What the Harp Represented

The poem I chose to analyze is “The Irish Harp” written by Sydney Owneson. This poem really extends the history of the harp and of the Irish regarding their oppression and anguish. Owenson begins the poem by sadly questioning why the harp doesn’t play music anymore, “Why has that song of sweetness died” (Line 3). Owenson continues to lament about the beauty the harp emits and then the harp seems to take on a different tone “’Twas doubtful still if bliss or sorrow From its melting lapses fell” (Lines 11-12). The poem takes a turn to the oppression of a “him” and the doubtful journey that is beginning “Oh no! for he, opprest, pursued, Wild, wand’ring, doubtful of his course With tears his silent Harp bedew’d, That drew from Erin’s woes their source” (Lines 25-8). The “he” in this poem is crying on his “silent Harp” because the Harp is in distress. This can go deeper and show that the man in this poem is sadden by the Harp, which can represent the Irish population, due to the massive mistreatment and cruelty done on a society. The poem continues and turns to the people of Erin and of their hurt “How many bleeding hearts around, In suff’ring sympathy enwreath’d, Hung desponding o’er the sound!” (Lines 50-53). The poem comes to an end explaining that although a lot of hurt and mistreatment has happened and there has been great lose, “The deeo-ton’d music of his lyre, And Erin go brach he boldly sung” (Lines 59-60). Tragedies may happen but there will still be people, who fight and carry on; although people may be changed drastically after such a colonizing atrocity, there are still survivors that support old traditions that the new colonizing power can never halt.

It is also important to note the rhyme scheme ABAB throughout the poem mirrors certain words like: pride and died, flow and woe, borrow and sorrow, languish and anguish, gloom and tomb, dismay and array, among the many. Specific words coupled together in this rhyme scheme emphasize either synonym words or antonym words that come together to portray the despair and misery that the harp stands for but also for the happiness in which it once represented.

— Alison Vining

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