Mid-Term Break by Seamus Heaney was voted Ireland’s third most popular poem in a poll of readers of the Irish Times.
The tragic theme of the death of a four-year old boy is deeply personal to Heaney – his younger brother Christopher was killed in a road accident at the age of four.
Heaney was away at boarding school at the time. His poem Mid-term Break describes how he was brought home from school to be told the news as relatives gathered at his house.
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 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 the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
A four foot box, a foot for every year.