Seamus Heaney – Mid-Term Break – Poetry Lecture and analysis by Dr. Andrew Barker


This is a wonderful poem
for your introduction to poetry to find out the way poetry works. It has a clearly identifiable
narrative structure which runs through it. We are genuinely interested
the first time we read the poem to find out what
happens next in the poem. Something has happened and
we want to know who it has happened to, it makes us want to read on. The fiftieth time we read the poem,
or even the second time we read the poem we’ll be looking at different things. But the first time you read it, we’re
interested in what is going to happen next in it. Like all of the Mycroft lectures,
what I’ll do is read the poem through, and then I’ll give you
a line-by-line analysis to give you the poem in the
simplest English that I can. This will enable you to appreciate the
content of the poem – what the poem is actually saying. I’ll then look at some of the
poetic devices the poet is employing, and demonstrate these to you to
show that the way the poet wrote the poem is better than the way I have
explained it in simple prose. Okay, so this is our first
read-through of Seamus Heaney’s ‘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.” Now, this is a very sad poem.
It’s wonderfully, wonderfully done. For those of you who
do not know the poem very well, I won’t tell you what it’s about now. And I’ll reveal it to you
as the reading progresses, because I think this poem operates
with a degree of suspense in that the first time you read it,
you don’t actually know what has happened. Obviously, the second time you read it,
you’ve realized what has happened, and the tenth time you read it,
those sensations of surprise at what has occurred in the poem
are no longer there for you. But let’s unpack those sensations
as we go through the poem. Line-by-line reading then,
of Seamus Heaney’s Mid-term Break. “I sat all morning in the college sick bay” Where is he? Now, plainly, he is in a ‘college sick bay’. A college sick bay is a room in a college
whereby the students who are too ill to attend classes can
sit out the lessons. “I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.” So, our narrator, Seamus Heaney, is “in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.” We can presume that he’s ill. There’s something wrong with him for him to be in the
sick bay in the first place. He’s upset because he’s hearing–
we know that he’s upset because he hears the bells which
ring the classes to a close as ‘knelling’. Knelling is the sound made by a funeral bell.
It’s the ‘dong, dong, dong’ of a funeral bell. That is a knell. Now, even in Northern Ireland
where the poem is set school classes are not closed with a
‘dong, dong, dong’ of a funeral bell. They are closed with a
ting-a-ling-a-ling of bells that close classes everywhere else in the world. So, why do we assume that
this boy is hearing the classes close with the knell of a funeral bell? Now plainly, he has death on the mind. He is thinking about death to
such an extent that all bells that he hears
sound like funeral bells to him. So plainly, someone has died. Now, for our first reading, at this point
we don’t know who it is who has died. We must assume that
it is somebody close to him because he is unlikely to be
in the college sick bay hearing the classes ending as funeral bells
if it is somebody he doesn’t know. But at this point, we do not know
who it is who has died, and we won’t find out
until the end of the poem, which is why I say, the first reading of this poem
is actually unusual, there is a suspense story
that goes through it. “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.” Now that line is one of those,
actually quite rare ones in poetry whereby to translate it down,
to change the wording in it to make us understand
in the most simplistic terms possible specifically what the poet means
is actually very easy to do, because there’s no
simpler way of saying, “at two o’clock our neighbours drove me home” than “at two o’clock our neighbors drove me home”. Well, we could say,
‘our neighbours drove me home at two o’clock’ but basically,
that’s all we need to know about that line. The question we ask ourselves at,
“at two o’clock our neighbors drove me home” is, why don’t his parents drive him home? And, I see three possibilities. The first of which is,
that his parents are dead. One or both of his parents are dead.
And this is why the boy is in the college sick bay. “Counting bells knelling classes to a close.” The second possibility is that
something so traumatic has happened to his parents
that they are unable to get behind the wheel of a car. And the third is that
his parents don’t own a car. Now, the third one sounds comic
but, biographically, it’s actually the true reason why
his parents didn’t drive him home. I happened to read this
in an interview with him once. And that biographical fact
for me tends to dilute the power of that-
of that suspense image. The fact that his parents
didn’t drive him home in reality is because
