“Dear Harp of my Country” A Short Story Rendition

One day, Thomas Moore, a young Irishman, is crossing the marshes of his homeland when he comes across a copse of English elm trees. Entering the small forest, Thomas is immediately struck by the absolute silence and impenetrable darkness of the place. After stumbling his way through the first of the trees, he beholds a faint light behind a very large tree ahead of him. As young Tom approaches the light, he sees a chain wrapped tightly around the tree, and trapped by the chain is an old Irish harp. Though ages have passed since the shining harp was tied there, it remains beautiful, and Tom feels that if he could only free it from the chain, the most enchanting music in the world may come from the instrument. Kneeling down before the tree, Tom puts his hands on the chain, intending to break that which keeps the harp silent. As soon as he pulls the chain, the harp begins to shine brighter and brighter. Forced to close his eyes, Tom looks away. After a moment, he hears a lilting sigh, a cross between the sound of a summer breeze and the relieved sound of a mother who has found her lost child. Opening his eyes, Tom falls to his backside as he beholds the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. With eyes as green as the Irish hills and hair that flows down her back like wheat in a field, the woman stares into Tom’s eyes.

She speaks with the voice of a melody, “What is your name?”

The normally timid man feels unnatural strength within him as he looks at the woman, and replies firmly, “Thomas Moore ma’am, although most call me Tom.”

“I am Iré, daughter of Erin,” she replies, “Are you here to help me?”

Rising from his place on the ground, Tom realizes that this lady, Iré, is more disheveled than at first he perceived. Her dress, many years out of style, is covered in mud, and her hair is full of tangles and twigs. Feeling the strength of his own loneliness and the certainty that he is somehow connected to this woman, Tom responds,

“If you think I may be of some service, ask me for anything and I will deliver it to you, my lady Iré. My home is not far from this place. You are more than welcome to come refresh yourself there.”

With true excitement and gratitude in her voice, Ireland simply states, “Thank you Tom. I would love to see your home.”

This first meeting between Tom and the Irish harp-turned woman Iré sparked a joy within Tom that he could not understand. Whenever he was around the lady, he felt at home. After some time together, they journeyed together throughout the country of Ireland to make music and spread joy. Ireland’s voice when raised in song made all who heard her lose all of their worries, but something was always a little off when they performed. Tom did everything he could to complement the lovely Iré in their music, but he was never as skilled as she was, and no matter how beautiful their songs were, he knew that he wasn’t the right person to be Iré’s partner. She radiated happiness, but like the country she reflected, the despair of how long she was shackled to that English tree always peeked through her smiles and songs.

After making his decision, Tom tearfully turns to Iré one day while they are at home. He sings to her, “My one true love, dear Iré, you know I’ll always be true.

And this last song we weave as one will mark my love for you.

To sleep you must go now,

back to those trees, and you

must wait for one who will save you

From the tears you’ve shed anew.”

Iré joins in the song,

“The time for sleep has come to us,

oh Iré you must go.

But look for one whose song is right

for freedom you shall know.”

As the embodiment of Ireland returns to her tree, her shackles are gone, but still the English elm stands tall above her, and she knows that it will still be a long time before her music will be heard again. Tom leaves the place with the wind, and the harp again sits waiting for a lover, a soldier, or a patriot to set her song free forever.

Review:

