what funeral bells ring with. ?to a close.? Added with the knelling this mixes to a good effect. The bells aren?t mark the beginning of a new class to him, there?s a final, definite ending. The alliteration here comes across ads intimidating because of the hard K sounds in ?counting?, ?classes? and ?close?.
In the next line ?two ?o? clock? is stated by the narrator. This is important as it indicates how long he has been waiting in the sick bay. Also, when bad things happen the time is etched on ones memory. This is a subconscious thing.
The important thing about two ?o? clock is that the neighbours are driving him home. We wonder what?s wrong. We think about the evidence of the closing, knelling bells, the sick bay and the neighbours driving him home. At this point I came to a conclusion that something very bad was happening. A funeral!
Then begins the second verse. The first line tells us where he is (his porch) and who is there (his father).
?I met my father crying?. Heaney?s word choice here is again representative of the atmosphere. Instead of sobbing or weeping he chooses crying because it comes across as something very painful and paints a picture in ones head of the scene.
The next line reinforces what is already a fort of atmosphere and emotion telling us more about his father reading ?He had always taken funerals in his stride?.
The third line ?And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow? It made me really feel the last word as a sinking feeling in the stomach. This is a very empathetic verse.
Next comes a break, a relief. A kind of contrast like two extremes that helped me realise the extremity of the focused side of sadness, shock and confusion.
?The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram?. There?s onomatopoeia to ?cooed?. It?s almost like ones hearing it. This makes it seem more immediate.
The line after begins ?When I came in?. If poems were logical like math (which they are not and hopefully never will be) then this should be in the same line as the one before. There is a reason for this of course. The technique is called enjambment (It?s French). It is the continuation of the sense and therefore the grammatical construction beyond the end of a line of verse or the end of a couplet. Used properly as it is here it backs up the mood and leaves one hanging with suspense even if only for a few hundredths of a second.
The rest of the line is the start of another enjambment ?, and I was embarrassed? which would continue ?By old men standing up to shake my hand?. All this makes one think. It puts even more emphasis on the relief of the contrast.
Upon further reading I noticed that the enjambment continues until the second line of the last verse but I will come to that later.
Getting back to the last point, what significance does the narrator stating he was embarrassed have on the story? Well I think it?s a change of emotion from being sad and nauseous about the situation. It inserts an awkward uncertain atmosphere of confusion.
The next line ?Whispered informed strangers? is probably one of the most significant contributions to the poem. One can imagine the silence of the house. Nobody is willing to speak up, out of respect and the same awkwardness of the narrator. The emphasis not put on the people but on the whispers and their affect upon the atmosphere. The alienating, isolated, confusing, and frightened atmosphere.
?As my mother held my hand/In hers?. As well as being another as enjambment ?In hers? shows us that she is comforting herself and he knows this. To be clear I?m not saying that I think this is bad and selfish but that he?s frightened even more because everyone?s feeling scared and he doesn?t feel he has anyone to lean against and gain strength from.
His mother ?coughed out angry tearless sighs?. This shows her discomfort about her position. It conveys the forced nature of her sighs.
?Sighs? is onomatopoeia, which is strange when combined with coughed out.
?Angry?. This sways me to thinking that she may be mad at the driver or just the fact of coming to terms with the death of her child.
After all this waiting the ambulance comes with the child. The importance here is the exact time stated. ?At ten ?o? clock the ambulance arrived?. Just as before with the narrator waiting in the sick bay there is emphasis on the dramatic nature of the event.
The ambulance was carrying the ?corpse? not the expected child with some adjectives as garnish spread sparsely around. Corpse is quite a medical word and gives a feeling of the remoteness of the dead person.
?Stanched and bandaged?. Well first of all I?ll deal with ?stanched?. It represents the definitive stop, simply as it exists in the poem.
The next part is very interesting if you get the hidden agenda, which is surprisingly flower association. Dating back to medieval times. Flowers used to be used to symbolize many things. Such as romance (rose), orchid (beauty) etc. onto snowdrops which are used in this poem as they represent renewal. This is the second piece of relief from contrast in the story.
?I saw him/ for the first time in six weeks? is a very good use of enjambment as it is used for shock not suspense.
It then reads ?Paler now?. Emphasis being set on the now like it?s a big shock. It creates a new atmosphere of reflection and quiet.
Next comes a reference to Remembrance Day in the form of ?a poppy bruise on his left temple?. This also provides a literal contrast of the vivid bruise to the pale skin.
Some indication of the date is given by the ?four foot box as in his cot? This tells me that the story must have been set a long time ago. Most likely pre 60?s. I say this as funeral parlors selling coffins made by craftsmen only came about after the 50?s and became gradually more popular as time passed by. The poem was written in 1966 and because of the layout, tenses, and overall feeling I think it?s quite obvious it was written about a personal experience of the writers past. My point being that the box was probably homemade or done by a friend with some kind of carpentry experience.
?No gaudy scars?. The word gaudy suggests excessive colours, so to me this is a good word choice. It shows the image of the very clean pigment lacking skin with the one vivid bruise where the bumper ?knocked him clear?.
?Knocked him clear? is ironic as the bumper really did knock him clear whereas it could easily have been taken as something else or worded differently.
The most literally amazing and by far the most bleaching (mark-leaving) line is the very last. The poem going from sad to happy back to sad then reflective to the end. All these changes are anti-climaxes but all are totally shadowed by the last line which is the climax not cut short by the end but leaving an aftertaste in the mind from all the stimulation. Now, for the last line.
?A four foot box, a foot for every year?. There is alliteration of the soft ?f?, the colossal impact, the fact that it epitaphs the preceding line as two beautiful couplets together, the incredible sadness of it all crammed into one line, the last line!
This poem is definitely one of my favourites now that I have took the opportunity to read it so closely. The simple, direct and plain language throughout put forward the stark realism of the event which to me make it even sadder that it isn?t glorified. It?s completely bare. My theory is that the poem was written as an incredibly, beautiful snowball of words and colours. It gains size and in doing so has more force to impact. There are points that it?s not growing in force but this time is spent gazing at the bottom of the hill in awe. It grows and grows and grows until the end where BOOM! It all hits you and you?re left buried in it swimming in the words and colours as by that time you?re inside it.