The Irish Poetry Page - Seamus Heaney


Requiem for the Croppies

The pockets of our greatcoats, full of barley —
No kitchens on the run, no striking camp —
We moved quick and sudden in our own country.
The priest lay behind ditches with the tramp.
A people, hardly marching — on the hike—
We found new tactics happening each day:
We’d cut through reins and rider with the pike
And stampede cattle into infantry,
Then retreat through hedges where cavalry must be thrown.
Until, on Vinegar Hill, the fatal conclave.
Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon.
The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave.
They buried us without shroud or coffin
And in August the barley grew up out of the grave.

Seamus Heaney was born in 1939 in Northern Ireland, and has been a poet and translater.  One of his best known translations is of "Beowulf", an epic saga of unknown medieval origins.  He now lives in the Republic of Ireland, and often teaches at North American universities.

"Requiem for the Croppies" is based on a battle in the rebellion of 1798 in the Irish county of Wexford.  Over 10,000 Irish rebels and their families were massacred, and many bodies were desecrated, including that of a priest.

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