Thomas Moore’s original “Dear Harp of my Country” is a short poem composed of moving lines about the suppression of the Irish. Speaking to the Irish harp, a symbol of Ireland and its people, Moore uses beautiful phrases that he would perform as a song to make the plight of his nation known. This short story rendition transforms the Irish harp into a woman embodiment of Ireland. The lyrical lines are gone, but in their place is a simple tale the likes of which a novel or a movie would contain. For a modern audience, such a story is better understood and more likely to spread than a poem. Using the character of the original author brings attention to the era the story addresses, and having the character Iré and Thomas Moore perform together connects the story to the reality of what Moore presented with his poem. The Irish harp indeed was a focus at the time of the poem’s publication, and its unpopularity was seen as a mark of sadness connected to English influences. Having the Irish harp/woman shackled to an English elm tree also brings this connection to light in the short story. The story is quick paced, resembling the original poem in the needless manner it addresses plot. There is no need to add superfluous scenes or nuances in the story because everyone at the time the poem was published would make the necessary connections. For a modern audience at all familiar with European history as well, added context is unnecessary to understand how the Irish perspective is presented in this story. The change in medium from a poem to a short story makes the presentation of this tale more modern, but music is still a present force in the final lines of the story. Moore’s poem begins Part II by calling the poem itself the last song woven by the narrator and the harp; likewise, this rendition calls to a final song before the harp goes to sleep again. The elements of the original “Dear Harp of my Country” are present in this short story, with the simplistic writing of the rendition adding to its ability to connect with a present-day audience.

-Meredith Leonardo

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Another Stringy Blog Post

     Henry Derozio’s “The Harp of India” reiterates the symbolism of the Irish harp to a similar cultural dividend occurring in India in order to not only convey the significance on why he harp is such an ubiquitous and culturally significant symbol in Irish culture, but also to illustrate that culture can be degraded in any country. “Of flowers still blooming on the minstrel’s grave:

Those hands are cold” pays homage to the tradition of Irish bards that carried on the traditions behind a Gaelic harp by evolving their stylistic use of the harp in order to adapt to a changing cultural and musical style preferred by clients. The final line “Harp of my country, let me strike the strain!” is integral to this interpretation as the nonspecific “my country” can be reassigned to refer to any nation that wishes to demonstrate nationalistic pride through a cultural rebirth, the symbolic culture here being the traditional Irish harp. It’s very firmly ingrained significance returning is both a provocative emulation of a formerly thought extinct and later revitalized culture and a unique antiquity that sets Ireland apart from other nations and survived in spite of colonialist rule against all odds. The title alone makes the clarification as to what nation the poem is referring to, but the ambiguity in the poem itself also mirrors the ambiguous nature of the harp itself. It begs the question as to why the harp is used specifically as opposed to a more traditionally Indian symbol, and it may be the post-colonial British rule that affected both countries is being referenced as an oppositional force, because it is both a subjugating affect and a diluter of tradition via intermingled colonialist adoption and appropriation of culture. The reason it is the harp specifically however is because it exemplifies both something artistic and beautiful, but able, like the nation itself, to persevere in spite of insurmountable odds.

-Kevin Martinez

Henry Derozio’s Symbol of Freedom: The Harp of Ireland and India

Serving as a symbol of freedom and a representation of life before British rule, Henry Derozio draws a connection between Ireland and India in his poem, The Harp of India. The poem presents British rule of India in a negative fashion due to a repression of Indian art and culture through its imagery of the harp. With the British in control, the poem presents the harp as lonely and unstrung, saying that, “Thy music once was sweet – who hears it now?” (3) and indicating that not only are Indian art forms not being taught and passed on, but that people are forgetting what they were. While the poem does lament the loss of culture due to the British, part of the poem could be interpreted as being critical of the Indians for not doing more to resist British rule and for not fighting for their culture when the poem says, “Silence hath bound thee with her fatal chain; Neglected, mute, and desolate art thou,” (5, 6). The poem presents the authors hope that one day other people will restore and play the harp again in a metaphorical sense by restoring Indian art and culture.

Similarly to other Irish poems about the harp, Derozio represents culture through the harp, writing about how its beautiful sounds were silenced and the loss that has occurred as a result. There is however a hope, just like many other writers, that freedom will be obtained one day and they will no longer have to remain silent to practice their culture and present its art. The harp may be a symbol of Irish culture and a free Irish state, but Derozio’s poem works to transform the harp into a larger symbol of independence and freedom for those under foreign rule. Though this poem may be referring to India and its loss, the lack of direct mention outside of the title means that the words of the poem could be applicable to other lands such as Ireland or anyone else who has seen a loss of their culture due to the rule of another.

