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Sarah’s story on ‘When all the others were away at Mass’ by Seamus Heaney

I learned this poem as a teenage secondary school student in the 90’s. I loved poetry and all things literature related and ended up back in the classroom teaching English in the very school that I had gone to myself. I’ve been teaching English to all secondary school levels for ten years and I always return to this poem. It is universal in theme. Who can remember the special feeling one had as a child when we had our parent’s undivided attention? Most of my students will smile fondly in memory, sadly others realise that they might not have been as lucky as Heaney. Perhaps they never felt that closeness Heaney beautifully depicts between mother and small child. As a mother of two small girls, this poem reminds me to slow down and focus solely, if only for a moment on them. The impact of such moments stayed with Heaney for a lifetime and there is a lesson here for us parents. Life is busy, but should never be too busy to have a moment of quiet intimacy with your child. I might not peel potatoes with my girls but you might well find us tidying the toys away or hanging out the washing. I always struggle with a lump in my throat as I read aloud the last line in class. A simple poem with a beautifully simple message. Thank you Seamus Heaney.