The Harp, for the Irish, is symbolic of their cultural identity. Derozio uses this symbol not for its specifically Irish symbolism but for its symbolism as a people’s cultural identity to communicate the shared experience of colonialism between the Irish and Indian people
When we look at Thomas Moore’s “Dear Harp of my Country” we see him speaking of the harp of his country being found in “darkness” with “the cold chain of silence” upon it. Though, he “proudly” “unbounded” it giving the harp’s cords “light, freedom, and song”. He is reviving his culture by playing the harp. However, in the following stanza he bids his country’s harp farwell comparing the song he strung in the previous stanza to a wreath, which is typically used on a grave. His harp is dead. Again it is with the cold chain of silence upon it and until “touc’d by some hand less unworthy” will the harp sound again. There is a sense of reverence to the harp’s life here and a desire to reinstate it if not a hope that it will be. Likely, this life that Thomas Moore hopes for is the one the Irish lost in the unification of Ireland to England in The Act of Union.
The message of loss is similar in Derozio’s “The Harp of India”. The Indian harp is “unstrung forever” and the sighing over having lost its sound is “in vain”. She is “neglected, mute, and desolate” with silences fatal chain upon it. The Indian harp or Indian cultural identity is like the Irish one condemned to silence not with The Act of Union but with the Pious Claus that broadened the teaching of English India. This is more complicated when we think of the Indian people having lost their native language with this education that though having better prepared them for a life under English presence took away the language by which they created their subjectivity before. This is especially interesting when we think of Derozio as a teacher of English and a person critical of the Indian culture. He is mediating between two identities. Though Derozio lives in a middle space that recognizes the faults of both extremes he is lamenting the loss of his Indian cultural identity in this poem the same way that the Irish do in a language and a form the English understand. He has appropriated the harps symbolism and the English language to tell people his experience of identity loss.
- Araceli Garcia Munoz