“Mid Term Break” by Seamus Murphy is a poem in which the speaker gives an account of the aftermath of a family tragedy. In this poem, he expresses feelings of grief. As well as these feelings, Heaney also comments on ideas such as various emotions including sadness, anger, detachment, and the responses of his family members.
Through the techniques he uses, the poet manages to show how both he and his family cope with the grief caused by the event being described. Grief is portrayed differently as each character mentioned in the poem reacts very differently to the death of the boy. In the poem, we are told that the father, the head of the patriarchal family, is reduced to tears.
It brings out a pathos. This breakdown hints at the loss of someone close. Atmosphere and tension are built. It comes to the child’s realization that adults are flawed and have emotions that the speaker isn’t used to.
Heaney’s mother, on the other hand, takes on some of the grief in the form of anger. “Angry and tearless sighs” signifies pure grief, she is in shock and too upset to even cry. She is so overwhelmed that she doesn’t know how to handle her emotions. Perhaps she shed so many tears previously there were no more left. Or, she may have wanted to maintain appearances and grieve in private.
The speaker himself seems to have suffered a loss. The speaker reflects on his brother’s tragic death. The speaker has a little bit of distance from the tragedy as he’s not narrating the poem as it occurs, but reflecting on it. This gives the speaker a certain amount of composure: although he’s discussing something tragic, disturbing, and senseless, he’s able to describe the days after the tragedy with clarity. This composure is reflected in the poem’s organized form. It seems to break down at the end as the last line is isolated. The portrayal of characters effectively shows how grief is dealt with differently by different people.
Heaney also uses sounds to create an atmosphere of grief. In the first stanza, the school bells are described as “knelling”. It immediately suggests an ominous atmosphere of something depressing and related to death. The phrase “bells knelling” is assonance as there is a repetition of the same vowel sound. The word “knelling” is used instead of ringing which hints at the mood; the bell which is bringing classes to an end reminds the boy of a church bell kneeling for a funeral and perhaps is forewarning him of the death he is about to face. It gives the readers an instant link to their own experiences, the slow somber sound of bells at a funeral.
Later on, we are told the mother coughs and sighs but is not able to cry due to her overwhelmed emotions. This is an onomatopoeia and creates an auditory image. This is in contrast to the baby, who “cooed and laughed” which is an onomatopoeia as well. This indicates the infant is innocent and unaware of the surroundings. It suggests he is too young to understand what has occurred and why the room is filled with strangers.
The baby’s reaction highlights the mother’s grief because it contrasts the family’s devastating response to the baby’s innocence and ignorance as a young child. The poem occurs in stages, with sharp contrasts between them which helps to show the process of grief for the speaker. In the first five stanzas, the atmosphere is chaotic and haywire. However, in the final few stanzas, the atmosphere has changed to become peaceful and tranquil.
This is because the poet has now come to terms with his brother’s death. The point that Heaney is making here is that over time, one is able to understand a matter with more depth and clarity, thus coming to the end of the poem on a slightly pleasant note. The final line sums up the overall feeling of the poem, which is that how easy it is to die, from a single blow of a car bumper, but how challenging becomes the grieving process that must inevitably follow.
Mid Term Break’ is clearly a poem about a painful and tragic event in the poet’s life. In this poem, he expresses feelings of grief. In order to fully express the grief this experience caused to both the poet and his family, he has used various forms of imagery, an assortment of poetic devices, and sharp contrasts. He has managed to show the reader that the victim had much more years to live but due to this unfortunate event, it was taken away from him, comparing the small size of his brothers coffin to the shortness of his life.
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