The Harp of India
Henry Louis Vivian Derozio
The Harp of India by H L V Derozio is a patriotic poem that pays a glorious tribute to the rich tradition of the art of Indian poetry which conveys the poet‘s deep anguish at the decline of the age of old art under the slavish shackles of British supremacy. Henry Louis Vivian Derozio was born in Calcutta [now Kolkata]. His father was Indo-Portuguese and his mother English. Though Derozio had very little of Indian blood in him, his upbringing in India greatly inspired in him Indian themes and sentiments. Derozio is generally regarded as the first Indian to write in English. Derozio’s poetic carrier was very short lasting only for about six years. Derozio, who held great promise as poet, unfortunately had premature death at the age of 23 when he was still at his prime. He is modern India’s first poet to give expression to his patriotism in verse, the first to sing of Freedom, the first to contemplate an intellectual renaissance for an ancient civilization through a new perception. In the poem The Harp of India the poet Derozio- an ardent admirer of India’s rich heritage, culture and tradition- laments the decline of the rich tradition of Indian literature during the period of British domination of India.The British imperialism made the Indian poets listless and they found nothing inspiring to compose literature except the misery of the nation. The poet Derozio pays a rich tribute to the Indian writers of the past who had enriched the Indian literature with their classic and enduring literary works and then expresses his wish to revive and rejuvenate, through his humble poetic efforts, the richness and glory of Indian literature. The poem is in the form of a Sonnet. Sonnet is a lyrical poem of 14 lines with definite rhyme scheme. Usually a Sonnet is divided into Octet [the first eight lines of the poem] and sestet [the remaining six lines of the poem]. In the Octet of the Sonnet the poet presents a problem and then tries to resole the problem in the sestet. Derozio makes a slight deviation in the tradition structure of the Sonnet that the Harp of India is divided into two equal divisions of seven lines each. However, he follows the thematic pattern of the Octet and the sestet with the presentation of the problem [the decline of Indian poetic tradition] and its resolution [its revival through his humble poetic efforts]. The poet Henry Louis Vivian Derozio refers to the rich art and tradition of Indian poetry as the harp of India. The poet commences the sonnet with a rhetorical question as to why the glorious tradition of Indian poetry lies neglected like a broken harp hung on the leafless and withered branch of a tree. He questions whether the art of India poetry which during the period of British domination of India was almost dead, must remain in this state of coma forever, like an unstrung harp. The poet recollects that the state of Indian poetry was once rich and glorious like the sweet melodies of a harp. Now that melody is heard no more as the present times provide no inspiration to the creative minds and hearts to revive the tradition of soul stirring poetic art. The breeze blows over the broken harp of poetry without drawing any melody from it. The prevailing conditions of the times have compelled the poets and the poetic inspirations to remain mute as if bound by the fetters of silence. The art of poetry thus lies neglected, silent, and abandoned like a ruined monument in the vast wilderness of the deserts. The poet then recollects that the art of poetry, in the hands of poets of greater genius than his own, had produced remarkable achievements, the way a deft musician produces enchanting music with his harp. The remarkable works of poetry brought for their creators accolades and wreaths of appreciation. The poets belonging to the glorious period of Indian poetry continue to survive long after their demise like flowers that continue to bloom on the graves of the poets long dead. The poet laments that the poets of literary genius of the past now lie cold in their graves and the once famous poetic art lies abandoned. However, he expresses his desire to revive the dying art of poetry of his country with his humble poetic abilities and make the skies of Indian literature reverberate with melody of poetic art just as a musician of a new generation revives a tradition of music with a musical instrument that had for a long period dwelt in oblivion and obscurity.
Word meanings and Explanation
Thou = the Harp
Here metaphorically referred to the Indian literary/poetic tradition.
Lonely = desolate, abandoned, forsaken, neglected
Withered bough Withered = dried up, lifeless
The present generation of the poets is listless and barren. Their creative energy has dried up and does not spark any poetic imagination.
Unstrung = without any strings
The unstrung harp is unable to create any songs. The poets, under the yoke of British supremacy, are sterile and incapable of writing poetry.
Thy music once was sweet
Thy music = the music of the harp Once = in the past Sweet = excellent
The harp used to produce excellent and pleasing music in the past. The poets of the past used to write classic poetry of everlasting quality and endurance.
Who hears it now?
No one hears to the old classical and sweet music of the harp at present. Similarly, the present generation neglects the excellent classic poetry of the ancient time.
Silence hath bound thee with her fatal chain Silence ( personification)
Fatal chain = deadly chain
The fatal chain, i.e. the shackles of slavish life under the British Dominance has made the Indian poetic tradition or the present generation of the Indian poets [thee] silent or impotent in their creative power.
Like a ruined monument (Simile)
The poet compares the present silent neglected state of the Indian poetry to a deserted and neglected monument in a barren desert.
Many a hand = many persons, here poets.
The figure of speech is synecdoche the hand stands for poet
Synecdoche a figure of speech in which the part stands for a whole.
Harmonious chords = the chords that create harmonious melody.
The ancient poets produced poems of excellence.
Fame = personification
The remarkable works of poetry brought for their creators accolades and wreaths of appreciation.
Those hands are cold now; those poets are dead now. Hands –synecdoche.
Thy notes divine The sweet divine music / the poems of great and everlasting appeal.
Wakened = revived
My country = indicates the patriotic feeling of the poet.
Strike the strain = write poems.
The poet Derozio wishes to revive,
through his poetic efforts,
the glory of Indian literature
and thereby restore the glory of his mother country India .