they didn’t own a car. I prefer to believe,
as far as the poem tells us the story, that his parents didn’t drive him home because
they’re too traumatized by what has happened. And in the next line,
we find for the first time that we know it’s not
his father who has died. And we know this because
the first line of the second stanza is, “In the porch I met my father crying-
He had always taken funerals in his stride-” Heaney uses a poetic device
here called ‘inference’, which means to make a
conclusion from evidence given. Now, that sounds much more
complicated than it need be. I can give you a very simple example
of the way inference works. I see a painter painting a picture,
I look at the painter painting the picture, and I say,
‘could you paint my picture?’ Now, is the picture that the painter
has painted any good? I never told you it was good,
and I never told you it was bad. So is it any good? Plainly, the picture must be quite good,
because I wouldn’t look at the picture and think, ‘well that’s a rubbish picture.
Would you paint one of me?’ unless I was an idiot.
But since I’m not an idiot, you can infer that the
picture itself is quite good. “In the porch I met my father crying-
He had always taken funerals in his stride-” Now, why is the father in the porch? “In the porch I met my father crying”- Presumably, the father is crying because
he doesn’t want to be inside the house weeping in front of his family. It’s a strange moment
for a boy when he sees his- or it should be a strange moment for a child
when he sees his father weeping. Men tend to weep less For many young men,
watching their fathers cry is not something they witness on a regular basis. And the boy comes home,
and he realizes that something very traumatic has happened because this unusual event of
seeing his father cry is occurring. This is a man who had never
been bothered by funerals before. “In the porch I met my father crying-
He had always taken funerals in his stride-” Now, to ‘take something in your stride’
means to- literally, it means you’re walking along
and there’s something in your way, and you don’t have to alter your step
to overcome it, to step over it. To ‘take something in your stride’
means it doesn’t bother you. To ‘take funerals in your stride’
means that funerals have never bothered you before. So his father is not seemingly
a man given to emotion much. Or seemingly not a man for whom
funerals, at least, bother him. But something has happened here. Whoever has died,
is sufficiently close to the boy’s father that it has made the man cry. “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.” Now Big Jim Evans is obviously a large man,
he’s a big man. It’s a sort of community that Heaney comes from
where people are known by their size. You know, ‘Little John’,
‘Fat Harry’, ‘Big Jim’. Now his name is not ‘Big Jim’,
it’s a nickname, ‘Big Jim’. So Big Jim Evans says
‘it’s a hard blow’. Now a hard blow means
it’s a big problem. It’s a relevant, important thing
that’s difficult to deal with that has actually happened. Now we know that it has made
the young Heaney upset enough to go to the sick room
and hear all bells as funeral bells. We know that it has
reduced his father to tears. But we – as of yet – do not know
what it is on this first reading. “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”. It’s a nice touch this,
“The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram” Cooed is the sound of- like a dove.
But babies go, ‘coo, coo, coo’ It’s a nice happy sound,
the baby’s quite happy. Now, what is the relevance here
of the baby being happy? And it’s that the baby
doesn’t understand what’s going on. The baby is the only one there
that is happy. And we get a nice contrast between
the young baby not understanding – he doesn’t understand
because he’s a baby, and babies don’t understand things. But the baby is quite happy,
and outside, the older father, who understands what’s going on,
is in tears. We get the contrast between
innocence and experience here. The experienced is in tears,
the innocent baby is cooing and laughing. And note the geography
of the poem here. It starts off in the sick room,
we then come to Heaney’s family house, where his father is outside in the porch,
and now we’ve come into the room. “Baby cooed and laughed” 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” There’s a lot happening here. Heaney comes into the room,
and basically let’s imagine there is a table,
because they’ve got to stand up. Let’s imagine there’s a table there and
there’s a lot of men older than him there. And as he walks in,
they stand up and they say, ‘we’re sorry for your trouble, Seamus’ This is my attempt at a
Northern Irish accent here. “We’re sorry for your troubles, Seamus.
We’re sorry, son. It’s bad news. It’s a hard blow.” They stand up and they shake his hand,
and this embarrasses him. So why does it embarrass him? Now, Heaney is a school boy,
and he comes into the room and he doesn’t know the way
the old men, older than him are going to react to him,
