“If thy notes divine may be by mortal wakened once again, harp of my country, let me strike the strain”

The harp as a political symbol for Ireland was widely used to signify freedom and often depicted in the arms of an Irish woman. It was a symbol employed during English rule of Ireland, to express resistance to the British colonization of Ireland. To the people of Ireland, the harp was an instrument with deep connections to their Gaelic past, and with the ever-encroaching British culture invading their lifestyle, adherence to the significance of the harp was great. As we know however, Ireland was not the only colonized land by the British, India experienced the same occupation and unfortunately the same oppression that came with it. Henry Louis Vivian Derozio’s poem “The Harp of India” borrows the symbol of the harp from the Irish to combat the British, but also lament the loss of hope within India. Derozio’s Shakespearian sonnet concerns the dilapidated nature of the harp and how it has lost its sting: “Neglected, mute, and desolate art thou” (line 6). Derozio is aware of the history behind the harp, writing “O! many a hand more worthy far than mine/ Once thy harmonious chords to sweetness gave,/ And many a wreath for them did Fame entwine” (lines 8-10). Derozio is also hopeful for the return of the harp, zealously asserting in the heroic couplet of the poem “May be by mortal wakened once again,/ Harp of my country, let me strike the strain!” (line 13-14). Derozio’s poem extends the history of the harp, paying homage to the symbol, similar to Martin Luther King Jr. when he borrowed teachings from Gandhi to combat a similar foe (the white man). In this case the Irish and Indians are combating the same foe, the British, albeit at different points in history. What makes Derozio’s poem “The Harp of India” unique, rather than an empty usurpation of the harp symbol is its ability to mock the British while speaking of hope and freedom. As previously mentioned, Derozio’s poem is written as a Shakespearian sonnet, with a heroic couplet. Shakespearian sonnets are notoriously know for being on the subject of love; therefore making “The Harp of India” a love poem sighing over how magnificent the harp is. Derozio praises the Irish for creating the symbol, writing of its “music once was sweet” (line 3), “harmonious chords” (line 9), and “notes divine” (line 12). In addition to allowing the external form to reflect the content of the poem, he mocks the British with the external form of the poem. The Shakespearian sonnet is the epitome of English culture and eulogizes a particularly romanticized period in British history. In laymen’s terms, the Shakespearian sonnet is to the British as the harp is to the Irish. With the appropriation of the Shakespearian sonnet by Derozio, he mocks the British by using their external poetry form to write of an awakening and a call for retribution by the harp: “Harp of my country, let me strike the strain!” (line 14). Derozio’s “The Harp of India” effectively borrows from the Irish to taunt the return of the harp, or the return of hope and retribution.


-Sara Nuila-Chae


One thought on ““If thy notes divine may be by mortal wakened once again, harp of my country, let me strike the strain”

  1. I think the most original part of this post was its use of a shakespearian sonnet as part of its evidence. I think as an improvement I would like to see more about the theme of hope and retribution. What will actually happen to the cultural identity now?


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