Seamus Sheaney’s 1962 poem “Requiem for the Croppies”, describes the Irish Rebellion of 1798 from the perspective of one deceased soldier. Croppies is a term that refers to rebels. It’s derived from their short hairstyle, which was adopted by French revolutionaries during the same time. Heaney uses metaphors and double meanings in his sonnet to convey, despite the futility of it, a sense that there is nationalistic pride mixed with desperation.
Heaney opens this poem by suggesting that Heaney is the source of the narrative. “No kitchens off the run” (2) makes it so that the man (and most of the community) is limited to eating barley. (1) “No struck camp” (2) is used to describe rebels’ ineptness and lack of militant training. Heaney uses what’s known as an “em dashing” after the last two lines. This rhetorical device is called an aposiopesis and it serves to convey a sense that the rebels are focused on the battle. It also gives the impression that the rebels have a strong will to resist any adversity. Heaney portrays the Irish under siege and demonstrates the power and might of England by portraying them as having to resist intrusion from their homeland. Despite this fact, Heaney observes that a classless community comes together to defend their kingdom. “The priest laid behind ditches alongside the tramp.”
Heaney discusses aspects of the war and again suggests that the Irish were less prepared for battle. Heaney uses atypical punctuation to break up what could otherwise be a simple sentence. Infusing noticeable pauses in the line is a way to make it easier to read. This gives the impression of a nervous, sporadic progress. The double meaning of the adjective “hardly” is that it can be used as a synonym for “barely”. Heaney’s use of the term “hardly” as a synonym suggests that Heaney is referring to organized English troops. These troops advance together and have well-prepared, but it is correct to interpret the word to indicate a willpower or power. The Irish, however, attempt to “new strategies” (6) in order to compete against the English. The feeling of despair is stronger than the innovation, as the rebellion “stampeded cows into infantry”. These acts, despite their originality, are required by the Irish because of their small numbers and insufficient weaponry. However, these tactics show that the Irish are determined to defend their nation.
Vinegar Hill would bring down the Irish and mark the end for the rebellion. While the term “conclave”, can simply refer to an individual gathering, it also has roots in religion. This is specifically what happened in private meetings between Catholic cardinals in order for them to elect a pope. Heaney mixes the two definitions by using the word. Heaney says that the English soldiers will meet with the Irish rebels on Vinegar Hill. However, the meeting will be “fatal” for Ireland. It may also require rebuilding communities and the designation of leaders.
Line 11 is where the poet employs rhetorical devices to address agricultural themes. The speaker summarises the end of the battle by mentioning that “terraced thousand died, shaking cannons at cannon.” (11) A land called “terraced” is simply an undulating, cultivated area with sectioned sections. This is notable because the rebels are mainly farmers, as shown in the first and final lines of the sonnet. The author presents the reader with quite graphic imagery. One compares the terracing and scything to human bodies. “Shaking Scythes at Cannon” is another symbolic interpretation. This depicts a lopsided affair of the weak and powerful, which again shows the Irish’s determination to win despite defeat.
Heaney says that “the hills blushed” (12). He uses this metaphor to depict the shame of defeat on native soil, as well the reddened blood of the fallen rebels. Heaney says that Irish soldiers are “buried…without coffin or shroud” (13), indicating gross disrespect for their loss. But, when combined with line 14, it is clear Heaney is referring also to the violence in Ireland. It is clear that Heaney is perpetuating conflict, and that the barley “grew up from our grave” (14), is an acceptance of it being recycled through generations.
Merriam-Webster describes “requiem as something that resembles…a solemn cry for the repose for the dead.” Seamus Hiseney’s “Requiem for the Croppies,” which was written to honor those who gave their lives for Ireland during the 1798 rebellion, is called “Requiem for the Croppies”. Poetry is full of metaphors, double-meanings and revealing imagery. The poem conveys the soldiers’ pride and courage in fighting for the country.
Gahan, Daniel. “The 1798 Rebellion at Wexford.” Multitext Project on Irish History. University College Cork. Web. 15 Oct. 2009.
“requiem.” Merriam-Webster Online. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2009.