because, being a school boy, we must presume that
up to this point, they just ignore him. And they ignore him
because he’s a child. And old men do not stand up
and shake the hand of the child, they just ignore the child. But something has happened here
so that presumably for the first time, because the boy’s embarrassed by it,
he’s taken seriously by the adults. The adults don’t ignore him.
The adults stand up when he enters the room. When the boy enters the room,
the adults stand up and say, “We’re sorry for your troubles”. Whatever has happened,
it’s so serious that it has begun to act as a rite of passage ceremony
for the young Heaney. And the rite of passage ceremony
is traditionally when- when a boy becomes a man. It’s a symbolic situation,
it’s not one day, boy -snap- man now; but in this instance,
the trauma that Heaney experiences makes other people
see him as a man. He sees his father crying,
he enters the room, the old men stand up to shake his hand,
and treat him as an adult. And then something else occurs. The next stanza tells us, “Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.” And there’s a lot going on in this bit. “Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school,” Let’s do that bit first.
That’s quite easy to imagine. Heaney has come into the room,
and he hears people saying- he hears whispers in the background,
‘This is the eldest son, this is Seamus.’ ‘He has been away at school.
Very clever kid.’ ‘Going to be a fantastic, famous poet one day,
win the Nobel Prize.’ All that sort of stuff he’s going to
hear in the background. Well, he’s not,
but you get my point. “Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.” And this is a terrific piece
of acoustic observation. The way that Heaney is able to
put across a sound here- “held my hand In hers and
coughed out angry tearless sighs.” So first off, why is the mother holding his hand? Now, traditionally, he’s upset,
he comes home, Your mother holds your hand because
she needs- she wants to comfort you. So we may assume the mother
is holding the son’s hand due to a desire to comfort him.
Which is plausible. But is she? Because as she’s holding his hand, “My mother held my hand in hers And coughed out angry tearless sighs.” And really the only way to do this
is to try to make that sound. You have to hear that sound. There’s no way I’m going
to do this well. But I’ll give it my best shot.
So, a sigh is easy. -Sigh- A tearless sigh. Tearless doesn’t really
make any difference to the sound, but tearless does raise the question to us of,
why is she tearless? And either she is tearless because
she has not cried at all and isn’t crying, which seems highly unlikely to me, or she’s tearless because
there are no tears left. She has cried so much,
her eyes are dry and she simply- she’s cried out.
That is what tearless for that one means for me. “Coughed out angry tearless sighs” So, angry, tearless sigh would be, -sigh- Obviously, I’m not going to
get that perfect but you can imagine what I’m aiming for here. Okay, coughed out
angry tearless sighs” becomes -coughing sigh- However badly I do that,
suffice to say that anybody making anything approximating
that sound is not offering help to anyone. The person making that sound
needs help from someone else. When Heaney tells us,
“My mother held my hand in hers And coughed out angry tearless sighs” we only have to hear what coughed,
angry tearless sighs sounds like. And we get this wonderful
acoustic demonstration of distress. Once again, bringing up this idea of
the rite of passage ceremony that the boy is going through;
the father is crying outside, all the old men are
taking him seriously as an adult, His mother is asking for help of him.
And then, the body comes back. Now we know it’s not his father,
we know it’s not his mother who has died. “At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.” “Stanched” means, cleaned. “At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.” This is very simple
to put in simpler English, At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived
with the dead body in it. “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,” Now, the poem has changed
in geography, once again. We are now no longer
downstairs in the family room, we’re upstairs in the room-
and this is the room where they are going to keep the dead body. The body will be kept there for a wake,
and in some cultures, this is unheard of. I taught the poem in Hong Kong once,
and the whole idea that you would get a body and bring it into the house for the wake
was totally unheard of. Now, the body is there in the room,
and Heaney gives one of my favorite lines in poetry
to describe the body lying there, and the atmosphere
within the room. And he tells us,
“Snowdrops and candles soothed the bedside; I saw him for the first time in six weeks.
Paler now,” The way that this is done
is actually very simple; but if you can imagine,
first off, what we are seeing. Snowdrops are a flower.
“Snowdrops and candles soothed the bedside” So there are candles there,
