Freedom Harpers

In Thomas Moore’s Dear Harp of my Country, he discusses the condition of the harp of Ireland in the first four lines.

DEAR Harp of my Country! In darkness I found thee,

The cold chain of silence had hung o’er thee long,

When proudly, my own Island Harp, I unbound thee,

And gave all thy chords to light, freedom, and song!

After years of being ruled by the English, the harp of Ireland has disappeared and faded into darkness. In addition to that, Moore’s writing also implies how the harp has become “silent” due to the oppression of the British. The true Irish culture has been held captive and the only way to release it is to remove the English from Ireland. And according to the link provided by Professor Garcia, the harp is not much of a symbol for Gaelic culture during the 17th-18th century, as the “Winged-Maiden Harp” stands for English rule over Ireland. Thomas Moore, is regarded as “one of the champions of freedom of Ireland”. Knowing this, he is calling for a revolution. He is going back to a time where the harp was more than just a reminder of English oppression, he is trying to remind the people that the history of the harp meant so much more to their history and roots. If anything, it becomes more of a reminder and more of a warning of how the harp will lose its meaning.

The warm lay of love and the light note of gladness

Have waken’d thy fondest, thy liveliest thrill;

But, so oft hast thou echoed the deep sigh of sadness

That ev’n in thy mirth it will from thee still

As mentioned in class, the harp conveys both a positive and negative emotion when we were listening to the song. Although it may sound peaceful, it also creates a sound of sorrow and tragedy. This excerpt of the poem is a very good description of how the harp sounds and how it is heard through our ears. Furthermore, Moore could be talking about the origins of harp symbolism. In the 12th century, a Welsh cleric accompanied English Prince John to a visit to Ireland. His key observation of harp players were identified as the most remarkable characteristic out of a barbaric race. This created the foundation of what the harp symbolizes today: the freedom and true spirit of Ireland. Throughout the test of time, harp players managed to adapt to their surroundings while catering and captivating new audiences. Thus, showing the “warm lay of love and the light note of gladness”. However, there were also tragedies in Irish history, such as the Battle of Kinsale (1601). That battle could be the “deep sigh of sadness”. Because after that battle, the harp was not a symbol of freedom and Irish culture, it was a symbol for English rule. And even so, the harp might lose its Irish roots and culture if the English decides to make it their own. Moore is writing to keep the symbol of Irish identity, culture, freedom, etc. alive before it is forgotten and taken away by the English as well.

-Christopher Luong

One thought on “Freedom Harpers

  1. Wonderful! I really like how you balance your close reading of Moore’s poem with historical accounts of the harp as artifact.


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