Final Break

Like many people, I suffer from a condition known as fear of bad poetry. It’s not an irrational fear. Bad poetry has a lot to answer for. It’s responsible for making those of us who love other forms of the arts, steer away from one little subsection – poetry. Too much bad poetry can make us forget that there is actually good poetry out there.

Occasionally, however, I recall that there is good poetry out there. At school, and university, one of my favourite subjects was the study of literature (I studied both English and Russian literature!) In year 12, our literature studies included a unit on poetry, and I recall now that I did like at least some, if not most, of those poems. My favourite was “Black Rook in Rainy Weather” by Sylvia Plath, but we also studied Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sonnet number 116 by Shakespeare, and other poems I no longer remember, by William Wordsworth, Ben Jonson, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Lowell, amongst others. At university the only poem I remember studying was The Wasteland, by Yeats. (Clearly that year was worth every cent of the Higher Education Contribution I am still paying off.)

But in two years of studying what was broadly termed “English” (but clearly, as seen in the list above, included American and Irish) literature, one poet that I did not come across was Irish poet and Noble Prize winner Seamus Heaney.

I discovered Heaney via his poem, Mid Term Break, only in the last two years.That was when, after the death of my younger brother, I was searching the internet to see what others had to say about the experience of losing a dearly loved brother. When one undertakes a search to find what others have written about grieving –  dare I say it?  – there is a lot of bad poetry to be found. Perhaps, in the hands of those who have not yet mastered the form, poetry, more than any other artform, lends itself to an uncontrolled outpouring of emotion.

Surprisingly perhaps, a lack of emotion is probably the strength of Heaney’s poem about the death of his younger brother. On the surface of it, there is no outpouring of emotion at all. I could go on to surmise what makes it a powerful and moving poem to read when grieving the loss of a brother, but I don’t want to spoil the experience of reading it, for anyone unfamiliar with the poem. I just want to share it with you, and say that, after reading this poem, my search to find a shared experience of someone else grieving at losing a brother was complete – I didn’t need to look any further.

What prompted this post, you may ask? Well, sadly, Heaney passed away on Friday.  And, in a fortnight, it will be the 2nd anniversary of my brothers’ death.


Mid-Term Break

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

Seamus Heaney

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  1. Poignant piece – apt homage.


  2. I never lose the feeling of being gut punched when it comes to eloquent pieces written on grief. And so often it comes from the writer capturing the ordinariness occurring all around it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I couldn’t even remember what this post was about when I saw your comment so I had to read it again, and now Heaney’s poem has made me teary all over again! It was a gift to me to find it at the time. Sparse and direct. From memory it’s based on real events – when the poet was young he lost a younger brother.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh I’m sorry I caught you off guard. I got lost in your blog for a bit! Yes, Heaney – the right man for sparse and direct. One of the few poems from the school curriculum remembered by folks years later for that reason. His son wrote a very poignant piece about his Dad’s own last words before he died. I’d be happy to dig out the article if you ever fancy a read.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sure, I’d love to read that! If/whenever you feel like digging!


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