What is unusual about the poem "Mid-Term Break"?

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The title is unusual in the poem "Mid-Term Break." For college students, midterm breaks are usually associated with parties and merriment, not with funerals and grief. The way that the poet does not reveal who has died until the very last line of the poem is also unusual.

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In the poem "Mid-Term Break" by Seamus Heaney, a neighbor picks up the narrator, a college student, from school and takes him home to a grieving household. His father, mother, relatives, and friends are all in mourning because the narrator's four-year-old brother has been hit by a car and killed. Everyone is grieving in their own way. At night an ambulance arrives with his brother's corpse, and in the morning the narrator goes to view the body within the small four-foot coffin.

One unusual thing about this poem is its title. A midterm break from college signifies party time for many students. They look forward to time off from their rigorous regimen of studying and go somewhere where they can cut loose and enjoy themselves. In this case, however, the title is ironic. Instead of a partying atmosphere, the student comes home to a place of mourning and grief.

Another unusual device in this poem is the air of mystery concerning who it is that the characters have lost. Although it is evident from the narrator's arrival at home that someone has died, with the mention of his father crying and his father's usual reaction to funerals, Heaney refrains from revealing the identity of the dead person until the very last line. After the father, various friends, and the baby are mentioned, readers may tend to think that the narrator's mother has died, but then the mother holds his hand. His dead brother is first mentioned only as "the corpse," and we discover only at the end that the pale figure in the tiny coffin is his four-year-old brother.

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