Henry Derozio’s “The Harp of India” uses the harp as the representation of India’s muted voice. The poem revels in the forgotten lives that live in India, of their own struggles through colonization. The music–the harp–symbolizes the Indian people’s cries, especially in the third line: “thy music once was sweet–who hears it now?” This line justifies the harp of India representing their voices.
The overall tone of the poem is almost longing for the music to be played again, hence the use of a Shakespearian sonnet which is typically used for the theme of love. Love, longing, and desperation lives within these lines. The speaker–as offered in the last line–wants the harp to be struck again. That is, they want the people of India to be heard again, and this creates a sense of calling for action.
They call for action by summoning the human ethos through a nostalgic and loving tone when describing the beautiful sounds that the harp makes. Lines 9-10 prove this: “Once thy harmonious chords to sweetness gave, And many a wreath for them did Fame entwine.” Derozio uses this line to evoke a heart-felt nostalgia of the way the voice of India used to be heard, but now they are “neglected, mute, and desolate.”
Therefore, Derozio used the harp as the representation of the Indian people and how the colonizers have crushed their spirits–silenced them–so much that they no longer can play the harp. On the fifth line, silence is representative of the hand that stops them from playing–the colonizers– “Silence hath bound thee with her fatal chain.” That is, the colonizers have silenced them from speaking, leaving them isolated and chained down as a slave to stringless harp. However, the poet doesn’t leave the Indian people in a dark, lonely place of neglect; they offer the hope of a new hand that can strike the harp.
Hope is still there in the eyes of the poet, with lines such as “those hands are cold–but if thy notes divine May be by mortal wakened once again.” This means that the voices may be quiet, or may be rusty, but if they are true to nature of India’s beauty, they may once again play their harmonious chord. Which is when the speaker of the poem offers, or rather demands, that they take the harp of India and strike the neglected strings.
–Daniel Lizaola Lopez