and there are snowdrops, being white flowers, white flowers and candles
are there by the bedside, and he sees him for the first time in six weeks.
So we know it’s a he who has died. The effect of this I’ll come back to later,
when I look at the way Heaney can do something
by his choice of words. But remember that line, “Snowdrops and candles soothed the bedside;
I saw him for the first time in six weeks. Paler now,” He’s paler now because he’s dead.
Your body loses pallor when- when you die. “I saw him for the first time in six weeks.
Paler now,” He has not seen this person for six weeks
because he has been away at school. Heaney has been away at school.
Incidentally, the title of the poem, ‘Mid-term break”- mid-term break is usually the time
when the student at boarding school comes home to see his family. The irony of this situation is that
this boy’s mid term break is to come home and see his family,
for the death of one of them. For the funeral of one of his family. “I saw him for the first time in six weeks.
Paler now, Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,” There’s a bruise on the boy’s forehead.
Your temple is on your forehead. There’s a poppy bruise on his temple.
Heaney calls it a poppy bruise- Poppies are associated with death anyway,
he gets that image out of it. But there’s also the whole idea that,
the boy doesn’t look ugly. He doesn’t even look like he’s been
scarred by death in any way. He is lying calmly in this tranquil room,
almost as if there’s nothing wrong. “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. Now, the four foot box is a coffin.
He lay in his coffin, as in, his cot. A cot is a bed for a child, so plainly the
child who has died, was very very young. “No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.” A bumper is at the front of a car. What should become apparent to us here
is that Heaney’s brother has been run over in a car accident. He is hit once; the bumper has
knocked him clear of the accident; he has not been run over and mangled,
and seemingly, with nothing wrong in the body, he is lying there dead,
and Heaney is looking at the body, “No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
A four foot box, a foot for every year.” Terrific ending to the poem, this.
“A four foot box, a foot for every year.” The brother is only
four years old when he dies. And Heaney’s mid-term break is to come home
to attend the funeral of his four-year old brother. Now, this is biographically,
a truthful poem. Heaney did actually return home
for a mid-term break to attend the funeral of Christopher, he was called;
his younger brother who was ran over in a car accident
when he was four-years-old. And he gets this
beautiful poem out of the experience. So what we have here is Seamus Heaney’s
highly biographical poem about him returning home as a student,
on a mid-term break, to attend the funeral and wake
of his younger brother, Christopher who died in a car accident. Now, some of the poetic devices that
Seamus Heaney employes in this, they are beautifully done, they’re great examples of
the form imitating the content. The form, of course is,
the way the poem is written, and the content of the poem
is what is actually written. So the way in which Heaney writes this
imitates and enhances what he’s actually writing about. And poetry, when it’s at its best, this is for me
the difference between poetry and prose, the ‘form imitating content’ element of it. Let’s give you a few examples. This “snowdrops and candles soothed the bedside”
part I mentioned earlier Now, Heaney wants to go into the room-
the poet Heaney who’s writing the poem he wants to explain to us what it was like to walk into the room
where his younger dead brother lay, in a very tranquil, serene state. And he does this with this line. “Snowdrops and candles soothed the bedside;
I saw him for the first time in six weeks. Paler now. And, he achieves this feeling
of tranquility and serenity in us, the reader, as we read it,
because as we read those lines, we are using sounds which create
the feeling of tranquility and serenity in us. For example, he uses sibilance a lot.
Sibilance. Sibilance is the use of repeated ‘s’ sounds.
It does more than one thing- if you wanted to write a poem about the sea,
you may wish to have, ‘crash’, ‘bash’, ‘smash’, ‘mash’, The waves crashed on the shore. [Onomatopoeically], the ‘sh’ sounds
sound like the sounds of the sea. Also, for example, if you wrote
a poem about a snake, you may want lots of ‘ss’ sounds in it. D.H. Lawrence’s poem ‘Snake’
has lots of double ‘s’ hissing sounds in it. But also, if you want to create
a feeling of quiet in a poem, sibilance is very useful for this, because as the reader reads the poem,
they’re going ‘sh, sh, sh, sh’, so it’s almost as if, as I read the poem,
I’m holding a finger to my lips, going, ‘shhhh’,
so I don’t read the poem loudly. If I read it loudly,
it wouldn’t sound right. “Snowdrops and candles soothed the bedside,
I saw him for the first time in six weeks.” These aren’t words which
