The Honour in Courage: An Explication of ‘Requiem for the Croppies’

March 11, 2019 by Essay Writer

“Requiem for the Croppies”, written by Seamus Heaney in 1962, describes the Irish Rebellion of 1798 as seen through the eyes and narrative voice of one random, deceased Irish soldier. The term “croppies” refers to the rebels, attributable to their short hair – a style adopted from French revolutionaries of the same period. In this sonnet, Heaney employs the use of double meanings, metaphors, and other literary devices to convey, in spite of futility, a sense of nationalistic pride through desperation.Heaney opens the poem suggesting the narration’s source to be that of an itinerant male. With “no kitchens on the run” (2), the man—along with most of the community—is confined to rely on barley for nourishment: “The pockets of our greatcoats full of barley.” (1) “No striking camp” (2) works to describe the rebels’ lack of militant training and thus, a deficiency in their preparedness. At the end of the first two lines, Heaney utilizes what is called an em dash. This rhetorical device, defined in this case as aposiopesis, serves to effectively express a sense of the rebels’ focus and urgency in the ensuing battle, making it seem as though the speaker lacks the time to explain the situation further.In line 3, the reader is given the impression of an aggressive Irish uprising despite adversity. The English are attacking, causing the Irish to “[move] quick and sudden in [their] own country.” In portraying the Irish as under siege, Heaney demonstrates the power of England, as the rebellion must stave off intrusion in their home country. Despite this fact, the speaker observes a classless community unite to fight for their kingdom: “The priest lay behind ditches with the tramp.” (4)Heaney details aspects of the war in subsequent lines, while again suggesting that the Irish were not as equipped for battle. This is accomplished through atypical punctuation, breaking up what could be an otherwise smooth sentence: “A people, hardly marching—on the hike—”. To read the line properly is to instil noticeable pauses; this gives one the sense of a nervous, sporadic progression. The adjective “hardly” takes on a double meaning. As a synonym for “barely”, Heaney suggests a contrast to the organized English troops, who advance collectively and are well-prepared; however, taking the word to mean “powerfully” or “impressively” is not incorrect, and insinuates a sense of willpower. Regardless, the Irish attempt “new tactics” (6) so as to compete with the English: “We’d cut through reins and rider with the pike” (7). As the rebellion “stampede cattle into infantry” (8), the feeling is more a sense of desperation than innovation. Originality aside, the Irish must resort to such acts due to their low numbers and lack of substantial weaponry. On the other hand, the use of these methods demonstrates a determination to succeed in defence of the nation.The Irish would see their eventual defeat at Vinegar Hill, a “fatal conclave” (10) that marked the end of the rebellion. While “conclave” can refer simply to a gathering of individuals, it has its roots in religion, specifically denoting the private meetings Catholic cardinals would hold in electing a pope. Heaney fuses the two definitions together in his use of the word; not only are the English soldiers and Irish rebels to assemble on Vinegar Hill, but because the meeting is to prove “fatal” for Ireland, and diverse classes had assembled for the cause of the nation, communities may need to be rebuilt and leaders designated.In line 11 the poet applies rhetorical devices that address the agricultural themes of the poem. In summarizing the battle’s conclusion, the speaker mentions that “terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon.” (11) A “terraced” land is simply an undulating cultivated area with levelled sections, noteworthy as the rebellion is mainly comprised of farmers who relied on the crops, as evidenced in both the first and last lines of the sonnet. At the same time, the reader is presented with fairly brutal imagery, as one likens the terracing of land to the scything of human bodies. “Shaking scythes at cannon” suggests another symbolic interpretation, this time of a lopsided affair between the weak and the powerful, again exemplifying the Irish’s dogged spirit in the face of defeat.When Heaney notes that “the hillside blushed” (12), he uses a metaphor in order to represent the shame that comes with defeat on native soil and also the red from the blood of the dead rebels. When the fighting dies out to see English rule triumph, the Irish soldiers are “buried … without shroud or coffin” (13), indicative of gross disrespect, perhaps on account of their defeat; although, when coupled with line 14, it seems Heaney is alluding to the recurring violence in Ireland. In “the barley grew up out of our grave” (14), one gets the sense that Heaney is perpetuating conflict in Ireland and accepting it as recycled through generations, given that “barley” is mentioned in the sonnet’s first line and will provide sustenance for the next batch of soldiers.“Requiem”, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “something that resembles … a solemn chant for the repose of the dead.” Seamus Heaney’s “Requiem for the Croppies” is such a chant, intended to pay respects to those that fought and died for Ireland in the 1798 rebellion. The poem is rife with literary devices in the form of metaphors, double meanings, and revealing imagery, and presented in a manner that makes clear the soldiers’ pride and fortitude in fighting for their country.Works CitedGahan, Daniel. “The 1798 Rebellion in Wexford.” Multitext Project in Irish History. University College Cork, n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2009.”requiem.” Merriam-Webster Online. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2009.

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