Mid-Term Break

Mid-Term Break Study Guide

Mid-Term Break” is a poem by Seamus Heaney, first published in his debut collection Death of a Naturalist in 1966. The poem reflects on experiences from Heaney's own life. In 1953, when the poet was just fourteen years old, his little brother Christopher—ten years younger—was tragically killed in a car accident. Here, he recounts that experience through the eyes of an adolescent speaker, visiting home for his four-year-old brother's wake. Like Heaney's own brother, the brother in the poem dies after being struck by a car, leaving his family in shock and upsetting their established gender and age roles. The poem is set in an Irish household, reflecting Heaney's own Northern Irish upbringing.

The poem consists of seven tercets, followed by a one-line stanza. Though it has no consistent meter, it slips in and out of iambic pentameter, lending it a simultaneously musical and conversational sound. It focuses on themes of death and grief, in particular dwelling on the failure of language in the face of grief, the impact of death on familial roles and relationships, and the various impacts of public and private forms of mourning.

Here, as in his other poems, Heaney's diction is spare and direct, packed with intimate domestic details. The poem's language is subtly musical, with a great deal of alliteration, assonance, internal rhyme, and slant end rhyme.