Discuss the significance of the "college sick bay."
The speaker's sojourn in his school's infirmary, as he waits to be picked up for his brother's wake, foreshadows the poem's upcoming events. The setting hints at death, illness, and dying. At the same time, it offers a glimpse at a medicalized, institutional world of death that—like the ambulance that later appears to deliver the brother's body—contrasts with the traditional domesticity of the wake. Meanwhile, the speaker's explanation that he has spent his day in the sick bay, counting tolling bells, indicates that he is alone and without any comfort at school. Again, this cold, institutional setting contrasts sharply with the overwhelmingly social ambiance he encounters at home.
Discuss the form and stanza length of "Mid-Term Break."
The stanza length and variation of "Mid-Term Break" reflect the speaker's emotional state of shock and distress, as well as his effort to tamp down his expressions of those emotions. The steady rhythm of tercets creates a sense of control, which, alongside the speaker's understated language, displays his attempts to manage or even deny the brutal reality of his brother's death. However, as the speaker notes the small size of his brother's coffin, and considers his young age, the tercet structure falls away: the poem's last line is in a stanza of its own. This breakdown of structure reflects a breakdown of control and of speech, echoing a grief that persists beyond verbal description.