The Harp of India

Colonization is a continuous theme that reoccurs around the world and India going through colonization was another issue that occurred within the poem “The Harp of India” by Henry Louis Vivian Derozio. The first line poses the question “Why hang’st thou lonely on yon withered bough?” The question describes a harp as “withered” something that has been untouched for days and has slowly become dilapidated.

Unstrung for ever, must thou there remain;

Thy music once was sweet – who hears it now?

It just shows that there was once this idealistic tone that made the music sound like a beauty. The beauty that was before the arrival of others who wanted to take control of them. They started to feel as if lost by the oppressor and stopped practicing their ideals. It kind of highlights the importance of culture before the arrival of the oppressor. They have their ideals that many people find foreign and different.

Unstrung for ever, must thou there remain;

Thy music once was sweet – who hears it now?

Why doth the breeze sigh over thee in vain?

Their culture has been lost and all they can do is adapt to the ways that the settler have brought up to them in order to assimilate. There is nothing left to do but allow themselves to go and strip their identities into that which others are forcing them into. They will become like the oppressor in the sense that they are no longer who they said they were.

Silence hath bound thee with her fatal chain;

Neglected, mute, and desolate art thou,

Like ruined monument on desert plain:

The “neglected” and “mute” help to highlight the stop the Indian people were unable to regain their lost identity. Instead they are being slowly trained and kept away from the truth that they told themselves. They were saved and transitioned into that type of salvation however they knew they were being brought to ruin. They were starting to become nothing but shells of the things they are trying to contain.

-Alexis Blanco



The Harp of India

In “The Harp of India”, Henry Derozio uses the cultural history of the harp to convey how England has conquered India. However, I find it interesting that he chooses to use the symbol of the harp which is considered to be Irish, rather than using a well known Indian instrument. It seems that Derozio knows how to speak to his audience in a manner that allows others to sympathize and understand what they [India] are going through. Here, Derozio is targeting Ireland and is attempting to gain the solidarity of other nations going through the same thing by writing in English that has permeated other nations as well. For instance, with British imperialism, there is also the imperialism of language. In India the English language was being taught as a prestigious language. Even Derozio himself taught English. So who is to say that the same wouldn’t happen to Ireland.

In his poem, Derozio makes his poem vague enough that others who are suffering from British conquest can sympathize and read this as if it was meant for them. He is garnering sympathy from others, specifically Ireland, just by using the image of the harp in his poem. We can see vagueness of Derozio’s poem that is applicable to others in the last line where the speaker says, “Harp of my country, let me strike the strain!” (Derozio). Here, Derozio does not say, “Harp of India”, he specifically uses “my country”, which gives the reader the opportunity to think about their own country. But, by naming it “Harp of India”, Derozio reminds the reader that India too is a victim of British imperialism. India alone can’t overcome British imperialism, but maybe Ireland and India can?

Furthermore, if we take the title away, I feel that we could have easily concluded that this poem was written by an Irish writer, phrases such as ” thy music once was sweet-who hears it now?” seems to be applicable to the Irish. As we discusses in class, the harp was considered to be a prestigious instrument and after unification, many harpist were left without patrons and thus had to look for new ones.

-Nancy Sanchez

The Indian Harp

‘Thy music was once sweet-who hears it now?’

The Irish just like the Indian people were once proud people, but are now subjects to England the same as the Irish. Derozio, in his poem, uses the word ‘once’ to signify that the Indian people used to have independence and culture, but times have changed. They are now ruled by Britain, and they must free themselves. In relation to the Harp, Derozio is suggesting that Britain has changed India as it used to be a beautiful country. In a way, Britain has cut the strings of the Harp and ruined them that know one can hear the sweet music coming from the Harp. However, by using the word ‘once’ Derozio is saying that his people need to go back to a time when they were really great. The words ‘once’, ‘used to’, or ‘again’ are used in many nationalist slogans, for example, Trumps administration uses ‘Great Again’ in their campaign slogan. The effect that this has on the viewer is that it gives suggests that the present is wrong and that the past was great and better.

‘Silence hath bound thee with her fatal chain’

India being a colony of Britain suggests that its Harp has been taken away from them and hence is the reason India is silent. They can not make music and still be a colony of Britain. India must break free from the chains that enslave them (silence them) and become independent. Ireland’s Harp, is not just a musical instrument, but a national symbol. Derozio is suggesting that the Harp can be India’s call to freedom, but the British are trying to silence this call by silencing the Harp.

‘Harp of my country let me strike the strain’

‘Strain’ suggests that Derozio has found a flaw or wound in the stronghold of Britain on India. The Harp is not just a musical instrument, but also the tip of the sword for India. The Harp suggest that India wants to attack their ruler where they are vulnerable.

