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Mid-Term Break

|Opening the Poem  |History of the Poem

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o'clock our neighbours 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 that 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 a four foot box, as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year.

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Opening the Poem

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History of the Poem

Mid-Term Break was first published in the Spring issue of the Kilkenny Magazine in 1963.( Read Heaney's comments on this in the Responses page.)
book cover
It next appeared in a small 16-page pamphlet called Eleven Poems, published in November 1995 by Festival Publications of Queen's University, Belfast. This slim volume collects some of Heaney's earliest poems. Ten of these eleven poems were later published in his first book.

In May 1966, when Heaney was only 27, his first book coverfull-length collection, Death of a Naturalist, was published by Faber and Faber. Mid-Term Break was one of thirty four short poems in this award winning volume. It earned him the Somerset Maugham Award and the Geoffrey Faber Prize. The celebrated Irish poet Austin Clarke, reviewing it on Radio Eireann said that unlike most first books, this one is mature and certain in its touch."

The Chief Examiners Report on the Junior Certificate examination of 2003 stated that, in the Foundation Level paper, the most frequently selected poem was Mid-Term Break.

book coverOn the last day of the last century (31st December 1999) The Irish Times published a list of the 100 Favourite Irish Poems of all time. More than 3,500 readers of the paper had written or e-mailed their choices. Mid-Term Break was the third poem on the list. Heaney had ten of his poems included on this list.


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