The Irish harp is a symbol of Irish nationalism and a beacon of independence and the Irish futile fight against cultural disintegration. In Henry Louis Vivian Derozio’s “The Harp of India” the symbol of the harp is appropriated for Indian nationalism. What is interesting about this utilization of the harp is that, although the harp is a symbol of peace, it does not hold the same historical significance to India as it does in Ireland. While Derozio takes the symbol and much of the same phrases from Irish poets, the meaning is ultimately less profound. This is largely due to the fact that Derozio does not use an Indian instrument to make his political point; he relies on a symbol used for another. The message however is not lost; in fact, it underscores a more poignant issue—Derozio must rely on Western symbols in order for the British to attach all the implications of the harp to India. This of course is made evident in the content of the poem. Derozio writes in effusive emotional imagery that India’s harp is “neglected, mute, and desolate”. While Derozio mimics many of the same themes of the forlorn harp that has been personified and silenced by an oppressive force, what separates Derozio’s piece from that of English poets is that Derozio recognizes the futile effort India’s culture and autonomy stands in the face of Industrial England: “Those hands are cold”. The majority of the poem laments this cause, but in the third to last line, an important vaulta appears: “but if thy notes divine, / May be by mortal wakened once again, / Harp of my country, let me strike the strain”. This notable phrase is an allusion to Thomas Moore’s “Dear Harp of my Country”, which like “Harp of India” features a vaulta a the conclusion in which the speaker claims that they have “wak’d” the harp. Likewise, Derozio has a call-to-arms in which he awakens the harp. This is not the only similarity between the two poems. It appears as though Derozio also used Moore’s lack of a set rhyme scheme, although unlike Moore, Derozio did use iambic pentameter, as opposed to iambic hexameter like Moore. Ultimately, Derozio appropriated many of the same themes, and the symbol of the poet Moore. This rather than speak to a lack of creativity speaks to the difficulty of being equated to other Western cultures. That is to say that rather than use an instrument of India’s own, Derozio had to ride on the coattails of another’s symbol (a Western symbol) in order to be taken seriously.
- Sara Nuila-Chae