Responses To 'Mid-Term Break'

Return to the poem Mid-Term Break.


The Accident

I wasn't there on the evening it happened, but I do have a clear picture of it in my mind. It was at the bus stop a little up the road from our lane. Christopher and my brother Hugh were on one side of the road, posting a leter on the bus for Belfast - it used to be you could hand a letter to the conductor and it would be mailed later that evening in the city; it saved a trip to the post office.

Anyhow, at that same moment, my brothers Pat and Dan were walking up the road on the other side, on an errand to fetch a gallon of paraffin oil from a house further along. As the bus moves off, Christopher - who is three and a half years old - sees the two boys on the other side and immediately starts across the road towards them. But while the bus is pulling away, a car is coming in the opposite direction, and Christopher runs out from behind the bus straight into the side of the car and is knocked down. The driver hadn't a chance.

What happens next I can hardly bear to think about: Hugh lifts him and holds him, bleeding and probably unconscious; then the man who is a passenger in the car comes and takes Christopher and carries him the thirty or forty yards to our lane, Hugh behind him, weeping al the time. My mother who is out at the clothes line, hears it and comes around to the street and sees what has happened. All in a few minutes.

He was taken to the mid-Ulster Hospital in Magherafelt and died a couple of hours later.

Seamus Heaney
(Quoted in the book Stepping Stones
interviewed by Dennis O'Driscoll)


Seamus Heaney's Reponse

The Kilkenny Magazine was a wonderful thing for me because they did Mid-Term Break, which was written very quickly one evening in early February, when Christopher's anniversary was coming up. I sent it off and they took it almost by return of post. So that was a terrific sense of confirmation.


A Politicians Reponse

Seamus Heaney may have written better poems than Mid-Term Break, but he has surely never written one more touching or moving than this account of his coming home from boarding school for the funeral of his four-year old brother who had been knocked down and killed by a car.

This simple 22-line poem conveys such a powerful impression of the sense of loss created by the sudden death of a child on the parent's and on the child's siblings.

It brings us back to an era when many more children in rural Ireland went away to school and when funerals were a lot more formal and ritualised than now - with the teenage Heaney expressing his embarrassment as old men stood up to shake his hand and tell them they were sorry for my trouble.

Anyone who has ever lost a sibling at an early age or even who has been at a funeral of a young child will be able to identify with the sense of bewildered loss and confusion expressed by Heaney.

Pat Rabbitte TD

Pat Rabbitte TD
Former leader of the Labour Party

(Quoted in the anthology Lifelines compiled
by students in Wesley College)


A Boxer's Response

Mid-Term Break is for me an incredibly poignant poem. This true account of the tragic incident that happened Heaney's younger brother Christopher while Heaney was away at boarding school gave me the feeling that Heaney was solitary and within himself when he sits alone in the college sick bay.

I felt the poem was divided into three separate scenes, and within these scenes I feel that Heaney goes through it alone and has a complete different experience from anyone else in the poem. His experience for me gives a impression of loneliness and isolation, and I could really feel this in the college sick bay .

But when I'm invited into the home of the Heaney family I can really feel Heaney's aloneness , even with all these people crying, shaking his hand, sympathising with him; all these noises around him, still he is the only child there. From my experience of this situation, Heaney created a perfect picture of the atmosphere and of his solitude.

Throughout the scene in the house Heaney, through my eyes, felt lost and alone, someone who could really use his brother in this situation. However when he sees his brother for the first time he calls his body a "corpse" which may appear callous and unfeeling but, again, in my experience of this environment, I felt angry that they were gone and had left me alone .This, in turn, brings me back to my vision of the poem as one of loneliness, the futility of the loss of life and the story of this young boy who goes through this solitary journey of losing his young brother who died at the age of four.

For me this is Heaney's best poem because of his perfect capture of the isolation and also the companionship these circumstances can bring.

Stephen Farrell




Stephen Farrell
Boxer, film-maker and student


A Found Response

Mid-Term Break is a poem by Seamus Heaney, written as a reflection on an event that affected his life, the death of his four year old brother Christopher. He was at boarding school about forty miles from home at the time.

It talks about the impact the death of Christopher (Heaney's little brother) had on Heaney.