-Ben Montes

“If thy notes divine may be by mortal wakened once again, harp of my country, let me strike the strain”

The harp as a political symbol for Ireland was widely used to signify freedom and often depicted in the arms of an Irish woman. It was a symbol employed during English rule of Ireland, to express resistance to the British colonization of Ireland. To the people of Ireland, the harp was an instrument with deep connections to their Gaelic past, and with the ever-encroaching British culture invading their lifestyle, adherence to the significance of the harp was great. As we know however, Ireland was not the only colonized land by the British, India experienced the same occupation and unfortunately the same oppression that came with it. Henry Louis Vivian Derozio’s poem “The Harp of India” borrows the symbol of the harp from the Irish to combat the British, but also lament the loss of hope within India. Derozio’s Shakespearian sonnet concerns the dilapidated nature of the harp and how it has lost its sting: “Neglected, mute, and desolate art thou” (line 6). Derozio is aware of the history behind the harp, writing “O! many a hand more worthy far than mine/ Once thy harmonious chords to sweetness gave,/ And many a wreath for them did Fame entwine” (lines 8-10). Derozio is also hopeful for the return of the harp, zealously asserting in the heroic couplet of the poem “May be by mortal wakened once again,/ Harp of my country, let me strike the strain!” (line 13-14). Derozio’s poem extends the history of the harp, paying homage to the symbol, similar to Martin Luther King Jr. when he borrowed teachings from Gandhi to combat a similar foe (the white man). In this case the Irish and Indians are combating the same foe, the British, albeit at different points in history. What makes Derozio’s poem “The Harp of India” unique, rather than an empty usurpation of the harp symbol is its ability to mock the British while speaking of hope and freedom. As previously mentioned, Derozio’s poem is written as a Shakespearian sonnet, with a heroic couplet. Shakespearian sonnets are notoriously know for being on the subject of love; therefore making “The Harp of India” a love poem sighing over how magnificent the harp is. Derozio praises the Irish for creating the symbol, writing of its “music once was sweet” (line 3), “harmonious chords” (line 9), and “notes divine” (line 12). In addition to allowing the external form to reflect the content of the poem, he mocks the British with the external form of the poem. The Shakespearian sonnet is the epitome of English culture and eulogizes a particularly romanticized period in British history. In laymen’s terms, the Shakespearian sonnet is to the British as the harp is to the Irish. With the appropriation of the Shakespearian sonnet by Derozio, he mocks the British by using their external poetry form to write of an awakening and a call for retribution by the harp: “Harp of my country, let me strike the strain!” (line 14). Derozio’s “The Harp of India” effectively borrows from the Irish to taunt the return of the harp, or the return of hope and retribution.


-Sara Nuila-Chae

Stroke of Hope

Just as Ireland loathed the tight superficial embrace of the United Kingdom, India was also trying to pry off the greasy fish and chip fingers of the UK. While it is sometimes nice to think about the convenience and familiarity of something, over expanding can piss off a lot of people. I like to think about McDonalds or Walmart. Almost anywhere in the United States that we visit, we can be sure to find one and our anxieties are soothed because we know generally what the store is going to sell. This of course kills culture. It kills the culture in the community, it kill the moral, the creativeness, the distinction in which a region has over time, identified with.

The same goes for colonization in India. The intrusiveness that Britain patrols the world with has oppressed the people in India. What is more concerning is that if people are not willing to express their dislike, they will simply mold to that of which the commanding entity wishes for the country. “He who will not reason is a bigot, he who cannot reason is a fool, and he who does not reason is a slave” was said by Derozio. A sentence as such shows that many people tend to fall in the last portion of that. People essentially become slaves to that of which is in the best interest of the highest authorities. Wanting the UK would seem more advantageous. Of course, Roy would argue that the English was needed to modernize and advance the old ways of India, but it is still not taken lightly that the UK is how the US is now by trying to have their nose In everything.

I sense that Derozio reminisces in his poem by addressing times that were better prior “Once thy harmonious chords to sweetness gave” (line 9). Some people, easily give up and just reflect on past times. But we know that the harp stands for more. “The harp symbolizes a fight to survive through regeneration and adaptation in a changing society” (Harp Spectrum). For these reasons there is flare and passion in Derozio’s lines of rekindling the strength of a society. The rhyme pattern line by line does not follow a normal pattern. Rather, enlightened in class, the rhyme scheme in the poem follows the pattern as that of a harp being played. The music tends to be harmonious from that of a harp. I feel a punch however when reading “Harp of my country, let me strike the strain!” (line 14) of Derozio’s finishing poem. This shows that India will not go down easy and stand up and join together.


