A Healing Rite of Passage
The suspense that transitions from grievance to condolence is what circumvents the general theme in Seamus Heaney’s “Mid-Term Break.” The story beautifully presents a shocking rite of passage for the main character, a college student, who experiences the various emotions from the death of his younger sibling. The story begins with the student in a gloomy mood despite his mid-term break. Typically, college students are relieved to have a mid-term break because breaks offer time away from schoolwork. The irony that Heaney presents inputs a suspenseful and intriguing introduction. Line 2 foreshadows grievance because the speaker counts “knelling” bells. Knelling bells are common during funerals compared to ringing bells. The returning of the student from a neighbor also symbolizes the solemn nature of the suspenseful situation that is unveiled later. Lines 4-6 deeply reveal the pain caused by a funeral. The student is first met by his father, who usually “strides” by funerals, crying. Another male character, Big Jim Evans, acknowledges the “hard blow” of the death.
The third, fourth, and fifth stanza reveal the death of the family’s young son. The baby happily cooing softens the mood for a moment until the older men shake hands with the college student. Their commiseration from the handshake is a symbol of a rite of passage. The rite of passage is the maturity of the speaker transitioning from a naïve person of death into a man who must accept the reality of his younger brother’s death. Lines 12 and 13 reveal the weariness of the mother. She is weeping the death of her young child in angry and tearless sighs. The imagery of a child’s corpse in bandages reveals a haunting image that Heaney uses to send a solemn message in his poem. In addition, the word “corpse” is clinically used instead of the child’s name due to the despair of the speaker.
The next day is where the grievance is overturned by tranquility. In Line 16, the college student accepts his brother’s peace. Snowdrops and candles are a symbol of hope in the obscure scene. Snowdrops are the first flowers that bloom in the cold weather through the sun’s gleaming light. Candles are associated with warmth and guidance through darkness.
The last stanza presents the final transfiguration of the acceptance of death. Line 19 states that the dead child is “wearing a poppy bruise” indicating a temporary injury; implying that the bruise not belonging to the child anymore since his spirit is elsewhere. Poppies are known to produce opiates that heal, moreover links as a plant of peace. The final three lines are full of pathos by measuring the four-foot box by the age of the child.
The theme is finality as the family experiences grievance and tranquility though the death of a young child. The mood inside the poem contains a dull touch with an ominous silence. All of the following qualities in the poem are topics in the death of loved ones including: grievance, confusion, anger, anticipation, and serenity.
Heaney, Seamus. “Mid-Term Break.” The Norton Introduction to Literature. Ed Kelly J. Mays. Shorter 11th ed. New York: Norton, 2013. 1093-1094. Print.