Harp of India

I found that Henry Derozio, “The Harp of India” was a very interesting take on the idea of the Harp and what its symbolism. The other two poems are written about the Harp in an Irish context, but Derozio’s is written in the context of the Harp being significant in India. The first part of the poem starts off in a very sad and melancholy tone basically talking about how the speaker laments that the Harp is no longer being played and how there is no one to hear it’s beautiful and “sweet music.” That even the wind cannot make it play, therefore it just sits there neglected and unused. However, the second part of the poem starts to become a bit more optimistic and ultimately ends in a positive and hopeful light. The speaker shifts from speaking about the actual Harp to those who play it and includes some contextual information regarding the history of the Harp. The speaker emphasizes how beautiful and worthy the songs the previous “poets” played on the Harp and how the speaker is not worthy of comparing. As well as how those songs are so important that they have become famous and will live on forever. The speaker ultimately ends with despite the poets being dead, their songs will continue to live on, and he will aspire to keep them alive and restore glory to his India.

This poem touches briefly on the history of the harp as well as the history of India and one interpretation of this poem can be that the harp symbolizes India and how it lays forgotten due to the colonization of India by Britain. And how it now lays forgotten because no one will remember it, but despite all of that, the poets who have written about India have kept it alive and kept it remembered and therefore is willing to keep “playing the harp” to keep the memory and importance of India alive and known, ultimately bringing the glory of India back.

-Laura Mateo Gallegos

The Forgotten Harp

Tania De Lira-Miranda

Image result for harp gif

The harp plays an important part in the history of the Gaelic as the last High King of Ireland, Brian Boru, was a great harp player which could explain the harp’s history. This history and the harp’s importance can be seen in its appearance in forms of art and literature such as poems. This is most apparent in Henry Derozio’s poem The Harp Of India.

Henry Derozio’s poem was using the harp’s cultural history, which he assumes people will already know about, to really drive the point of how important the harp is. If one were to discuss the poem in a literal sense then the poem goes through a range of tones – from sad and gloomy to hopeful and positive – when talking about the harp. In the beginning, Derozio laments the decline of the harp’s usage/importance as it is being allowed to wither and be unstrung. He explains that the harp’s “music once was sweet” but that now no one is listening to it now. It’s being neglected like monuments. The poem ends hopefully as Derozio states that the harp will be used again and that its songs will be heard once more.

But if one were to look at what was happening during that time period, there is a different meaning to the poem. One interpretation is that the harp is supposed to signify India. Derozio is trying to explain how India is not being appreciated since under England’s rule, it will be forced to change to whatever the colonizers want. Their culture will be forgotten and all that will be left would be remains like how only monuments are left to represent the ancient civilizations. The hopeful tone at the end is his hope that Indian culture will stay alive if people remember it.

All Harp, no Lyre

Derozio’s poem starts off dead, with no one to touch its strings. The harp who once played beautiful sounds is no longer alive as it withers away.

Neglected, mute, and desolate art thou,

Like ruined monument on desert plain”

I can’t help but draw a comparison to Percy Shelley’s “Ozymandias”;

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

In Shelley’s it tells Ramses II whose empire crumbled to sands, and is long forgotten about. Bleak, how “The Harp of India” starts. The Harp takes on personification, “her fatal chain”. More importantly it becomes a symbol, a symbol of Indian culture, and its death due to Western ‘Influence’.

Fortunately, unlike Ramses II, there is hope, the writer hopes that “the mortal” will be revived again. There is hope for the Harp to be played once more, for India to reconnect with her roots, and play songs of cultural importance. The Harp signifies a heritage, a cultural background. Which is why the Irish hold so dear to it, it’s part of their rich history. A beautiful instrument, nothing quite sounds like it. Its a call to arms to acknowledge Indian art, and to not forget it.

The Harp Without a Tune

By: Katherine Hernandez

The harp is one of the most known universal symbols of Ireland. In today’s modern times it is known to grace the famous beer bottle of Guinness. However, The Harp has a long history with noble origins. It was regarded as a symbol for high society status musicians, in fact, it is said that The Harp was one of the only things that saved the Irish from being barbarians.  The poem The Harp of India by Henry Denrozio, however, takes a different approach to the noble status symbolization of the harp. In the poem, the harp is recognized as a symbol of social injustice rather as a symbol of nobility, a concept that isn’t introduced into Irish culture until the 19th Century. This causes a major shift in what we know as the symbolization of the harp. Denrozio uses the harp as a symbol for the loss of India under the British rule, a topic that is not touched on by the other poems. In fact, the harp here is used as a beacon of sorrow, right from the first line in which the author calls out to the harp asking it, “Why hang’st thou lonely on yon withered bough?” It is in the very first line in which the poet creates a tone of sorrow and longing for what once used to be, using the symbolism of an empty harp as an instrument that is so beautiful in sound and what now is considered a useless shell of what it once was. While the poem is a considered a traditional sonnet it has a different schema which furthermore shows how the poet made  consciousness choice of creating a different one and meter than what is considered to be traditional This could be to show how although he has British roots he still feels as though he is very much invested in his Indian culture and his heart aches for the suffering of India. While the significance of the harp in this poem might be different from one of the most symbolic characteristics of nobility it possesses it is still very important because the harp in itself is what gives the poem it’s life. The fact that the harp can no longer make its noise, it cannot be played shows how much the instrument is beloved and thus the lack of music brings great ailment to the poet, the symbolism to India uncanny.

“Mary Quite Contrary” by William Apess (BUTTON POETRY TRANSCRIPT)

My lady and sister in Christ, Mary,

We have a common enemy

It is a devil that lives in a bottle

It is no daemon or fairy

Lurks in every pantry

And turns the gentlest soul hostile

It is the color of my skin

And smells of exotic spices

The kind sold among the newly conquered dark isles

But it was your kin

Who turned this into one of our greatest vices

I dare not speak its name

For when I do there are folk who flitter

And pester even if told their efforts are in vain

By even he who has only little

It’s name is a hum

The devil’s hymn and chorus

When the cork is unplugged

There is a crowd that cheers,

“Oh please why don’t you join us!”

It’s name (he whispers softly)

Is rum

Mary, quite contrary

Does your story go

You paint a portrait of savage men

Who’d look for any excuse to strike a killing blow

And steal the brides of the white for the chief’s harem

Whilst they smoke pipes of tobacco

But oh, dear Mary did you also not partake?

Or is the truth only relevant when it is easy to forsake?

Mary, quite contrary

Is the white man’s practice of exclusion

Though why complain to you?

Because it is clear that you don’t think it matters

If a black or Indian

man or woman

Adult or child

Or a follower of the son of the Virgin Mary

Will be pardoned from this exile

Or spends their lives dressed in rags and tatters

By Maria Nguyen Cruz

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