-Daniel Estrada

Transcultural Harp?

Henry Derozio’s poem The Harp of India depicts an individual who is at their lowest point and ends with the hope of turning it around. While that is a general idea of the poem it actually goes beyond that if you consider the historical context. India, just like Ireland, had faced a multitude of challenges brought out by their colonizers. While enduring these attacks it made not only an individual but also a country silent. The title being a Harp symbolizes the lively melody so when Derozio suggests that there’s a silent country it represents silence in politics and culture. As stated, “Unstrung for ever, must thou there remain;/ Thy music once was sweet — who hears it now?” (2-3). The Harp is originally a symbol in Ireland to represent their fight for survival and adapting in a changing society. Since the poem brings up silence it may represent India not having their own sense of identity and having problems in standing out such as the melodies of a harp.


Having the perspective of silence in the poem suggests that the poem may both extend and complicate history. The issue that the poem meant to address was a country, India, being overrun by Europeans but can the same overshadowing occur with the Harp? While an excellent symbol for Irish identity it also does not directly come from India thus it complicates the history of where they derive their sense of identity. Within the extended history outlook the idea that finding a sense of identity may be challenging suggests that we don’t necessarily know how. We, just like the India people, have been conformed on what it right and wrong in society.


– Kristy Frausto

The Harp as Poetic Resistance in “The Harp of India”

In Henry Louis Vivian Derozio’s poem, “The Harp of India,” Derozio appropriates the image of the harp to connote the consumption of Indian culture within Britain, similarly to the consumption of Irish culture into the British. For Ireland, the harp is an image which represents cultural, musical, and artistic heritage, and it is a uniting figure for Irish liberation movements contesting against the colonial rule of Britannia. Therefore, one might wonder why Derozio decides to use a typically Irish image to within an Indian context, but, rather, it seems like an image which works well as a poetic device for speaking to colonial power.

Like the poetry of his Irish counterparts, Derozio uses the image of the harp to represent cultural celebration, a reclamation of culture within a society plagued by colonial influence. Derozio represents his harp as a broken instrument: “Unstrung for ever, must thou there remain;/ Thy music once was sweet — who hears it now?” (ll 2-3). If the harp represents national identity and cultural pride, the “harp of India” is busted, unstrung and in need of repair.

Although it is broken, the speaker of the poem indicates a familiarity with the instrument, as the poem reads: “O! many a hand more worth than mine/ Once thy harmonious chords to sweetness gave” (ll. 8-9). Despite the fact that the harp cannot be played, and the speaker of the poem acknowledges their own inadequacy in playing it, there is a similarity between the act of playing the instrument and writing the poem, as both conjure a musical quality: the harp literally the plucking of chords and the poem stringing words together with a rhythmic pattern and linguistic mastery.

Likewise, the poem is itself musical, conjuring the sonnet form to laud the beautiful music of the instrument. Additionally, the speaker notes the “flowers still blooming on the minstrel’s grave,” the undoubtedly given to the skilled master of the harmonious instrument (l. 11). Although the musical minstrel is dead, the poetic minstrel lives on, within the pen of the poet. The last three lines of the poem celebrate the return of the minstrel, this time through the hands of the poet: “Those hands [the minstrel’s] are cold — but if thy notes divine/ May be mortal wakend once again,/ Harp of my country, let me strike the strain!” (ll. 12-14). Derozio, although crying the death of the minstrel (the old guard of Indian culture), shows the bards of language to be the new holder of the torch, a new minstrel by which the people can celebrate their national heritage, their cultural pride, and their rights to national sovereignty.


—Nathaniel Schwass

Sophia the Pretentious

In Phebe Gibbes’s Hartley House, Sophia often utilizes references to works from authors such as Dryden and Milton to demonstrate her ‘English Class’. In the book I think that Sophia utilizes the allusions or references to great english works so that she can brag about how much ‘cooler’ she is than her dear friend Arabella. Sophia in one of her many letters stated “But perhaps, instead of thinking yourself obliged to me, you will, with true European sangiford, suspect me of self- gratification in my descriptions; beware, however, of such erroneous conclusions, as you value the future favors of your own…” (Gibbs, p.14). This quote demonstrates sophia need to brag and show off to her friend how much class and cultured she is. The author does this in order to illuminate the obsessiveness the English had with their own cultural class hierarchy and to also offer a satirical analysis of the way in which the english language was used in such a complicated way to demonstrate ‘intelligence’ and along with that, ‘class’. Her reference to Dryden also emphasizes this in that Dryden was known for his admiration of the english language  so much so that he wrote The Indian Emperor, in closed couplets and iambic pentameters in a true heroic drama style. Although written in fancy English, Drydens drama is hard to follow and not easy for the average person to understand, even at that time in period. This is significant because although he is trying to uplift the english language, he is essentially uplifting nonsense. Ironically the more complicated and rare your diction and complex sentence structure was, the more intelligent you sounded which lead to a superiority complex and class distinction; even Sophia relies heavy on her cultured references and large amount of words to brag to her friend Arabella to demonstrate to Arabella how high society she is and to the reader how immature and spoiled she is.

