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How is death portrayed in the poem ‘White Roses’ by Gillian Clarke and ‘Mid Term Break’ by Seamus Heaney.

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In this essay I hope to explore how death is portrayed in the poems ‘White Roses’ by Gillian Clarke and ‘Mid Term Break’ by Seamus Heaney. In the poems, death is portrayed quite differently, In ‘White Roses’ Gillian Clarke is inspired by nature whereas in ‘Mid Term Break’ Seamus Heaney talks about his own experiences of death.

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The title of the poem ‘White Roses’ tells us that it might be describing a person’s childhood. It could also suggest fragility or a sense of purity or innocence. ‘White Roses’ are also commonly used in funerals for children. However the title of the poem ‘Mid Term Break’ suggests a kind of holiday and does not prepare you for what is going to happen in the poem. ‘White Roses’ gives a slight indication of what the poem is going to be about because of white roses being used in children’s funerals but other than that is doesn’t really prepare you for what actually is going to happen in the poem.

Stanza 1 of ‘White Roses’ is a peaceful one and shows this in the first two lines

“Outside the green velvet sitting room

White roses bloom after rain”

Despite this it still doesn’t prepare you for stanza two, there is a false sense of scenery in stanza 1.

Carrying on with stanza 1 the poet writes

“They hold water and sunlight

like cups of fine white china”

This indicates that although they are strong and flourishing there still fragile. This also shows how Gillian Clarke is inspired by nature.

However in comparison to stanza 1 of ‘Mid Term Break’ there is a very different perspective of death. In ‘White Roses’ Gillian Clarke is inspired by nature, whereas in ‘Mid Term Break’ Seamus Heaney has a more human perspective. In stanza 1 of ‘Mid Term Break’ we are introduced to a college student and the poet shows us this in the first two lines

“I sat all morning in the college sick bay

counting bells knelling classes to a close”

The second line also gives a sense of something is going wrong because the word ‘knelling’ is a type of funeral bell.

Stanza 2 of ‘White Roses’ is about a young boy sleeping indoors and in care. The poet shows us this when he says

“Within the boy who sleeps in my care

In the big chair the cold bloom”

The word ‘big’ reinforces that the child is small and fragile.

The last line of stanza 2 and first line stanza 3 suggests that the boy maybe suffering from Leukaemia.

“The splinter of ice moves in his blood as he stirs in the chair”

This also suggests that the disease is painful and we are made to feel how aggressively it’s going through his body.

Carrying on with stanza 3 the poet says

“Gritting is teeth in silence on pains red blaze”

This suggests that this is a pain he is used to now and he is trying to put on a brave face even though the pain is unbearable.

Stanza 2 of ‘Mid Term Break’ gives a clear indication that someone has died.

“In the porch I met my father crying

He has always taken funerals in his stride”

This shows us that his father was a big strong man but this was not a normal funeral for him, it was something personal, poignant and he couldn’t cope well at all with the funeral as it hit him hard.

At the end of the stanza the poet says

“Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow”

This indicates that maybe ‘Big Jim Evans’ was a character in the poets life and that he was there to comfort them through this difficult experience the family was going through.

Stanza 3 of ‘Mid Term Break’ is about how he still doesn’t quite understand what is going on. The poet shows this when he says

“The baby cooed and laughed”

This reinforces how he still hasn’t come to terms with the death.

Carrying on with the stanza the poet says

“I was embarrassed by old men standing up to shake my hand”

This shows how awkward the situation was for him.

Stanza 4 of ‘White Roses’ carries on talking about the boy and his suffering from the disease. In the first two lines the poet says

“A stick man in the ashes,

His fires die back”

The words ‘Stick man’ addresses imagery, it suggests that the disease has caught hold of him and the reader is made to feel distraught about the child’s suffering. This also shows that how thin and fragile he has become. ‘His fires die back” reinforces how much pain the child is in.

Carrying on with stanza 4 the poet says

“He is spars and springs.

He can talk again”

This indicates that there is a moment of relief in the child’s pain. It shows that the pain has been released and ‘he can talk again’.

In stanza 5 the poet writes about the late stages of the child’s life. This is shown when he writes

“The least spark of pain will burn him like straw”

This also suggests that the child cannot cope with the disease much more.

In the last stanza the central message of the poem is found when the poet says

“Without concern the rose outlives the child”

This shows that the rose symbolized the boy’s life and tells us how short his life was.

The poet also writes in the last stanza

“The sun carelessly shines after rain”

This means that life continues regardless of individual pain. The last stanza is also similar to stanza 1 in terms of tone and mood.

Stanza 4 of ‘Mid Term Break’ tells us that he wasn’t present when the death occurred

“Away at school”

Stanza 5 is an emotional one about his mother

“Coughed out angry tearless sighs”

This gives us an idea of how it got to her and how distraught she is. The word ‘coughed’ indicates that she can no longer grieve anymore.

At the end of the stanza the poet says

“With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses”

This gives out a really powerful image and makes the reader feel for the horrific process the family is going through.

In stanza 6 the boy finally realises the death that’s occurred in the family but the reader isn’t told who has died. Despite this the person who has died is described as sleeping. The poet shows this when he says

“Snowdrops and candles soothed the bedside”

This suggests that maybe the poet wanted to soften the blow a bit by describing the person as sleeping. But towards the end of the stanza the poet writes

“I saw him for the first time in six weeks. Paler now”

This is the part of the stanza which tells us that he has now recognised that this person has died.

In stanza 7 the person who has died is revealed to the reader.

“He lay in a four foot box, as in his cot

No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear”

The death was off a young child possibly the poet’s younger brother. It shows how violent his death was and how unexpected it was.

In conclusion I think death is portrayed better in ‘White Roses’ because I like the way how Gillian Clarke uses nature to describe the process of death. But I think in both poems that death happens indiscriminately and life continues no matter how much pain an individual is put through.

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Kylie Garcia

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