-Ryan Bucher

Dear Ireland, You are Greatly Missed

Thomas Moore’s “Dear Harp of my Country” illustrates the feelings of loss, patriotism, and repression connected with Ireland and the Irish harp. The very first line, just the title repeated with an exclamation point followed by “in darkness I found thee,” conveys these feelings. The exclamation of those words convey both surprise and excitement that the harp still exists, but the reference to “darkness” reveals that Ireland and its harp have been repressed, with the spotlight of their people on things other than their beloved harp. This reflects the fact that after Ireland had been defeated by the Danes and then the English, many harpists had abandoned their home, and those who were left were very few. To find the Irish harp after its depressing history brings the narrator feelings of patriotism and joy that such a symbol of Ireland does yet exist. Similarly, in the second half of Part I., the narrator tells that the harp has played so many hymns of sadness that even in its joyful tunes the sadness rings through. This is how the Irish think about the harp. It is a symbol of their people, but harpists and Irishmen have suffered so much and had so much sadness to sing of that their past cannot be forgotten no matter how happy they are. Part II. shows how true these things are by relaying that the narrator must put away the harp with the hope that one day someone who can do it justice will find it again. The harp went in and out of style for hundreds of years after Ireland was defeated, and it was well known that the attempts to revive its popularity felt more like the last concerts that would ever be played with the instrument. The narrator’s own fervor for the instrument cannot keep him playing it. As he says in the final line, “all the sweetness I wak’d was thy own.” The artistry with which harpists of Ireland’s past played was legendary, but since that time, the beauty of the instrument had been overshadowed by the lack of interest in playing it. Ireland is a reflection of its harp since its defeat. Irish citizens were being overlooked by the rest of the world, and their own culture was being lost to that of England and the rest of Great Britain. “Dear Harp of my Country” is an homage to Ireland’s lost autonomy, a tribute that had been often sung before but lost to the dominion of England.

-Meredith Leonardo

Dear Harp of my Country!

“Dear Harp of my Country! In darkness I found thee.” This is how the Irish poet and songwriter, Thomas Moore, begins his poem titled Dear Harp of my Country. According to harpspectrum.org, the topic of the harp and its history is “a story of a fight to survive through regeneration and adaptation in a changing society.”

Thomas Moore than anything describes the harp as a staple of Ireland and writes about its iconic stature and symbolism. “Go, sleep with the sunshine of Fame on thy slumbers.” This is a reference to the harp’s famous representation of Irish culture. During the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Irish harp began to show up in a lot of different paintings and arts. Moore makes a nod to not just the iconic status of the harp, but how the harp is very representative of Ireland itself. “When proudly, my own Island Harp, I unbound thee.” Here, Moore is describing how when the harp is being played, hence the “unbound thee” line, you can tell it’s being played in a proud and pleased manner considering the harp means so much to Ireland.

Moore uses an interesting way of the cultural history of the harp to convey his message of loving his homeland. He mentions keywords such as freedom, soldier, patriot, and worthy. By doing this, Moore is extending history in a subtle way. He gives hints about honor and patriotism in the establishment and history of the harp. What’s interesting to note is how in the early decades of the nineteenth century, writers used the Irish harp as metaphors to address social injustices, specifically poverty of the many native Irish. Moore does this subtly by writing the line “Till touch’d by some hand less unworthy than mine.” This line could represent how Moore acknowledges that someone, possibly of lower status, will play the instrument due to how much importance the harp has on the Irish people. It’s subtle, like most of the poem, but an argument can be made.

-Abe Alvarez

The Final Chord in “Dear Harp of my Country”

Thomas Moore’s “Dear Harp of my Country” laments the English’s control over Ireland by paralleling it with the decline in prominence of the Irish harp. Starting in the eighteenth century, the “Irish harp tradition was increasingly regarded as a dying tradition” (O’ Donnell 1). Thus, when Moore says “farewell to thy [the harp] numbers/ This sweet wreath of song is the last we shall twine” (Moore 146.10-1), he is speaking in literal terms and hints at the slow demise of the Irish harp as the number of harpers decreases. However, this is also a comment on the state of the Irish at the time that were being subjugated to English rule, considering that the harp is a prominent symbol of Irish nationalism. With the decline of the harp, whose songs maintain the pulse of the Irish, also comes the deterioration of the Irish people.

