Interpreting and analysing a poem is not necessarily a matter of finding the right answer.

Poems are complex creations and are open to many different interpretations.

Your interpretation is as valid as anyone else's - as long as you can back it up with suitable evidence from the text.

Clearances 7: In the last minutes could be interpreted as exploring any - or all - of the following themes.


The poem looks at the grief of a speaker on losing their mother. It also shows the relationship between husband and wife as Heaney describes his father’s last moments with his mother.

There is hyperbole in the first two lines of the poem as Heaney suggests that his father at the deathbed “said more to her/ Almost than in all their life together”.

This conveys that his father was a man of few words and that theirs was a marriage where emotions were not necessarily shared a lot.


The eighth line - broken by a caesura - introduces a sense of finality in the abrupt clause, “Then she was dead”. The acceptance of the family follows as “The searching for a pulsebeat was abandoned".

The sense of unity in the family as they realise that their mother has stopped breathing is conveyed by Heaney’s use of the plural first person in, “"we all knew one thing by being there”.


The poem shows a family at the death bed of a mother, at the very moment of her death.

There are no names used in the poem and we are not told who any of the people are – only pronouns such as “she”, “he” and “we” are used.

This has the effect of turning a very personal private moment into one which has universal resonance - it could be any family standing by as they experience such a devastating loss.