Monday, July 11, 2011

A poem guaranteed to break your heart

The poem I chose for this week's #PoetrySummer challenge brought tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat the very first time I heard it. In all honesty, that reaction hasn't lessened much since. This poem was written by renowned Irish poet Seamus Heaney. The poem recounts the Battle of Vinegar Hill, part of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, a battle fought between the Irish Rebellion and the British Army.

Notice the first line, because it will make the last line heart-breakingly poignant. Also, the visual of "shaking scythes at cannons" is not a poetic image, but a faithful recounting of the situation.

Requiem for the Croppies
Seamus Heaney

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.

Every time I read this poem I am struck by both the sadness of the events it recounts and the painful beauty of Heaney's words.

Follow along with other participants in this poetry challenge over on Twitter, using the hashtag: #PoetrySummer


Donna K. Weaver said...

*gasp* That last line--even though I was prepared for it, kinda--made my breath catch.

Grandma Nadeoui said...

How sad that their lives, filled with such struggle and deep pain
Should be defined by cannon's blasts and the growing of the carried grain.


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