Moore seems to equate the harp with a beating heart that sustains life. When he declares, “Dear Harp of my Country! in darkness I found thee” (Moore 145.1), he does not just refer to the physical harp but also the sounds of the instrument, which is representative of the voices of his countrymen. Just as the soft music of the harp would be able direct Moore in literal darkness, the sound also helps him and his people persist through the gloom English conquest has brought onto their land. Moore goes on to further elevate the harp by saying, “If the pulse of the patriot, soldier, or lover,/ Have throbb’d at our lay, ‘tis thy glory alone;/ I was but as the wind, passing heedlessly over,/ And all the wild sweetness I wak’d was thy own (156. 14-7). The determination of “the patriot, soldier, or lover” do not occur naturally, neither are these people what create the “wild sweetness” of the harp strums or preserve Ireland. It is the empowerment the Irish receive from the harp, which holds powerful associations, that keeps their nationalism and hope for a better Ireland alive. If the harping tradition is silenced, the Irish will lose a major remnant of an old Ireland, separate from Great Britain, and will not have the strength to fight for the autonomy of their country.

-Wendy Gutierrez

Striking the Right Chords: Irish Harp

The Irish harp is a symbol of hope, strength, and good ol’ perseverance. To Thomas Moore, it stood for all of that and more. For centuries, the harp stood as a beacon and homage to a proud and independent people. Though it faced treacherous times and eras of doubt and waning appreciation, the Irish harp emerged victorious through history’s cruel evolution. Every line of Moore’s poem is dripping with an undying loyalty to the harp’s image of freedom and beauty. The fondness of his words bring up the memories of an instrument strung into history much like its own wired cords. The harp was Ireland’s ode to patriotism. It was a source of power and dignity, even in the darkest times when the tradition seemed to be lost.

Though the harp died out for some time in the 17th Century, its prestige returned with a bang. In the time of sorrow, Moore wrote:

Dear Harp of my Country! farewell to thy numbers

This sweet wreath of song is the last we shall twine,

Go, sleep with the sunshine of Fame on thy slumbers,

Till touch’d by some hand less unworthy than mine.

It was this sentiment that made the revival possible. The mid-late 19th century brought back the harp with a new sense of pride. The harpists, now fighting for tradition and life of the instrument as a whole, were self-taught and prepared to tackle the slim odds, even if their craft was a dying sentiment. Still, it is clear that much like Moore wrote about the gentry and unbound spirit of the harp, it is clear that it remains an icon and symbol for freedom to this day. This symbol of nationalism brought a spark of power and strength in the time of its prime and reignited a powerful source of nostalgia and tradition during its revival. Next to the humble potato, the harp icon is one of the most recognized symbols of Irish culture, represented in the fine arts and paintings and even as the logo for their signature beer.

-Asia Reyna

Don’t Ask About the Harp, the Irish will Go on for Ages

Esther Quintanilla

Historically, the harp has been an important object to the Irish. Many believe the harp to be connected to their so-called “Irishness”. I think that this idolization of the harp in Ireland is valid because it saved the Irish from being considered barbarians. It was regarded as a symbol of status for musicians. As a musician myself, the respect of any instrument allows for my interests and passions to be taken seriously, especially as a great influencer of culture and society.

The poem “Dear Harp of my Country” by Thomas Moore focuses greatly on the harp as a symbol for Ireland and Irish culture. The name alone makes the poem appear as an ode to the country through the appreciation of the harp. In the first line of the poem, Moore compares the harp to a light found in the darkness. With this harp, the speaker is able to create light, freedom, and song, creating a major correlation between these three concepts and the harp. This is important to the identity of the harp because it allowed people to see the importance of having such an instrument being used in their country. Mirroring the idea of freedom, which was almost infeasible to the Irish because of their religious identities, was significant because it was able to give the hope of freedom to those who were in bondage.

Overall, the harp is a pretty cool instrument that was (and still is) very important to the Irish.

