Henry Derozio’s “Harp of India” signals an acknowledgement of Ireland’s rich cultural history of the harp; all the while showing solidarity with Ireland in the oppressive times of British colonization. Through a harp, Ireland symbolizes its cultural development and heritage. In India, the harp isn’t as widely spread and thus becomes more of a metaphor in that, just as it operates for Ireland, so too, does it convey the same sense of culture and belonging in a symbolic sense. This structured identity is complicated through Derozio’s poem, becoming a sonnet about the conflicting cultures of the self and how they translate to identity.
It’s important to note that Derozio was born in Calcutta, India and thus, grew up in a segregated town between rich and poor, white and colored, man and woman. We can see he addresses some the cultural hybridity in the line:
“O! many a hand more worthy far than mine”
The narrator’s self-doubt is highlighted here, even though they too, are a part of India through the last line “Harp of my country.” The fact that they think themselves unworthy echoes the loss of identity through the subjugation of India. We see this most explicitly through the harp’s description:
“Silence hath bound thee with her fatal chain;
Neglected, mute, and desolate art thou,
Like ruined monument on desert plain:”
Here, the harp doubles as the symbol of India as the chains of colonization while also being a metaphor of the narrator’s identity. It too, was muted and subjugated through the globalization of the English language. We see this through the poem’s Shakespearean form of a sonnet and use of English. Both coming from British culture, Derozio uses this to appeal to a wider audience; specifically, a British audience. In doing so, it speaks to the cultural hybridity of Indian people that have to grapple with conflicting sources of cultural, all the while making a space for themselves to be heard.