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


Hippies of the 18th century

For me, “The Tables Turned” by William Wordsworth is represented in Théodore Gericault’s Evening: Landscape with an Aqueduct. On a superficial level, the painting shows how one should immerse themselves in nature and enjoy the world around them, rather than live their lives through the guidance of books and science as noted by Wordsworth. For instance, in “The Tables Turned”, the speaker says, “Up! Up! My friend, and quit your books” because “Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife”. The speaker notes how living life and learning about life through books is not the right way to gain knowledge, they must “hear the woodland linnet…there’s more of wisdom in it”. It seems that for the reader, learning is an experience that cannot be encompassed through books and science. We must learn from nature, something that has not been interpreted or created by man. We must reach our own interpretations of the world by going out into the world itself rather than reading about what other people have to say about it, for “one impulse from a vernal wood may teach you more of man, of moral evil and of good, than all the sages can”. I feel that the same idea is invoked in Gericault’s painting. The men in the painting do not seem to care about anything that is going on around them, they are just swimming the water naked. They have stripped away from science and knowledge that would find being naked in the wild as something absurd. The one who is clothed, is not fully clothed as if they are the person the speaker of the poem is trying to convince to be one with nature. The color of the sun is very warm, indicating it is a late part of the day that I often find to be the most peaceful time of the day. It seems that time does not exist in the painting, for the people do not even seem to care that the day is almost at an end, they are still enjoying their time outside.

-Nancy Sanchez

Back at it again with the imperialism

The English language has changed from the time of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary to Macaulay’s a call for English language in India. Johnson’s standardization seemed to be more technical in trying to find a universal use of the language, while Macaulay uses language to exercise power.

The English language has been more than just words, it has been about power. English holds no power if it were to only be kept among high society or England for that matter. The fact that English has reach most parts of the globe has been a form of verbal imperialism. It’s unbelievable how righteous these people feel that they deem the Indian language as insufficient for the grasp of knowledge. As Macaulay explains, “that the dialects commonly spoken among the natives of this part of India contain neither literary nor scientific information, and moreover so poor and rude that, until they are enriched from some other quarter, it will not be easy to translate any valuable work into them”. There seems to be a negative connotation when people refer to a language as a dialect. When a language is called a “dialect” it sounds as if the language is considered to be untamed and unrefined. As if people of little to no intelligence speak dialects because language is for those who are refined.

Macaulay admits that he “[has] no knowledge of either Sanscrit or Arabic”, but that his decision is well informed because he “[has] done what [he] could to form a correct estimate of their value. [He] has read translations of the most celebrated Arabic and Sanscrit works”. That’s like saying, “I’ve only tried Little Caesars’ pizza, so I have a good idea about the quality and value of all pizzas”. The fact that he has only read translated works is not enough to form an opinion about the value of language. He doesn’t seem to consider that works can get lost in translation, especially considering who translated the work. How can he trust that those translations he has read are the best translations? He is reading translations, not the language itself and therefore cannot judge the language. English works translated into other languages do not sound the same, sometimes they even suck or loose the significance they had.

In some way, it seems that Macaulay is criticizing the English language itself without even knowing it. He is judging the “most celebrated Arabic and Sanscrit works” because of their English translations. Maybe the English language isn’t sophisticated enough to translate the greatness of these texts. Furthermore, in trying to consider English as the greatest language and deemed other languages as less than, Macaulay has impeded the pursuit of knowledge by limiting knowledge as something that is exclusive to the English language.

Nancy Sanchez

The Linguistic Hegemony of Empire: A Language of Power

On the first page of Johnson’s Preface to A dictionary of the English Language, Johnson indicates a distaste and a frustration with his difficult task of working to comprehend, understand, and taxonomize the English language. He notes that “wherever [he] turned [his] view, there was perplexity to be disentangled,” “choice was to be made out of boundless variety,” and “adulterations were to be detected, without a settled test of purity” (Johnson 1). For Johnson, English far from a perfect, ornate language capable of moving souls and spirits.

