Monday, October 22, 2012

analyse Seamus heaney's poem "requiem for the croppies"

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Seamus Heaney � “Requiem for the Croppies”.

The title“Requiem for the Croppies”. A requiem is a mass for the dead, in this case that is the “croppies” who were Catholic peasants from rural communities that organized themselves into an army to rebel against their Protestant suppressor. They were named so due to their short, cropped hair in the manner of the French revolutionaries.

Story The poem is about the defeat of the Croppies at Vinegar hill in 178- it commemorates their struggle and suggests that something has grown out of their sacrifice.

Structure, Language and Imagery

The poem is written in sonnet form - fourteen lines, although without any division into sections.

The poem uses the past tense. They moved, they died, they were buried, and finally the barley grew up out of the grave. Heaney never makes these events specific to one person - the style of the poem seems almost deliberate to erase any sense of individuality; we, our or us is always used in place of “I”, “She” or “He” This seems to emphasize the way in which Heaney identifies with the Croppies not as a political movement but as a tribal group fighting against the repossession of their land into foreign hands.

In adopting a persona from the root of the English/Irish conflict, a persona so clearly on the Irish side of the battle, Heaney makes clear that this is his identity; that through this historical link he is expressing his loyalty to the Irish Catholics throughout history and not simply at Vinegar Hill.

The more generalized speaking voice also gives the poem more emotional impact because it refuses to allow the reader’s emotions to settle into distant pity as it is the voice of humanity speaking to us.

The poem both opens and closes with the image of barley. This is the small amount that the fighters have gathered and that they devote their pockets to. It is closely related to them, an image of their native environment, and their reason for fighting. Thus, in the closing line (the “barley grew up out of the grave”) the symbol of the countryside and the image of their struggle is left behind them.

The words “no kitchens on the run, no striking camp” show that the rebels were disorganized and hurried. Here, Heaney is stripping heroism down to its essentials - an idea and an action.

This is linked to the sense of urgency and desperation conveyed by the actions of the Croppies. They move “quick and sudden” and they work out their tactics as they go along (“found new tactics happening each day”) showing they have no real plan, but have just taken the idea of rebelling and acted on it without thinking.

The Croppies are fighting for their land “in our own Country” and Heaney shows that their uprising is communal by including the “priest” and “tramp”

The words “hardly marching…on the hike” describe the amateur, unprepared nature of the Croppy band.

Their Opponents are given no solid identity but they have “infantry”, “Cavalry”, and “Canon”- so much in comparison to the pitiful “Pike(s)” and “scythes” that the inexperienced Croppies have.

The surroundings receive more description than the speakers, in their uniform of great coats. It is the personified hillside that blushed not any rebel. Here, the hillside is named and is coloured with the blood. It is the actions of the fighters that words are devoted to, not their thoughts.

The words “they buried us without shroud or coffin” show that the enemy have absolutely no respect for the dead whatsoever. The barley, which the Croppies carried, grew into a crop at their grave, which was burned down by the Anglo-Protestants. It is in the last line where a more uplifting, less tragic image appears. The words “the barley grew up out of our grave” show that despite, being set on fire, the barley still grew back. This symbolizes the determined “we’ll be back” nature of the Irish, who do not give in easily. The final line is delivered in a matter-of-fact, understated tone, merely what happened, but it modifies the mood greatly. There is no death or burial here, but growth in the summer sun.

This triumphant conclusion, the final words after death, is not in spite of the thousands” who were killed in the fatal conclave, but a consequence of it. The two images are balanced by the word and. It is the necessary conclusion of the battle that something remains and grows.


Heaney uses the specific image of Irish freedom, and of the 178 rebels, to explore the theme of life and death. The life of the idealist and fighter is unsatisfactory. There is no rest, no relaxation, no kitchens on the run, no striking camp. All men are reduced to one level. The weak must fight on the sly, and hope that no fatal conclave is in store and that new tactics will buy them time.

Yet destruction may come, a hillside soaked in blood. Given sufficient power of opposition, it will be brought about. The life lived, and its ending then becomes unsatisfactory. Life is a broken wave, and so might be death.

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