Immolation & Education


For a long period of time in India, being a devoted wife might include grabbing the groceries for dinner, taking the kids to school, and burning yourself to death.

As they approached, my ears drank in the most delightful sounds; a band of music, as is the custom, occupied each of them, playing the softest airs; and from the tout en semble, brought Dryden’s Cydnus and Cleopatra in my recollection. (9)

– Sophia Goldborne in “Hartly House, Calcutta”

It is evident, that Sophia is quite clueless throughout her efforts of epistolizing the events she sees in plain sight, however, there is a constantly reoccurring theme of irony, in which it is the readers’ duty to acknowledge and take note of, to assimilate and connect the key implicit points in this historical setting of Anglo-Indian affairs, that Sophia is otherwise not aware of.

For Sophia, the celebrations are glamorous and fun, and she remembers dramas that she experienced back home in England. Although she is merely reminded of Dryden’s Cydnus and Cleopatra through the musical ensemble, there is a critical point to address as she begins to establish her descriptions of the cultures and traditions of the time. Digging deeper into the tale of Cydnus and Cleopatra, we learn about how desperate Cleopatra was to be the perfect lover and commits herself to self-sacrifice in honor of her husband after his passing. This example of an extreme level of marriage devotion can be linked to the Sati ritual in India. Sati means “the husband is to be followed always”. It was a customary virtue before modernity for a female widow to burn herself to the pyre, to follow her husband. Again we can thank Raja Roy for disseminating the notion that this wasn’t very ethical. Sophia is unknowingly referencing a deeper tradition that was prevalent previously, that approaches on issues of femininity, and gender equality. The core of this novel is to take into consideration what lays beneath the surface of what Sophia naively envisions.

The status of English literature at the time is immense. The culture of India and the language of English are beginning to mesh together in a willing cohesion of intercultural transformation. The works of several scholars and thinkers alike have impacted the lives of various cultures around the world. Sophia shares her knowledge of English continuously in her letters, but the implicit reasoning to this is tied directly to generalized English sentiments in India at the time. The feeling of uncertainty proved to be enough for many visitors to feel the need disseminate their language about.


Thomas Pham

Gibb me Liberty

Close reading has brought out some marvelous things in Phebe Gibb’s Hartley House, Calcutta. I was not closely paying attention to the use of ego and centralism that Sophia subtly displayed. I do see a particular romance to that in what Dryden displayed in “Indian Emperour.” There are 2 men which are drawing Sophia Goldborne’s interest, and one (Doyly) who she does not have too much romantic affection for. Like Cortez, Sophia is in the liking of foreign men. We as readers, we see a significant amount of sentimental expression that sways our feelings. This is inspired by works like Pope’s and Dryden’s.

There is a sort of forgiving matter, although reluctant since showing a bratty attitude, for Sophia. As a reader I give her the benefit of the doubt because she is only 16 and expresses many giggly, gossip-like ideas. Ok, ok, I’ll focus on one point. The discussion today in class was terrific. We really did bring out some close readings that were a result of fantastic analyzing. Our group mentioned how Sophia was misusing Pope’s quotes. Sophia uses a lot of controlling words such as “temperance” and “regulation” (87) that draw attention to the fact that there is a hierarchy and superiority. It’s funny how she thinks she is intelligent, but in fact, it is dangerous how she is misusing quotes and that goes to show how her mind has developed stereotypes. There is a really interesting comparison to Gulliver’s Travels and the Wyndham way of being. “Kindness, Benevolence, and contentment” (87) were all ideals that the Wyndhams abided to. The ego with the use of “I” versus “others” mentality (269) goes to show that there is a colonial othering. By placing them as inferior, it shows the arrogance of Britain. In Pope’s “An Essay on Man: Epistle 1”, “Lo! the poor Indian, whose untutor’d mind” (Pope) we can see that Sophia quotes him wrong in the sense that Pope was referencing the Indians in the U.S. rather than actual Indians. Her incorrect quotation in the letter puts danger in the sense of her misunderstanding and carrying that over to the way she comforts herself while in her stay in India. She quotes excessively English literature to make herself feel comfortable and at home while in India.


-Daniel Estrada