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“Mid- Term Break” and “Early Purges” Poetry

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  • Pages: 10
  • Word count: 2414
  • Category: Poetry

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After reading “Mid-Term Break” and “Early Purges”, both poems written by Seamus Heaney, I found that they are both written about past experience, when Heaney was a child. “Mid-Term Break” was about the death of his younger brother, however “Early Purges” was set on a farm, and about animals being slaughtered. Although they are both set in his childhood, they are both similarly about death, that of his brother, and the farm animals. “Mid-Term Break” was the first poem I read. After reading the first stanza, the sad atmosphere created by Heaney, was instantly detected.

Heaney explains how he “sat all morning in the college bay” and started, “Counting bells knelling to close. ” These two lines indicate that he was waiting for something, as the word “counting” is usually used to describe if time passes very slowly, which really means that you are waiting for something. However, what is even more interesting is that he uses the word “knelling”. Knell is usually the word associated with funerals, as it is the ringing bells at a funeral. After waiting in the “college bay”, he is then taken home by his neighbours.

Not many people today would trust their neighbours with such a responsibility, so they must have very close or family friends. When he arrives home, he is greeted by his father, yet he was quite shocked and distraught to find his father was crying. “He had always taken funerals in his stride. ” This funeral was obviously different as it had mad Heaney’s father break down into tears.

Although Heaney may already know who the death of this person was, as he would have been told by the head teacher at the college, he clearly shows that the death of this person was person who was very close to him; that it was a family member. And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow”. Obviously here what he trying to portray is that the death of this person, means a lot, and that everyone will be affected by it. Heaney’s feelings here, knowing the death was his young brother, Christopher, would once again be shocked, and emotionally hurt as his brother Christopher has died, a family member who probably meant a lot to Heaney.

During the rest of that day, Heaney had a variety of experiences. When he walks into the room, he is “embarrassed” and quite shocked to find “old men” shaking his hand. When I came in, and I was embarrassed by old men shaking my hand”. He is embarrassed because as a young child, he is never experienced adults shaking his hand in this way. In the same stanza he talks about the baby cooing. I believe here Heaney is trying to portray that the baby is oblivious to its surroundings. As he walks into the room, “whispers” informed strangers that he was the eldest, who was “away at school. ” Here I believe Heaney is feeling sense of anxiety and very uncomfortable, as he realises people are talking “behind his back”.

Although they are not being nasty or unpleasant, without realising, they are making Heaney anxious. This period of anxiety and discomfort is soon ended. “My Mother held my hand”. His mother here acts as a “shoulder to lean” on for Heaney. Despite his many mixed emotions, he is comforted by his mother, and grieves with her. It’s a different feeling when you are grieving with family members, as you are all sharing the emotions. With a friend, who is not grieving, it’s different, as they do not understand your loss.

That is the reason why it is more comforting with a family member. When he sees that his mother was also crying, it is not too much of a shock to him, as usually, at that time, it was expected and normal for women to cry, and the fact that it was her second son, must also make her feel like Heaney, emotionally hurt, if not worse. When the ambulance arrived with the body, Heaney is once again shocked, and saddened by the sight of his brother lying there, unable to help him, just like the rest of his family.

However, there is evidence which indicates that this moment was unforgettable. The fact that he memorized the time, “At ten o’clock” evidently proves that this moment in his life will remain in his memory forever. I believe here, Heaney is trying to portray his courageous side, and how as a young lad, he was very brave. In fact, I think he only tries to come across as brave and courageous because it is his way of coping with the disbelief of his brother’s death which is why he calls him “the corpse”. The next morning he “went up into the room” to see his brother.

Though it is usual and respectful to see a relative who has died, I think that here, Heaney is very brave. At such a young age, he was brave and able enough to take a deep breath and say one final personal goodbye. Many people struggle to say one final goodbye to their lost one, as they feel so hurt, angered and shocked. However, maybe Heaney did cry, and decided not to include his feelings in the poem, just like many other occasions. What is interesting about this stanza is the line after when he goes to see his brother, “Snowdrops and candles soothed the bedside”.

I think he is trying to portray life as a candle. How a candle stays alight, but after a long time goes out, which demonstrates how long life can last. However, it demonstrates how life can go so quickly. Just with a simple blow, the flame is out, as quick as a flash, disappearing before your eyes, just like life. The next stanza opens with a metaphor, “Wearing a poppy bruise”. This metaphor, reminds me of two things; the first is the beginning of when a bruise is formed, you skin is all red -like a poppy- and slowly, the purple and green parts set into the bruise.

Also, Heaney may have used this metaphor to compare with the death of his brother Christopher and the many soldiers who died in the war, as that was what the poppy represents. The next line is very effective, as Heaney uses short, monosyllabic words so that this poem is accessible and down-to-earth. “He lay in a four foot box as in his cot”. A short sentence like this has a lot of impact, as is the phrase used in his next line, “no gaudy scars”.

The final line is most effective as it has a lot of impact, regular rhythm, and a little alliteration, “A four foot box, a foot for every year. The language used in this final stanza and line is so simple and yet so effective as the picture of this child is their, built into your brain, a child only four foot tall just lying their in a coffin, with a big red bruise on his left temple. The second poem that we studied was the “Early Purges”. It is another autobiographical poem like “Mid-Term Break” and the scene this time is on a farm. However, this time Heaney explains and illustrates his shock after witnessing a death for the first time. At the age of six, he witnessed the small helpless kittens, drowned heartlessly by Dan Taggart, a farmer.

