The poem When all the Others were away at Mass by Seamus Heaney is considered to be the most loved poem in Ireland from the Past century. It was chosen from ballots cast by the public, and announced by Irish President Michael D. Higgins. The third of eight sonnets in “Clearances”, a series dedicated to the poet’s mother, Margaret Kathleen McCann, the poem is featured in Selected Poems 1966–1987. This poem records the poet’s reminiscence of the past (how he spent a silent time with his mother).
When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.
So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives–
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.
The poet initially describes the moment that he shared with his mother when all the others were away at mass. The poet and his mother are standing in front of a bucket full of water and potatoes with their head bent opposite to each other to peel those. It appears they were making ready for a feast. The room is silent and that’s broken by the sound made by the peeled potatoes dropped one by one inside the bucket near to them. He compares the action as “Like solder weeping off the soldering iron”. The comfort between them is not warm its cold (they might not have been in a friendly relationship). Yet, they have a lot more to share with each other (like the piled up peeled potatoes in the clean water), they remain quit. It seems they were not just quiet they were in deep thoughts (maybe on how to break the silence). And so the water that splashes from each other’s work help them bring back to their senses. The poet calls this pleasant.
Now the poet describes the dead bed of his mother. How a Parish priest did all the rituals and the response given by people to that and the cry. He then again goes back to his past memory and says he remembers his mother’s head bent towards his’ and her breathe that he felt while doing the job. He finally comments on why he remembers this day particularly, “Never closer the whole rest of our lives”.