you feel comfortable shouting, because the sibilance is
telling you to ‘shhhh’ as you do it. Also note the way he
uses long vowel sounds. Long vowel sounds- uh,
imagine this sentence, ‘The baby waded slowly through the water.’ All the vowels are long. ‘The baby waded slowly through the water.’ Which means it’s very difficult
to say that sentence quickly. ‘The baby waded slowly through the water.’ It just doesn’t sound right.
You say it slowly. In this line, Heaney creates this
feeling of tranquility and serenity for us by giving us a line that
we feel uncomfortable reading loudly, and uncomfortable reading quickly. We must read it as
“snowdrops and candles soothed the bedside; I saw him for the first time in six weeks.
Paler now.” It’s wonderfully done. I explained that to somebody once
and I said, ‘do you think he did that deliberately?’ Well, it took me less than
five minutes to explain it to you, you now know how to do it.
I’m sure that Seamus Heaney can do that with his brain closed. Now, another device he
uses very well here is to do with enjambment. Enjambment is also known
as the ‘run-on line’, and it’s when a stanza
does not end with a full stop. But notice how the first and
second stanzas of this poem do end with a full stop. The sentence is fully contained
within the stanza. “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.” Full stop. “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.” Full stop. Third stanza: “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”. The stanza has not ended with a full stop.
The sentence has run-on to the next line. Now it is conspicuous that it has done this,
because the first two have so obviously ended with full stops. The third one doesn’t,
and neither does the fourth. “Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.” The stanza doesn’t end with a full stop,
it runs on. Now we can either say that
this is just an accident and that he couldn’t finish the
sentence and kept on writing, or we say that there’s
a reason that he did it. And I think there is, it’s that
the form is imitating the content; the way that Heaney is telling the poem is
doing something to what is happening in the poem. And those changes occur
when changes occur in the boy. It’s as if the young Heaney,
the narrator of the poem, the young boy in the poem,
as he experiences these things in the poem, he is getting such an
overload of information that he finds it difficult to contain it
in the same away that the stanzas in the poem
can no longer contain this overload of information,
so they have to run on into the next line. That seems very contrived
if you aren’t aware of it, but it’s not exactly difficult
to do and I think that when you’ve become expectant
of the stanza to end with a full stop, when it doesn’t end with a full stop,
something happens, and the something that happens,
this overload of information, running onto the next line,
imitates what’s happening to the narrator of the poem at that point.
It works for me. Here is a final one. How does the boy feel at the end
of the poem about what he has seen? In many ways,
he’s very deadpan through the poem, he’s very solemn about it. But, the final line, for me at least,
this final line does something. The final line of course being, “A four foot box, a foot for every year.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.” “A four foot box, a foot for every year.” Now how do you hear that being said? Should it be said calmly? “No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
A four foot box, a foot for every year.” That doesn’t seem out of place to me,
to say it like that. But I have a slight problem with this, if you’ve read Tom Paulin’s book,
‘The Secret Life of Poems’, he really brings attention to this type of
specific attention to word sounds. It’s very difficult to stress ‘f’-sounding words in a poem,
without bringing profanity to mind. When you stress, ‘f-, f-, f-, f-‘, it’s very difficult not to hear
‘fuck’ in your mind. So when you go through this, “No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
A four foot box, a foot for every year.” Heaney has deliberately put the stress
on the most aggressive, and obviously-sounding associative sound
in the English language. “A Four foot box,
a Foot for every year.” And I hear it as if he’s saying,
‘what a fucking waste’. And I hear anger in the last line of it. “No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
A four foot box, a foot for every year.” Now you don’t have to hear that in it.
You can read it both ways, but the deliberate stress on the
‘f’ sound in the final line, to me, indicate that at the end,
the narrator is justifiably angry at the waste of life that has occurred. Okay, I read the poem through,
one more time for you, and hope that you’ve gleaned
enough from this to be able to appreciate it in a way that you didn’t
when I read it for you the first time. Okay, this is the final reading for
Seamus Heaney’s ‘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.” Thank you very much,
hope you enjoyed the lecture.

