poem · poetry · When All The Others Were Away At Mass

Ireland’s Best-Loved Poem & A Lesson in Creating Closeness

Today I read in the Irish Times that Seamus Heaney’s poem When All The Others Were Away At Mass was crowned favourite Irish poem in the last 100 years. I was never a big fan of Seamus Heaney but I was a little disappointed in myself that I couldn’t even recite a single line of the poem. Luckily the paper had printed it at the end of the article.

The poem describes beautifully the time the poet spent with his mother in peeling potatoes while the rest of the family was out at mass. The language is simple, the imagery vivid: “When all the others were away at Mass/ I was all hers as we peeled potatoes”. The poem then changes scene to the mother’s deathbed years later with the poet remembering his mother in those moments alone together one day. The final line had me, a mother to three boys, suddenly in tears “Never closer the whole rest of our lives.”

One of the big challenges of parenthood is spending time with each of your children individually. For me, these lines from When All The Others Were Away At Mass highlight the importance of one-on-one time with your children. Children don’t need a lot to be happy, but what they do need and thrive upon are attention and recognition. You can hear the pride and delight of the child in the line: “I was all hers”. 


Creating this feeling can be as simple as letting your eldest child stay up half an hour later than than younger siblings now and again or sitting down to draw or play for ten minutes with one of your children. Involve them in banal tasks you are doing anyway or observe your child and be led by their suggestions for activities. Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to contrive memorable situations (birthday parties, holidays, days out and presents). Try to make the time you have each day count. They can’t read our minds and know instinctively that we love them above all else. But knowing that they are worth spending time alone with speaks volumes to them.
Look your children in the eye when they speak to you or you to them. Really listen to what they say and lay off hurrying them so much. Allow them to share your time and feel valued by you. 

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