The title, "Mid Term Break" is a clue to the contents and the meaning of the poem, the phrase Mid-Term break can symbolize Christopher's life being cut short like a term being cut short by the holidays.

In the second line of the poem, Heaney uses the word knelling to symbolize the ringing of bells ending lessons, by doing so, Heaney is comparing the ringing of the bells in a school, to the ringing of bells announcing a death or a funeral. It also gives the reader an idea of what the rest of the poem is about

For some of the readers the effect of the poem doesn't appear until the ending line: "A Four Foot Box a Foot for Every Year". This shows that Heaney's brother was only four years old.

Found on-line by Jonathon Doyle


A Young Student's Response

I'm only in 8th grade but this poem just stood out to me. We just finished talking about Seamus Heaney and I personally think he is the best poet ever. The last stanza of the poem is really intense.... I had the same thing happen to me. I was hit by a car and I'm typing this from a hospital and I feel very sorry for Heaney!

Alexander Wood
A student quoted in the PoemHunter site


A Book Reviewer's Response

I found the poem unusual in that it portrays so little emotion from the man himself. Given the stark subject matter and the intensity of the effect upon a family it is almost chilling in the way it formalises the scene. The effect is possibly all the more heart-rending for it. This is way beyond simple documentary here. The last four lines of the poem contain the ability to knock the reader off their feet. You realise there is so much emotion in the reading of the poem, if not in the lines. Heaney asks the reader to import the sorrow from themselves.

The poem begins with the young Heaney waiting. Simple alarms, before used merely to transport school-children from one classroom to another, are now portentous and “knelling”. Already there is death here, in this simple scene. Like the young child, at this point we cannot quite understand it. The great shock for the poet must come from the second verse: his father meets him, and the once mighty man is crying. To see such a pragmatic figure, a man who rules the land in tears must surely have been almost too much for the child to bear. You imagine this was as big a shock as news of the death - for what is death when you are merely a child? The sole emotion he ascribes to himself here is the embarrassment he feels at the sympathy and attention from men, old and grown, who would otherwise have paid him little mind.

Heaney describes the moment the next morning when he ventures up to the little room (the “tainted room” of his later work “Funeral Rites”) and sees his younger brother in repose. Snowdrops and candles, although no mention of religious paraphernalia here, which I find strange, and assume to be intentionally omitted, mellow and sooth the terrible image of the dead child.

The young boy’s fatal mark is described as a poppy bruise - the word and image of the poppy long synonymous with death and remembrance. It is only upon reaching the line “He lay in the four foot box as in his cot” that the full blow is delivered to the reader. I wondered upon re-reading the poem whether the casual nature with which I initially accepted this death, and the aftershocks that ran through me upon laying down the book, would have pleased Heaney. As if I had learned some lesson from him.

A contributor to the dooyoo consumer
interactive site.


Project Student's Responses

"Mid-Term Break" is a fantastic poem. It has great detail and shows what can be written in a poem.

Robert G.

This is a good poem because I found it easy to understand. It uses very clear English. I think it described his brother's death and surroundings very well.

Thomas F.

My favourite of the six poems on the project.

Jack W.

This poem shows how Heaney remembered the tragic death of his brother. He goes through the different parts in great detail. He gets across the feeling of his sadness very well.

Jamie Q.

I loved this poem because it is very emotional and it shows that the boy was very confused about everything going on.

Seán N

A great poem with a lot of different feelings...

Gary F.

"Mid-Term Break" is a very sad and mournful poem. Heaney gets his point and his emotions across very well. The last line - "A four foot box, a foot for every year." - is very devastating. I felt like I knew Christopher.

Andrew C.

I think the poem is very good because it tells you of someone's pain.

Adam D.

It is a great poem because it makes you feel like you should enjoy having a brother because you might lose him one day.

Aaron F.


Examination responses

Higher Level

Response of Student in the 2006 Junior Certificate paper.

Response of Project Student: Jamie Quirke

Ordinary Level

Response of Project Student: Gary Fitzsimons

Foundation Level

Response of Student in the 2006 Junior Certificate paper.

Response of Student in the 2003 Junior Certificate paper.