49 thoughts on “Seamus Heaney – Mid-Term Break – Poetry Lecture and analysis by Dr. Andrew Barker

  1. Interesting lecture on a Heaney poem I hadn't read before. If we allow for the 'voice' of a poem to belong to a 'persona' and not to equate the poem directly with the poet, regardless of how biographical the poem appears to be, then I don't see that any information about Heaney's parents ownership of a car necessarily dilutes the power of the line about the neighbours driving him home. The line still holds the full force of its mystery intact by virtue of the fact that we know or suspect through poetic convention that the poet is setting up an instance of narrative tension at this juncture. Because the idea that the persona's parents don't own a car is banal and rather literal, we automatically reject it in favour of some other more interesting reason, which is the second one you mention; that his parents are traumatised by a death. Knowing about Heaney's true life parents shouldn't affect a reader's understanding of this line at all. The presentation of how anger is embedded in the final lines is effective and moving.

  2. Fantastic, Thank you Dr. Barker for the amazing insight on the poem. I will be listening to more of your poem lectures.

  3. Absolutely fantastic exploration with vivid imagery to consider.  Great for GCSE thank you so much

  4. This litrally saved my from failing my junior cert tomorrow very helpful 😊

  5. Very much appreciated Dr. Barker. I haven't read any Irish poetry since my Leaving Certificate 10 years ago. You explained more about this poem in 35 minutes than I learned during these years. I will continue to reference your lectures as I read more poetry.

  6. I poem written in black and white, but full of grey. What colour death, white of coarse. Nothing bright, just candle light. With only the innocent making happy sound,s. Many thanks for your enjoyable illumination of a moving scene.

  7. Nice analysis. I think that the baby could be a in contrast with the crying father, but also with the young brother who is dead. If he were to be alive, he would be just like that kid still carelessly laughing. Well that is just what I think.

  8. the bestest ever lecture on the subject and the poem i was looking for. the way sir explained those unfamiliar words like thou and thee became easier all credit goes to you sir. tonnes of thanks to you…. you may be of great help to all those students of MA English who like me find themself weaker in poetry section….. thanks

  9. I think the poem as a whole could be seen as the rite of passage of the poet from the fact that the poet studied in the college signified that he was a young adult, to old adults interacted with him and treated him as a man, to the fact that his mother needed his comfort and help as families tended to help children to mourn but in this case, she could not do so and she could not turn to the family figure (the dad) as he was crying in the porch which left the poet as the pillar of the house, and to the ways the poet treated death. Moreover, the title "Mid-Term Break" has different meanings. Literally, it was a break or a holiday from school that allowed the poet to get home. But I also believe that the break was also caused by the fact that his brother was killed. Also, I believe that the final line was said in bitter and sad as it was a waste for such young child to die. I do not believe that it was said in anger but your analysis gave it a new perspective but it raised the question: is the emphasizing on stressing the "f" sounds generally lead to profanity? Could it mean other things?

  10. I like the interpretation of “f” sounds showing anger of the speaker, but I also think of the “f” sounds as a yell of frustration. Throughout the poem, the speaker describes this tragic event from a detached angle, seeing his father cry; hands being held by his mother who sighs with angry coughs. Unlike his parents, he does not know how to react on his brother’s death. The last line can be a subtle cry for awareness to his frustration, of a boy who is too young to handle his brother’s death.

  11. Wonderful video, I think about the sixth and seven stanzas a lot when talking about the appearance of Heaney's brother. As you mentioned, the poem used sibilance a lot in order to create the quietness in the wake of his brother's death. But "poppy bruise" not only stands out after Heaney has described a child-like innocence, it also disrupts the pattern with its "p" and "b" sound, it seems to match with his latter anger implied in the last line. "Wearing a poppy bruise" also doesn't sound ugly and as if it will fade in a matter of time, when in fact it would not.

  12. You miss the importance of the neighbors driving him home. This is a standard practice in Ireland even when the bereaved owned cars of their own. Neighbors take on certain duties. Picking ppl up at airports, train stations etc, cooking meals, milking cows. Seeing someone's neighbors at a school was more grave than seeing ones parents, almost like US military arriving to announce a battlefield death. The most important of these serious duties neighbors volunteer to do is digging the grave. This is a privilege reserved for close friends and neighbors.

  13. this is fantastic thank you this has helped me understand the poem much more

  14. Takes me down to memory lane, i did this poem when i was doing grade 8

  15. I just want to say going to funerals as a kid is a whole lot different from going to one as an adult. My grandpa passed away when I was 5, and I knew nothing about death back then: I saw his funeral as just a 'fancy dress-up event', and I even had the audacity to play with my cousin. Maybe this 'rite of passage' isn't just facing trauma; being able to understand the trauma you've just faced is a part of it too.

  16. Who's else is here just for the poem? (Without a test or anything)

  17. Yo this video was actually helpful my Midterm exam is base off of this poem, so wish me luck. #Mc.B

  18. If i say that the last line reminded me of profanities will i lose marks on my junior cert? For being inappropriate??

  19. Thank you so much for such a wonderful talk on this beautiful poem. Definitely will be reading more of Heaney. This brought me to tears.

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