Mid-Term Break Commentary

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Seamus Heaney’s Mid-Term Break is a personal memoir of how the poet deals with the death of his four-year-old brother, as a result of a traffic accident. While the title of the poem initially suggests a positive experience, where “mid-term break” conventionally has positive connotations to a schoolboy, the reader is quickly introduced to a somber mood, where the poem starts with an introduction of the events following the news, and proceeds with an explanation of how others are reacting to the loss. The reason behind the somber mood is only revealed to the reader at the conclusion of the poem, perhaps to match and emphasize the speaker’s own distraught and confused reaction. While each stanza is written in the same 3-line form iambic meter, Heaney places emphasis on the surreal, unnatural experience of losing the younger brother he wasn’t able to say goodbye to, through stark use of juxtaposition and ironic contrasts and consequences.
The first stanza is a literal description of the events pertaining to the speaker after hearing the news, with no actual reference to the reasons behind why they take place. The diction used immediately evokes a negative mood however, with the speaker “[sitting] in the college sick bay,” (l. 1) “counting bells knelling,” (l. 2) almost as if he is already at the funeral. Paired with the negative mood, the concept of waiting for the ritual is hastily introduced, where the speaker “[sits] all morning,” (l. 1) “counting bells,” (l. 2) just so the “neighbors [can drive him] home.” (l. 3) Through use of enjambment, the idea that this process ‘drags on,’ and that its speed is uncontrollable is introduced. In the same manner, a quick speed is introduced, almost implying a hazy experience. The conventional dullness of the ritual is at the conclusion of the stanza contrasted with the irony that the speaker’s neighbors have to drive him home in the same type of vehicle, which ended his brother’s life, as is revealed at the close of the poem.

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