Sunday, March 13, 2005

Mid-term Break by Seamus Heaney

Today's gospel about Lazarus reminds me of one of the most powerful poetic evocations of bereavement I've ever read - Seamus Heaney's Mid-term Break.
I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o'clock our neighbors 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.

(Incidentally, I note that Heaney spent a 5 year term as Oxford University's Professor of Poetry, a non-residential post previously held by John Keble whose sermon National Apostasy was the event which kick-started the Oxford Movement.)

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