It took a little while for me to realize it, but this might just be the saddest poem I've ever read. It's so solemn and blunt and emotionless at the beginning that, initially, I didn't quite know what was going on. But as the story progressed, I began to understand. I didn't really make the connection between anything past the first stanza with the title. I mean, "Mid-Term Break" is a rather misleading title for such a depressing poem. I thought it was just going to be about some college kid who was bummed out about being sick during a break from school, but no. It's about death and loss, as usual. The tone is so nonchalant, as if it is just a description of another average day in this kid's life, that it ended up seeming like the narrator was emotionally trying to detach himself from the situation. Of course, that is a perfectly natural reaction to the death of a loved one, although not really a healthy one. There is even what appears to be some subtle sarcasm in the line "In the porch I met my father crying-- he had always taken funerals in his stride," and such normal descriptions that I didn't quite know what to make of everything. I thought maybe he was just going to the funeral of someone he hadn't known very well. He refers to the deceased as "the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses," and apparently hadn't seen it for six weeks.
"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."
Followed by much confusion, shock, and agitation on my part.
WHY?? What would posess anyone to write about such a mortifying and disheartening subject? A poor little four year old boy is dead, hit by a car. Not mutilated or scarred, just a bruise on his head. But still dead! And then I remembered how messed up and depressed so many poets and writers are, and that they have more sources of...inspiration...for their writing than normal people. I usually find poetry beautiful and meaningful, despite the topics it discusses, and I'm sure Heaney had very good reasons for writing this poem, (his little brother did die when he was 3 or 4), but this is just something I did not handle well. Just thinking about it was almost enough to make me cry, as pathetic as that may be. And Heaney makes a very good point of singling out the last line, which reveals how old the poor boy was, which made an even bigger impact on me than it otherwise might have. IN CONCLUSION, I think this was a very moving and purposeful poem, but I think I need to lay off the poetry for a while before it starts to get to me.