Background in poems - Sample Essay
Compare the ways in which Heaney and Sheers use their nationality and background in their poems. Your response must include detailed discussion of at least two poems “Requiem for the Croppies” is a poem that confronts the brutal reality of Ireland’s past. The poem focuses on the battle of Vinegar Hill, fought in 1798 between the British army and the Irish rebels
In the past there have been many Irish rebellions: 1641. 1782. 1798. 1848. 1916. Heaney suggests that historical repetition is as natural as the cycle of nature and its seasons. The “barley” in this poem, a staple food for those without “kitchens on the run,” sprouts from the earth on which these soldiers died fighting. This new “barley” will feed the rebels of the next era, not just literally, but also metaphorically, as will the revered memory of those who planted it.
The poet segregates the rebels with the upfronted article; “A”. “A people [‘s]” lack of social conformity is emphasized in their unwillingness or inability to march; “hardly marching”, which would normally be the very picture of collective movement. Instead, the rebels are forced to be “on the hike,” an individual activity and one which suggests a terrain that is unsuited to mass transit. Moreover, the poet refers to the soldiers as “Terraced thousands.” This shows, not only the military formations that are necessary on a hill but also the artificial manipulation of the environment, again like nature’s rebellion against violence.
But regardless of how invasive these uprisings may be, they are also portrayed as natural and inevitable. Using the carved wooden “pike” against the melted metal of gun and sword, the Irish rebels seem to be in alliance with the forces of nature. The rebels “stampede cattle into infantry,” so they have virtually transformed the animals into ground militia. The then retreat and seek refuge among the “hedges where cavalry must be thrown.”
There appears to be an ironic cooperation between the Irish landscape and the Irish rebel, which brings about these “new tactics.” As the latest in a huge list of rebellions, these tactics cannot be new. The newness stems from the failure to recall past revolts. “Each” separate rebellion regards itself as disconnected from the past, as if it were something “new” “happening each day.” The young rebels may feel a sense of infantile self-importance by convincing themselves that their tactics are new and different from the past but this only forces them to learn the hard way by direct experience. In the end they are left blushing with embarrassment at their naivety, just like the landscape.
Irish rebels are reduced to mere symbols within a legacy of Irish resistance. Perhaps they are partially redeemed by a memorable nickname (“the Croppies”) or a signature battle (“Vinegar Hill”). However these are just generalisations, much like the word “Requiem” which Heaney uses in the title of the poem. In the past it signified the specific Catholic ceremony for a funeral mass. Now it means any sort of respect for the dead, mirroring the loss of identity that the rebels also suffered.
In Heaney’s poem the land serves as a memorial for the lost rebels and in Sheers’ poem “Skirrid Fawr” the Welsh land holds a similar level of power and resemblance. Sheers personifies this hill and gives it a biblical importance; “her holy scar”, highlighting its importance and the influence it holds. By using a biblical reference Sheers may be implying that the hill holds a collective history or meaning which we can all relate too.
This may explain why he so often uses landscape as the basis of his poems, from which he can explore more complex themes. For Sheers the land holds “the answers / to every question I have never known”, suggesting that the landscape knows what Sheers is searching for even if he doesn’t himself, highlighting the strength of their relationship and the role of the hill as a source of inspiration for this poetry. There also seems to be a high level of intimacy with the Welsh landscape: “Her weight, the unspoken words / of an unlearned tongue”, which intensifies his connection between the two and gives the sense that, to Sheers, the landscape is almost like a lover because the bond between them is that strong. One would say that the admiration of the Welsh landscape evident in this poem is similar to Heaney’s evocation of Ulster.