The symbol of the Irish harp was such a profound one that its image must of undoubtedly been synonymous with resilience, pride, and fortitude against greater oppression. Indeed the music of this harp strummed against the “influence of despair” Sydney Owenson notes in his poem Why Sleeps the Harp of Erin’s Pride. What this poem highlights is a time where the symbolic Irish harp has been seemingly vanquished, their voices hushed, underneath the despair that ensued upon Ireland.
However, Owenson isn’t just retracing history’s course; he is also portraying the small whisper that still comes from the harp. It is a different sound, one that portrays the now sorrowful voice of the Irish.
“For still his Harp’s wild plaintive tones,
Gave back their sorrows keener still,
Breath’d sadder sighs, heaved deeper moans,
And wilder wak’d despiar’s wild thrill”
From his description, the harp’s sound was no longer something akin to music, rather he uses words like “sighs” and “moans”. The harp, like the people it represented, were exasperated and just hanging on. But indeed, hanging on they were. In his following stanza he writes of how though the harp was heaving its seeming last breaths, its breaths blew against a subtle flame that ignited a more enflamed pride and eagerness to hold on to what remained.
“For still he sung the ills that flow,
From dire oppression’s ruthless fang,
And deepen’d every patriot woe,
And sharpen’d every patriot pang.”
By using the well-known harp as a representation of the fight that is within the Irish people of the time, Owenson is describing in his poem the veracity in which these people clung to what they had left. Every sensation, whether of despair or pride or joy, was so heightened and so fully themselves. They indeed were not just able to move away from influence of total despair or of countries that caused their despair, but they were able to, in all their modes of being, to exist while steadfastly holding onto their identity.