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Analysis of "Mid-Term Break" by Seamus Heaney

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Introduction

Analysis of "Mid-Term Break" by Seamus Heaney In 1995, the Nobel Committee praised Heaney's poems as "works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past." In this essay, we will be analysing Heaney's poem "Mid-Term Break". More specifically we will be looking at the content, use of language and imagery, poetic voice, tone and mood in the poem. We will therefore be examining three broad questions about "Mid-Term Break": what is the poem about? How is it written? What is our response to the poem? Let us examine, then, the content of the poem, and look closely at its meaning and significance. The poem is essentially about the death of Heaney's infant brother (Christopher) and his reaction to the tragedy. Much of Heaney's earlier work is, to a degree, autobiographical, and "Mid-Term Break" is no exception. It may therefore be of benefit to us to look at the biographical context, as this could help us to gain a better understanding of the poet and therefore of the mood, meaning and connotations within the poem. Heaney led an idyllic existence as a child, living on the family farm, Mossbawn, in County Derry, the eldest of a sprawling brood of nine children. This family idyll came to a sudden stop when Heaney was twelve: he then won one of the new Education Act scholarships and left Mossbawn for a Catholic boarding school in Derry, St. Columb's, a school mainly devoted to training priests. Heaney was terribly homesick, and yet he was stuck there term after term, with classes six days a week, and with the chance to go into Derry one Saturday in three. ...read more.

Middle

The reader enters the house with the poet, and the feelings of shock and slow, final realisation come over both reader and poet simultaneously. Jim Evans' line, "it was a hard blow" is especially significant, as it is invested with multiple meanings. Jim Evans obviously means to speak of a metaphorical "blow", caused by the loss of a son and a brother. However, we later learn that Christopher was, ironically, dealt a fatal blow by a speeding car. We do not know, therefore, whether Jim's speech is a cruel and unfortunate pun, yet another hint at the tragedy to come, or a stark illustration of the inadequacy of such platitudes when expressing grief. The third and fourth stanzas convey the poet's unease and discomfort at the atmosphere inside the house, in a rapid and disjointed series of images. It is as if the poet is in shock: he sees clearly the things around him, and almost as if sleepwalking, notes them in a daze, but cannot make sense of anything. He notices that the baby, too young to comprehend what is happening, is cooing happily and rocking in its pram. The contented sounds of the baby, a new life, act as a jolting counterpoint to the grief-stricken silence in the room. The boy clearly feels uncomfortable with the atmosphere of stiff, mournful formality and the attention he receives: " I was embarrassed/By old men standing up to shake my hand". The fourth stanza begins with another platitude used by the old men to express their condolences: they tell the lad that they are "sorry for his trouble". ...read more.

Conclusion

The line is once again filled with images of death: the cot and the coffin are juxtaposed, as if to emphasise that the boy lies in the slumber of death. It also echoes the image of comparison in the previous stanza, as if the poet remembered his brother asleep in his cot, and compared this image to that of him lying in his coffin. In conclusion, we can say that "Mid-Term Break" is an autobiographical work about the death of Heaney's young brother, Christopher. Heaney uses various conceits to build up a sensation of apprehension throughout the poem, evoking feelings of foreboding and unease in the reader. We are made to feel that something is amiss, we may even guess that someone may have died, but we are never sure until the concluding part of the poem. The poet also uses a wide variety of imagery to illustrate his feelings of incomprehension, shock, grief and anger at the loss of his brother, and to describe the reactions of family members and those close to them. The final brief and understated line stands alone. Its very brevity, and the abrupt ending it gives the whole poem, after Heaney has spent so long building feelings of misgiving in the reader, is meant to reflect feelings of overwhelming shock, anger and grief at the loss of such a young child. The line is also an expression of finality. The box is four feet long, a foot for every year of the dead child's life. The box will not grow, just as the child can no longer grow: both are still and frozen in time. 1 ...read more.

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