In the first stanza, Heaney conveys to the reader his age when he first saw the kittens drown. This proves to us that the kittens were neglected and unwanted by showing some actual dialogue used by Dan Taggart which is quite abrupt. ` Dan Taggart pitched them, “the scraggy wee shits”. ‘ Although dialogue is quite infrequent among poems, the dialogue used is very abrupt, and gives the impression that Dan Taggart doesn’t care about these poor animals and is very heartless and cold-blooded, but we do learn more of this as he continuously kills.

He also describes how they sounded when he put them “Into a bucket; a frail metal sound,” To me, the reader, this hasn’t quite fully expressed the atmosphere of this poem – which is meant to be frightening and sickening – however in “Mid-Term Break” a saddened, depressed atmosphere can be instantly recognised due to the fact that Heaney explains that he is “Counting bells knelling to an end. ” One very clear difference between the two poems already is that Heaney instantly uses dialogue. In the next three stanzas Heaney shows his variety of writing to create imagery. In this next case for example he uses similes and metaphors.

Soft paws scraping like mad,” is a simile which he uses to describe the actions of the kittens in the bucket. “Like wet gloves they bobbed and shone” is definitely a simile as Heaney explains they are “like wet gloves” as they floated on the water, the keyword being “like”. I believe he is referring to the fur on the kittens and obviously gloves with fur. “Turn mealy and crisp as old summer dung”. Here in this example Heaney uses a metaphor nevertheless it could also possibly include a simile as Heaney use the term as in “as old summer dung” and the keyword as, is usually used in similes.

Heaney also uses onomatopoeia in stanzas two and three like, “din” and “sluiced”. This style of language adds to the imagery created by Heaney as it adds the sound. The example “sluiced” gives a picture of the kittens in the water; however the sound is as if they were being dipped and then pulled back out of the water. Stanza two is really what Heaney saw when the kittens were drowned in a bucket. He describes how Dan Taggart “slung” the kittens “on the snout” and then “the water pumped in”. The third stanza is what the kittens looked like after they were drowned.

He again uses “real” speech to add to immediacy and a down-to-earth feel to the poem, however this time, Dan Taggart could be trying to be sarcastic, “Sure isn’t it better for them now? ” At that moment, Heaney looks down at these dead kittens which looked “like wet gloves” bobbing up and down in the water. I think here, he is referring to the wet fur on the kittens. Then he describes the kittens when Dan Taggart “sluiced them out on the dunghill” were the looked “glossy and “dead”. The effect of these words have great impact on the reader and the actual poem.

These strong verbs can seem rather abrupt which can add to the impact of the poem. In the third stanza, he reveals his fear after experiencing the death of the kittens. He was “suddenly frightened for days” after at such a young age he was shocked by the heartless slaughtering of the kittens. He describes his feelings by explaining “for days I sadly hung round the yard”. In my opinion, I believe the shock of the death has caused him in some way to feel guilty as he stares at them for “days”.

After all, he did just stare at them while they were drowning. Some of this guilt is possibly shown, when he uses a simile “as he watched the three sogged remains turn mealy and crisp as old summer dung” old summer dung being the simile as he compares the look of the decaying kittens to summer dung. The guilt however was soon forgotten as was the death of the kittens. The forgotten deaths and guilt were short lived as young Heaney was reminded of them by the other methods used by Dan Taggart to slaughter other animals.

To add a more “spine chilling” effect to this stanza, Heaney cleverly uses very strong verbs, which gives a very good picture of the scene, “When Dan trapped big rats, snared rabbits, shot crows, or, with a sickening tug, pulled old hens’ necks. ” Heaney cleverly lists it so that an image is created in your mind of the bang made by the gun when shooting a crow. Some of these images can also be a little disturbing too, especially the old hens’ neck; a picture of a hen being tugged by the neck, and eventually you hear this loud “crack! ” and the neck and the body have been separated.

In contrast to the previous stanzas and poem, this verse is completely different. In the next two stanzas, Heaney gives his current, adult perspective of the situation. As he is now an adult, he realises and understands why the animals are killed. He explains how town dwellers don’t understand the fact the “on well-run farms pests have to be kept down” and explains this with figures of speech and a metaphor. We can tell Heaney now fully understands the reason why animals are killed on a farm when he clarifies “when shrill pups are prodded to drown I just shrug, “Bloody pups”.

It makes sense”. It shows his transformation from his view as a child, to an adult. The final stanza is made up of two figures of speech, which add to immediacy and a down-to-earth feel to the poem. “Prevention of cruelty” is a figure of speech frequently used by people who are against animal cruelty. The last one is ” After reading and studying both of these poems, I have found that they are both about the poet’s childhood, and using powerful, descriptive and some emotive language, gives the reader the impression of how exactly Seamus Heaney felt during those experiences.

Although in “Early Purges” he is frightened to death by witnessing the slaughtering of the kittens, he shows another point of view, when he is older, more mature and fully understands. In a similar way, “Mid-Term Break” was also about death, only this time it was his brother Christopher, who had died in a car accidents. I think in “Mid-Term Break” he conveys his feelings when he walks into the room and feel “embarrassed by old men standing up” to shake his hand.

Using different varieties of language like emotive language, adds more impact to the poem and the reader. Personally, I think that “Early Purges” was the more interesting poem as Heaney uses more different uses of language, like similes and metaphors, onomatopoeia and many more. In “Mid-Term Break” he only use similes and a metaphor which is not very interesting. Unfortunately, I believe he was also hiding away most of his feelings, as he only expresses one, how he felt when grown men shook his hand.

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