A great sadness caught at me and I wondered why. I’d never met him, though I admired him. And then I realised that his words had moved and delighted me so often that the loss of the wordsmith would inevitably touch me. He had opened much of himself to us, his readers, and we had taken him into ourselves.
So as a tribute to him, here’s one of Seamus Heaney’s poems, Requiem for the Croppies, written about the Irish Rebellion of 1798 from the point of view of a croppy, or rebel, like Nicholas Delaney and his comrades.
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 final 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 our grave.
Here’s Seamus talking to Kirsty Wark about the poem and the background to it
This one is simple and the words speak for themselves
Finally, something Heaney said in 2004: “I can’t think of a case where poems changed the world, but what they do is they change people’s understanding of what’s going on in the world.”
Thank you, Seamus. Rest in peace.