Poem: When all the Others were Away at Mass

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.


  1. How does the tone of the poem change from the first stanza to the second stanza?
  2. When all the others are at mass, what does Heaney get to do with his mother? Why do you think he enjoys this time?
  3. In the second stanza, when everyone is praying, what does Heaney do? Why do you think he does this?
  4. ‘Never closer the whole rest of our lives.’ What do you think Heaney means by this line? Do you sense that there is regret in this line?
  5. What message is Heaney trying to convey in this poem? Back up your answer with relevant points from the poem.
  6. Make a list of poetic devices that Heaney uses and comment on the effect they have on the poem.

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