Mid Term Break by Seamus Heaney

I tried to read this poem to my son (it’s one of life’s pleasures – persecuting your child by insisting he/she just sits for a minute to listens to whatever it is that has just possessed you!) but I found I could hardly finish it. The grief of the last few lines is so potent. It’s by Seamus Heaney, about the death of his little brother:

Mid-Term Break

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o’clock our neighbours drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying—
He had always taken funerals in his stride—
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were ‘sorry for my trouble’.
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four-foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four-foot box, a foot for every year.

I found it in a lovely new collection called, simply, 100 Poems. The ideas for I t began with Heaney himself – to put together a selection of poems that would lead you through his work – from early poems to the latest. As it turned out he ran out of time didn’t have the time – so his family have chosen for him, following the same plan, with a bias towards the poems that hold the greatest meaning for them (which seems to add to the potency of the poems somehow.)

Mid Term Break by Seamus Heaney

2 thoughts on “Mid Term Break by Seamus Heaney

  1. sibling3 says:

    They reveiewed this book recently on Radio 4 speaking to his family and so on. This was the poem that was read out during the review. I love the work of Seamus Heaney and had intended to buy this book when I am next in a book shop. x

    1. I didn’t know that. The zeitgeist is with me! Definitely worth buying. The first in the collection, Digging, has this in it:

      Under my window, a clean rasping sound
      When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
      My father, digging. I look down

      Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
      Bends low, comes up twenty years away
      Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
      Where he was digging.

      So reminds me of Dad.

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