Mid-Term Break

Mid-Term Break Literary Elements

Speaker or Narrator, and Point of View

The poem's speaker is a boarding-school student whose younger brother has recently died.

Form and Meter

The poem consists of seven tercets and a final one-line stanza, with inconsistent iambic pentameter.

Metaphors and Similes

The phrase “Wearing a poppy bruise” uses metaphor to compare the red of a poppy to that of a bloody bruise, while simultaneously evoking the tradition of using poppies to express mourning. The simile “He lay in the foot-four box as in a cot” links the brother's coffin to his bed, evoking a contrast between his appearance in life and in death.

Alliteration and Assonance

The speaker waits at school and hears “Counting bells knelling classes to a close.” The line contains both alliteration and assonance: alliterative "C" and "Cl" sounds, and assonant "E" sounds. The poem's final line, "A four-foot box, a foot for every year," contains alliterative "F" sounds.


The title of the poem is ironic since "mid-term break" implies a scheduled, routine, and relaxing experience rather than the tragic one the speaker encounters. The laughter of the baby is ironic as well, unexpectedly juxtaposed with the mournful scene.




The poem is set in Northern Ireland during the 1950s. In the opening lines, it is set in the sick bay of a boarding school and later in a family house.


Somber; Nostalgic; Reflective

Protagonist and Antagonist

The speaker is the protagonist. The antagonist is not a person but a situation: the death of the speaker's brother.

Major Conflict

The poem's major conflict is the death in the speaker's family and the subsequent disruption of family life.


The climax comes in the poem's final line, when the speaker reveals the age of his deceased family member.


The poem foreshadows themes of death and dysfunction with its early mention of a school sick bay and knelling bells.


The speaker hardly uses emotional language to describe the tragedy in the home. To describe the cause of death he understates by saying: “no gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear," and to hint at the tragically young age of the dead, he simply says "A four-foot box, a foot for every year." Even the poem's title is understated, avoiding mention of the tragedy at hand.


The poem alludes loosely to Irish funeral traditions, especially the wake. It also alludes to details from the author's life, namely the death of his own younger brother.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

"Bumper" is used as a synecdoche to refer to a car: the use of synecdoche contributes to the poem's understated tone in this moment.


Snowdrops and candles are personified as "soothing" the bedside of the dead.


The speaker, somewhat hyperbolically, says that his father has "always taken funerals in his stride."


The word "coo" is onomatopoetic.