The poem “Mid-Term Break” is written as seven three-lined stanzas followed by a single line. At first glance, the topic of the poem implies joy and freedom from the normally restrictive atmosphere of school. It is misleading. The student in this poem is not about to enjoy this sudden windfall. He has got a midterm break due to a tragedy in his family.
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.
Upon arriving at home he sees his father crying. It is unusual for his father to give into grief. He has not given into tears at other funerals. Jim Evens gives the reason for tears - it was a hard blow.
The baby, unaffected by the turmoil around it, happily coos and laughs rocking in its pram. When the boy enters his house old men stand up and shake hands with him in recognition of his loss. The boy is embarrassed by the unusual amount of attention he receives. He hears total strangers share the information they have gathered with the newcomers - a familiar sight at scene of a tragedy.
The boy’s mother coughs “out angry tearless sighs” clinging to his hand. Her grief is too great for tears. Then at ten the ambulance arrives bringing the corpse. After death a person is referred to as a corpse. The spirit of the deceased has left the body; therefore, the body would not be called by a name. The boy sees that the nurses have stanched the blood and bandaged the wounds. One could say that it is a pointless act as the child is already dead. But it must have been done as a mark of respect to the dead. It also comforts the living with the knowledge that everything possible has been done. In addition, the idea of death is horrifying enough without the sight of a grotesquely disfigured body. Therefore, every attempt is made to present a body at peace with death.
The following day the boy goes up to see the body. He sees his little brother lying in a box. There are snowdrops and candles next to him adding colour and light to the room. To the boy his brother seems paler. Death has robbed the healthy glow the very young possess. Other than a red bruise on his temple there are no disfiguring marks on the body. It is as if the little boy is in his cot sleeping. The accident has mercifully brought a quick and clean death.
The tragedy is unleashed in its full force in the last line: “A four foot box, a foot for every year.”
The little boy was just four years old. The coffin was just four feet long, “a foot for every year.” These lines hammer home the fact that death could strike anyone at any time at any age. The poem as a whole illustrates the devastating effect of the death of a loved one on those who are close to him/her.
The poet keeps the readers in suspense till the end of the poem about the identity of the person who died. The poem begins with a person listening to the passage of time: counting bells knelling classes to a close. Time passes and lives come to an end. Bells also knell at funerals. It is as if the bells at school have understood the loss of the boy.
He contrasts the behaviour of the adults with that of the baby. The very young are untouched by the harsh realities of life. The embarrassment felt by the boy when the old men get up to offer condolences adds a touch of reality. It is how a real boy would feel despite the tragic circumstances. The snowdrops are a symbol of the innocent childhood. Light of the candles also stands for life. Ironically both are next to a dead body. It is as if the relatives are trying to dull the pain by surrounding themselves with symbols of life. However, bot snowdrops and candles wilt/melt away fast. He uses a metaphor when he calls the bruise a “poppy bruise”. Poppy is red. It also implies oblivion. The bruise was the cause of death, oblivion.