While this represents a lexicographer’s desperate, frustrated attempts at wrangling in language (tying it to signs and signifiers, phrases and definitions), essayist, Englishman, and colonial thinker Thomas Babington Macaulay sees English as the only reasonable platform for education within the British colonies. Forgoing and disregarding the problematic, wordy overgrowth that is the process of linguistic evolution, Macaulay expresses concern that teaching the natives of the British colonies (i.e. India)in their native tongue would be a inconsequential waste of colonial resources, noting that the languages of colony, such as Sanskrit and Arabic, “may become useless” and the sciences of those languages “may be exploded” (Macaulay 2). For Macaulay, these languages are simply the platform for “bad” knowledge: “the dialects among the natives of this part of India contain neither literary nor scientific information” (2). Not only do their languages contain little worth knowing, but these natives are “so poor and rude that, until they are enriched from some other quarter, it will not be easy to translate any valuable work into them” (2).

The question then becomes: what information is Macaulay privileging as knowledge worth knowing?

It is certainly not the spiritual practices of India, as Macaulay believes that the indigenous “waste their youth in learning how to purify themselves after touching an ass or what texts of the Vedas they are to repeat to expiate the crime of killing a goat” (7). It is certainly not the poetry, given that Macaulay believes that no many would argue that “the Arabic and Sanskrit poetry could be compared to that of the great European nations” (3). And, it is certainly not the history of India, because Macaulay thinks that “all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England” (3).

So, it is not that the language of Sanskrit or Arabic is naturally worse than the dialect of English, it is simply the ideas that these languages promote and disseminate. Put simply, Macaulay believes that the culture, history, and spirituality of this colonized culture are intellectually worthless; it’s just that the language of these beliefs, truths, and ideologies is part-and-parcel. For Macaulay, the ideas of a society, and the language upholding those ideas, are elements by which a society can be judged. This is to say: Macaulay thinks the language is bad, because the ideas are too.

This is a very convenient, and safe, ideological position for the colonizer to take. As you take away the language, you take away those messy, subversive ideas that make colonial subjects so difficult to subdue, suppress, and repress. While there is no intrinsic value to English as a language, the language of the colonizer must be the language of power, for the colonized must think, feel, and reason with the language of the colonizer, for this is the only way for the colonial psychology to dig its claws in the colonial psyche.


—Nathaniel Schwass

Just A Bunch Of Yahoos

Jonathan Swift uses the Houyhnhnms to portray what could be a perfect civilization for us meager humans to follow. A civilization that is focused around “Friendship and Benevolence” and treating the strangers as though they are their closest neighbors. The Houyhnhnms believe in equal education for both sexes. They focus around solving problems carefully, and use reason rather than opinion (238-239). Their way of life is one  to strive for, to set as the highest standard. With their standard, humanity would be at its greatest.

At least until it comes to dealing with a race that is constantly considered inferior to their own and in result decide it’s best to get rid of them all. The Yahoos are constantly described as being vile and a nuisance to the Houyhnhnms, something that must be handled accordingly. The hatred that has formed for the Yahoos cannot be ignored. Swift has created a literal call for the genocide of the human race, and in doing so aims to portray the Houyhnhnms as the divine humans, the standard desired. However, creating this causes a mass loop for the Houyhnhnms, a fatal flaw.

The Houyhnhnms describe the Yahoos as those who are power hungry and violent, for they seek control over anything set in front of them. However, could it be said that by desiring to have the Yahoos “exterminated from the Face of the Earth” (249) is one step toward Yahoo? Or perhaps if not only wanting to kill off an entire race isn’t enough, then how the Houyhnhnms instead choose to take a note out of Gulliver’s lifestyle. Though Gulliver is considered a more advanced Yahoo, it doesn’t make for the fact that the Houyhnhnms have instead moved backward. In other words wanting to be a Houyhnhnm isn’t possible, not even for the Houyhnhnms themselves.

-Elizabeth Dominguez

Reason Trumps Emotions

Houyhnhnms are a race of horses born with intelligence and their way of understanding is based solely on the voice 0f their reasoning. They are horses, beast in nature therefore one of their underlined characteristics is their lack of emotions. Emotions which make humans what they are and therefore not having emotion helps to prevent making decisions with their emotions. The representation for a human comes in the form of the Yahoos which are humanoid in nature but are considered more “beastly” and “savage.” It would be ideal for people to be part of the society that uses solely logic to get through the toughest of situations because they are capable of being untethered to a problem emotionally. However emotions are needed because they are what keep us from being indifferent and becoming mindless drones to the ideals of others who think of their thoughts as superior.

