In the poems ‘Mid-term Break’ by Seamus Heaney and ‘Because I could not stop for Death’ by Emily Dickinson, the persona’s experience with death is an important factor that contributes to the overall theme and tone of the poems. In ‘Mid-term Break’, Seamus Heaney portrays the concept of death as being haunting and traumatising through illustrating a boy coming home and finds out about the devastating death of his baby brother, as well as the reaction of his other family members. Contrastingly, in ’Because I could not stop for Death’, Emily Dickinson personifies death as a mannered young man, something that does not need to be feared.
‘Because I could not stop for death” stands out from other poems about death because in this poem, the writer personifies death as a well mannered young man, she further supports this by capitalising “Death”, like it is a name. By personifying death, the author attempts to make the subject less terrifying or abnormal, theres is also no tension being built in the poem. The tone is mostly calm and serene which relates to Dickinson’s attitude towards death.
The readers know right away this poem is about death as Dickinson starts poem with “Because”, which seems like an explanation or an answer to a question, this is more intimate and personal for the readers. When the personas says “I could not stop for death” it is as if she is unprepared for death or that she did not have time for death. Dickinson hints that it is not up to us to choose when to die. The diction “ourselves” connotes the relationship between the persona and death is tight and close. Once again, Dickinson reveals her attitude towards death by writing “immortality”, death is seen as the road to eternal life or maybe an afterlife for her. Death is often associated with mortality, with an end, not immorality, of a different beginning. The writer makes this last line of the stanza stand out by contrasting death with immortality. Using foreshadowing in the line, “We slowly drove- he knew no haste” the writer foreshadows about revealing the twisted sense time in the stanza six, this is shocking for the readers because stanza one to five seems like a fairly short encounter between death and the persona. Audience is kept on edge when death and the persona is “taking their time”, this causes the reader to want to know more. Death distracts the persona from her work and entertainment with his politeness, here Dickinson implies we all have to give up our “labor and leisure” when death arrives. In the third stanza, they go pass pass school see children “strove at recess”. This scene is oddly normal and familiar for the readers, once again the author indicates that dying should be an ordinary and normal part of life. Third and fourth line of the stanza includes more imagery, “field of gazing grain”, gazing is defined as looking steadily and intently, this is as if the grains are staring at them as they pass the field. Dickinson symbolises “the setting sun” as the end of life- death, because the sun sets in the end of the day. The writer not only symbolise the sun, she also personifies the sun by writing “he passed us”. The two dashed lines in the start of stanza 4 signifies the transition from the living world to another world where the persona is going to be buried. Many dashes are seen throughout this poem and it acts as an arrow that pulls readers to the next line. The atmosphere suddenly shifts to a much more cold and spooky atmosphere, the sun goes down and she only have her “tippet”, the temperature is dropping, it is getting colder just like the atmosphere. In this poem, using metaphor the writer describes grave as “home”, this way, it is much more welcoming and calming. Another important contrasting image is how the “cornice”, defined as the highest pointy part of the roof, is “in the ground”. The last stanza reveals the most important information about the poem, Dickinson brings to the reader’s attention that the persona actually died centuries ago, and because the time is so stretched in the ‘world of death’, to the readers it only seems like a short encounter that don’t last more than a day. This catches the readers off guard and creates a strong impression.
In ‘Mid-Term Break’, the main themes are death and family grief. The writer provides first hand observation of his family including his dad and his mom’s reaction towards his little brother’s death. Heaney starts off the poem with foreshadowing sickness and death of his little brother using the diction “sick bay”, he is waiting at the sick bay though he’s not sick, at this point, the readers are wondering the reason why he’s there. Once again, Heaney connotes death by saying the bells are “knelling classes to a close”, odd choice of diction once again confuses the readers. As the persona meets his father crying on the porch, he is taken aback because his father has “always taken funeral in his stride”, this is a shocking scene for the audience as well as the father, is the man of the family, the patriarch. More questions raises as even “Big Jim Evans’ is justifying his dad crying. A depressing and tense atmosphere surrounds the family, the baby laughing and cooing creates a contrasting image and makes the audience feel uncomfortable. The old men embarrasses the persona because they are standing up and shaking his hand and treating him as an equal and respecting him. He is not used to being treated like an adult, this is a significant scene because it shows that he still don’t quite understand or comprehend what is happening. Whispers and quiet sighs further builds up the tension as when people are being out in that situation they feel pressured to break the silence. The persona’s mother is holding his hand for comfort as she is coughing out “angry tearless sighs” taking out the grief as anger, this is especially heartbreaking and relatable for audiences who has either lost a loved one or is a mother. Mother and father contrasts each other, it is as if they switched roles because mothers are normally the ones that are more emotional and sad when it comes to situations like this. When the ambulance arrives, the phrase “stanched and bandaged” makes the scene feel technical and the atmosphere is emotionless, this also relates to Heaney’s lack of emotion due to his age. “Snowdrops” are white flowers that symbolises purity, which is relevant because of the dead boys young age, four. The “poppy bruise” that he is wearing on his temple gives the impression as it the bruise is something that is already a part of the dead boy, and can’t be taken off. Poppies are also often associated with death and most of the time they are red, symbolising blood. Using the alliteration of ‘f’, the author ends the poem with a shocking one line stanza imagery.
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