“Mid-Term Break” was published by Irish poet Seamus Heaney in his 1966 book Death of a Naturalist. The poem is about Heaney’s brother, who was killed by a car in 1953 when he was only 4 years old, and Heaney only 14. Personal and direct, the poem describes the unexpected ways his family’s grieves as they confront this tragedy. It also notes the way that grief may upset traditional social roles.
I sat all ...
... drove me home.
In the porch ...
... a hard blow.
The baby cooed ...
... for my trouble'.
Whispers informed strangers ...
... angry tearless sighs.
At ten o'clock ...
... by the nurses.
Next morning I ...
... in six weeks.
Paler now, ...
... for every year.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
Seamus Heaney's 10 Best Poems — A list of Heaney's 10 Best Poems from the Telegraph—offering a good introduction to his broader work.
Heaney Restrospective — A critical appraisal of the poet's life and work, from Naomi Schalit.
Seamus Heaney's Life — A detailed biography from the Poetry Foundation.
Seamus Heaney Reads "Mid-Term Break" — The poet reads his own poem aloud for the Poetry Ireland Lunchtime Reading Series.
Heaney's Family on Life with the Poet — In an article for the Guardian Newspaper, Seamus Heaney's family reflect on life with Heaney.
1I sat all morning in the college sick bay
2Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
3At two o'clock our neighbours drove me home.
4In the porch I met my father crying—
5He had always taken funerals in his stride—
6And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.
7The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
8When I came in, and I was embarrassed
9By old men standing up to shake my hand
10And tell me they were 'sorry for my trouble'.
11Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
12Away at school, as my mother held my hand
13In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
14At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived
15With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.
16Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
17And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
18For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,
19Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
20He lay in the four-foot box as in his cot.
21No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
22A four-foot box, a foot for every year.