The Yahoos are viewed all through the perspective of Gulliver and they are painted rather plainly. For starters “For I have already told the Reader how much I was pestered by those odious Animals upon my first Arrival. And I afterwards failed very narrowly three or four times of falling into their Clutches, when I happened to stray at any distance without my Hanger”(4.8.243-244). Gulliver naively places himself on a higher social position than the Yahoos only because he is a stranger to the land of the Houyhnhnms. He feels “pestered” and is constantly “falling” to their “Clutches” as if they are trying to sway him to be part of their . They however are truly part of the same type of species because they think alike they have the empathetic connection towards Gulliver. That is why they reach out to him because he is more like the Yahoos than the Houyhnhnms.

-Alexis Blanco

Is it the same?

The Royal Society today takes great pride in their history and it appear that it does not divert much from the founders quest for the truth through scientific inquiry. One of the differences that I noticed was the old royal society is more interested in letting others know of the things they have, while today it is more interested in the things it can do, scientifically. For example, throughout his essay, Francis Bacon goes on and on about everything they have such as the “artificial wells and fountains, made in imitation of the natural sources and baths”, the “great and spacious houses”, the “large and various orchards and gardens”, etc (1278). In his essay, Bacon seems more concerned with showing off what they have like “we have these HUGE houses that we sometimes use to look for meteors”. It really does seem that it more of a literal royal society that focuses on its luxuries. Although it seems that the modern royal society is more focused on the science, it also appears to be a bit elitist in the fact that they randomly throw in that generate around 42 million euros (?) a year. It is as if money is one of the main factor that gives their science value because no one would trust science that is being conducted in a basement.

-Nancy Sanchez

Limiting Science Language for Cultural Assimilation

Francis Bacon, Thomas Sprat and Isaac Newton were one of the first most influential leaders of the Royal Society; their main goal was to expand science as a unique field of studies that would match their vision of a perfect society; a utopian society to be exact.Each had their own individual role in contributing the growth of this organization, but Sprat, I would say, had the most important role in for the Royal Society. He was the first major voice that shaped what the society has become today a field of study that follows strict outlines/protocols in engaging in scientific studies. But he was successful because he was specifically handpicked for the purpose that matched the anxiety of a society as a whole “the [royal society] had chosen [Sprat} not for his knowledge of science but for his status as a divine and for his skill as a rhetorician” (2176). Knowing this, his contribution to the Royal Society, seems to be a contribution of a political figure. He in  way feels threaten by the way literature or the language has been used to fight on another in what he calls a “beautiful deceit” because anyone that is involved in the intellect world attack one another; supposedly him, with no other means of pushing or extending the knowledge or tools to better the lives of people like science will do (Sprat 2176). His purpose was to convince other of the vision the Royal Society had in mind, being a person with a strong rhetoric language, we can straight away see that even the title “The History of the Royal Society of London, for the Improving of Natural Knowledge” is not really a “historical” scripture is not really a history lesson, but a persuasive piece of literature.

The persuasiveness text shows how he had anxiety about a certain use of the English language should not be used as others have in different fields of study. He’s against the way language is used creatively and expresses this anxiety as being defective “the ill effects of this superfluity of talking have already overwhelmed most other arts and professions, insomuch that then when I consider the means of happy living and the cause of their corruption, I can hardly forbear recanting what I said before and conclude that eloquence ought to be banished out of all civil societies as a thing fatal to peace and good manners” (Sprat 2177). Sprat claims that the way this “eloquent” writing style that many have adapted to in arts and professions have somehow corrupted people in a way for speaking possibly out of context from one specific topic. This anxiety rises as he may observe that the culture in writing has turned people against each other creating chaos dealing with religion. And in a way, using their new science study And method of removing the style of writing clear and more straight forward they will be uniting the England cultural assimilation of enhancing the way they all live and can compete against other countries in Europe. 

