Forgotten Strings: A Close Reading of Henry Louis Vivian Derozio’s “The Harp of India”


(This is more a lyre than a harp though…)

From its inception as “the epitome of Gaelic aristocratic culture” to its eventual inseparable ties to Irish culture as a “quintessential musical, visual, and metaphoric representation of Ireland and the Irish people,” the harp only flourished as much as it did “due to the ingenuity and versatility of Irish harpers to adapt constantly to social and cultural changes” (Harp Spectrum). Without its dedicated following, the harp fell into obscurity and struggled to persist in the musical realm. In his poem “The Harp of India,” Henry Derozio conveys the stringed instrument’s difficult task to remain relevant thought history.

The beginning of the poem sets up the harp’s drab and dilapidated status as a forgotten artifact as it “hang’st…lonely on yon withered bough…unstrung for ever, must thou there remain.” Being an older instrument, there no longer remains anyone willing to pick up and play it as it is seemingly now used as a dusted decoration on a damaged wall. With its main instrumentalists no longer around the modern world, it remains “neglected, mute, and desolate,” utterly stripped of its sole purpose to produce sound despite its past prevalence as a nationalistic icon for the Irish.

Yet not all hope is gone for a chance of the instruments revival, as the speaker acknowledges “thy harmonious chords to sweetness gave, And many a wreath for them did Fame entwine,” alluding to the harp’s incredible potential to produce unrivaled “sweet” music and cementing its place in the musical realm. Ultimately the speaker believes, just as the harp’s devoted followers before, “if thy notes divine may be by mortal wakened once again” as the “harp of my country,” indicating the harp’s influential power to expand outside the mere realm of music as a national symbol once more as it was for the Irish. While its strings produce moving melodies, Derozio’s poem shows the harp’s importance as not only an instrument that has brings the musical community together, but an inspiring symbol that binds entire nations together with its crucial cultural significance.

You earn a spot in history harp.

–Jose Ramirez

Source: (Harp Spectrum Site: )





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