Midterm Break Midterm break is a poem that delivers the scene of a funeral in short snapshots narrated by the estranged boy whose brother has died. The title itself implies a disturbance of some sort, a ‘break’. However, it does not give the full meaning of the disruption felt by the boy and the titles’ meaning is shown in full only by the end of the poem. The boy in the poem’s aimless and confused outlook about what happened is told to us by his impassive style of narrating- he ‘sat all day…. counting bells’.
He has taken notice of his surroundings but they seem very distant from him. He cannot bring himself to care about his circumstances. He does not know how to feel or react about the incident. His counting the bells also implies how he is just idling away his time because he is feeling very blank about his situation. All this paints a picture of desolation and isolation. His being in the ‘college sick bay’ also adds to the gloomy atmosphere. He is driven home by his neighbours which tells us that his parents must be busy in other circumstances.
The boy says that “in the porch I met my father crying—he had always taken funerals in his stride—“ We are also shown how the father has broken down despite being strong. The hyphens depict unease and concern. The boy does not know how to react to his father’s crying, this being the first funeral he has cried at. In contrast to the father, the baby in the pram is laughing. Big Jim Evans says it ‘was a hard blow’ but he does not seem to be feeling the same blunt misery the boy is experiencing. Old people are also standing up to shake his hand and offer condolences while other’s whispered amongst themselves about who he was.
These show how everything and everyone’s actions are feeling unnatural to the boy. He is shaken up by his father’s crying, and embarrassed at the unexpected behavior of the guests. The lines also tell us that a funeral at one’s own home is considerably different from that of another’s. Also, the way in which the lines are conveyed to us here show how the boy is noting and perceiving his surroundings but not caring very much. He feels sort of dull and is passing blandly through everything. His mother is holding his hand and ‘coughing out angry tearless sighs’.
She is holding his hand to comfort both him and herself. The boy derives comfort from her instead of unease because they are two people sharing the same grief in a room full of strangers. The description of the mother’s condition also shows how many things she is feeling. She is angry as well as grieved and her coughing shows frustration. The corpse arrives at ten, which shows the long time they had been waiting. The corpse’s description ‘stanched and bandaged’ tells us that the boy still doesn’t feel anything.
He is still numb and does not know how to react or what to feel. He has not properly grasped the reality so he cannot bring himself to feel properly sorry either. The next day when he goes alone into the room to see the body, he finally comes to terms with reality. The ‘snowdrops’ by the bedside symbolize peace and new life and slowly ease the truth into him. The atmosphere is now more serene rather than the confused inner turmoil of the previous day. “I saw him” shows sensitivity and feeling that have crept back into the boy who has been numb for the previous day. For the first time in six weeks” shows a secret yearning and crying because this first time is probably the last time. However, now that the truth has seeped into him, he finds himself able to inspect his brother and describe how he only looks asleep except for being paler and with a bruise. The “poppy bruise” also looks very innocent and minor, like it would fade away or heal. Everything seems to indicate that there was no pain. The last line solves the dead boy’s identity and wraps up the poem- it was a four year old younger brother killed in a car accident. Komal Ashfaq