Thus there is a separation of ideals that can be seen today diving the science and the arts. Sprat’s claim that the eloquent writing separates people because they miss use the language to shape the ideas of Christianity; although science to has had its own impact on conflict of ethics and forcing it’s views on the world as well. This topic is probably religion related, for example, the Christian religion. Thus this anxiety is present in his rhetorical historical lesson of the royal society, he does not want it to be tainted with “eloquent” language/talk, limiting the way in which science should be focused only on exploring the physical world without the interruption of “superfluity talk.”  Which he failed to see, there is no way around a cause that language in general does, it is in its nature; to create different points of views as well as different interpertations. In the end it is really ironic, as he has to use very metaphorical wordings to describe the use of the same type of lanaguage he is trying to get rid off.

“I love the name of honor, more than i fear death”

John Dryden’s Indian Emperour (1667), the author throughout the play focuses on themes of love versus honor, private interests versus the public good, and the motivation behind the character’s actions, but at the ending never explicitly states whether Cydaria and Hernan Cortez are united in matrimony. I personally believe Dryden’s purpose in doing so is to perpetuate the heroic thematic devices utilized in the play. By not explicitly addressing whether or not Cortez and Cydaria marry, the audience is then focused on the ramifications of the series of events that have just transpired in the play.Firstly, it is important to note the power that the woman have in this play. In every major scene there is a woman helping to guide the man, for example, when Guyomar is bargaining for Alibechs life and right to marry she actually says no matter what people say she isn’t an object and chooses who she shall marry. That is important to the ending of the play because it demonstrates the power of the woman’s right to choose and not be seen as an object. Had they been married at the end of the play, it would thus be a happy romance play that didn’t make the audience see the bigger picture of what Dryden was aiming to get at. Not only in the play is the power of the woman seen, but in the actuality of making the play as well. Cydaria in the play was being performed by the kings mistress (supposedly), the notion of a mistress playing such a key role and marrying someone of power doesn’t necessarily demonstrate the anxieties of the foreign imperialist and the aztec people, but the anxieties of what the modern times had come to. Dryden utilized every character and action in the play to criticize what the current society had come to, such as when Montezuma is portrayed literally like christ and even says ‘oh father’.  Had Cydaria and Cortez actually married on this stage where the nobility were present and watching it would have sent drastic ramifications to the audience that I don’t think Dryden was prepared for. He utilized the Spanish imperialism to talk about English imperialism but did it in such a way so that it was more acceptable to talk about just like the role of Cydaria, which was supposedly also written for the mistress intentionally.  By not mentioning the unity of Cortes and Cyndaria, the audience is now left to speculate and rethink the events that have just transpired instead of focusing on a happy ending. A king rather than give up his power for peace has just committed suicide after defeat, a brother betrayed his land due to unrequited love, and a woman loyal to her country has now just committed suicide rather than betray her beliefs. Each individual story intertwined in the play definitely focuses on the theme of love for something but duty to another which also centers back to the time period  of publication. During this time period it was lustful and full of partying, the playhouses were also somewhat of a brothel in a sense. Class has slipped and with the slip of class so too had the idea of love and honor. Morals were diminishing during the restoration period as people were accustomed to having mistresses and cheating on their spouses. By keeping this theme of love and duty it attempts to demonstrate the rightness of following through with you’re love and loyalty to the country. In a sense the main winner of the play was cortez and he too stayed loyal to his love, for example when he let Guyomar go to please Cydaria, but also with Duty when he still took down the native empire although he himself admits that the orders he has received may not be right and he was also going against his lover by essentially destroying her country. The other people in the play such as Montezuma for example did not stay loyal to his people, instead of listening to the spirits that told him he would loose he choose his pride over his country and lost it all including his life. Each character would die for their love or for their duty to their country even when there was other logical paths they could have taken. I think Dryden really aims to question the foundation of blind loyalty to a country and the selfish nature of listening to your heart in respects to the good of the majority. The evidence of this claim is in the ending of the play, throughout the entire play Cortes remained loyal to his country and still went to war all the while honoring his love for Cyndaria for example letting Guyomar go, and stayed true to both sides of duty and honor and he came out the best. The others either gave into blind faith to oders or their own personal love and they all perished. Cortes will have his name go down in history as the conquer of the Aztecs and the rest won’t. So no Dryden did not mention the marriage of Cortes and Cynadaria not due to his doubts of their unity but because it would dimmish the power Cynadaria and the women in the play have ever so subtly developed, but also because what Dryden was inferring by having a mistress play her role would not be scandalous for the audience and society.