The Deification and Degeneration of the Traditional Gaelic, or – as they would be Colloquially Renamed – the Irish, and – To Their English Dominators – the Barbarian’s Harp; How the Alteration and Demonization of the Interpretive Symbolism and Corporeal Mechanism of a Country’s National Instrument Reflects the Degradation of Pride and Titles

               Since Ireland’s twelfth century,  when the island was ruled by Gaelic High Kings and chiefs, the harp has been a prominent – and prideful – symbol. Once seen as symbol of sophistication, the decline of Gaelic civilization to English colonization saw the harp bastardized as the sole measure of articulation in the otherwise barbaric – and mostly subjugated – Gaelic people. The Irish poet Thomas Moore, in his poem The Harp that Once Through Tara’s Halls, invokes both initial pride – and subsequent English tainting – in portraying the harp as a bittersweet symbol of Gaelic nostalgia and oppressed outrage.

               The title of the poem, and also the first line of the poem read, “The harp that once through Hara’s halls” in reference to the Hill of Tara, an ancient Gaelic site and, allegedly, the seat of the High King of Ireland. Moore writes of the harps music in the past tense implying that, like the defeated and colonized Gaelic peoples, the harp’s beauty – and therefore it’s reflection of Gaelic sophistication and pride – has been erased or at least altered. To Moore, the harp – and therefore the “soul” of the Gaelic people – is “fled,” and his choice of verb here is intentional; fled implies a conflict prior to the flight itself, and this is a clear reference to Gaelic warriors that fought and died against English colonization. They have been broken, and they have fled, and “the pride of former days” now “sleeps.” Although indirectly, Moore relates the harp’s music to the beat of Gaelic hearts and – just as the music has been silenced – those pulses are “no more.” In the next stanza, and in continuance of the heart/harp motif, Moore writes that “the harp of Tara swells,” as though the heart of Ireland is swelling in grief over the “chiefs and ladies” who are “no more.” Implicating a loose narrative into his poem of remembrance, the harps chord breaks – in the same vein as a heart breaking over a lost love – and what is told in the final twang is a “tale of ruin.” Wrapping up his very clear message – in a thesis like line – Moore claims that “freedom” now “so seldom wakes” and that the “only throb she gives is when some heart indignant breaks to show that she still lives.” Moore, in implying that the damaged heart – and the defeated soul – of the Irish people is resurrected in painful, “broken” spurts – but only to show that there is still some pathetic morsel of life left. This follows the actual progression of the mechanisms and meaning of the harp; following English conquest, the harp’s design was changed to a portable version – one that completely altered the original sound of the harp – that was more adept for what the harp – and it’s artists – had become. Harpists were curried into English courts and made to perform. The harp had become the lone semblance of Irish intelligence and even then, that semblance – and the interpretations of that intelligence – was controlled by the English on a direct and symbolic level. Yes, the harp – and the heart – “breaks” to show proof of life, but that heart is still tainted by the indignance of the original unjust breaking. 000

Harping on Symbolism

To Thomas Moore, the Irish symbol of the harp represented more than just nationalism and “Irishness”; to Moore, the harp was representative of hope, of hard work, of transcendence.

It is obvious that the symbol of the harp in Dear Harp of my Country is very close to the author’s heart; a sentiment made overtly apparent as the first two words of the title are literally “Dear Harp”. Throughout the course of the poem, Moore describes the harp as if it is some lost artifact, unearthed by him and ready to be handed down to “some hand less unworthy than mine”. This near-legendary status that the harp has been elevated to speaks volumes of Moore’s devotion to his country: the harp seems to be a source of pride and power, a deep sense of nationalism and ethics that Moore wields as a weapon (or, more fittingly, an instrument) against the evils of idleness and embitterment that plague those surrounding him.

Moreover, the poem concludes with Moore seeming to credit all of the “wild sweetness” that he describes in the middle portion of the poem to the harp. This cements the symbol of the harp as a literal instrument against melancholy and chaos, wielded by only those who are willing to put forth a great effort for themselves and their country.

-Shawn Pintor-Day