Henry Louis Vivian Derozio was born in Calcutta [now Kolkata]. He was a teacher, a scholar, a poet and an academic. 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 vocation was very brief stretching forth only for about six years. Derozio, who held great promise as poet, regrettably, died untimely at the age of 23 when he was still at his bloom. He is modern India’s first poet to express his patriotism in poetry, the first to verbalise in verse the desire of the Indians for Freedom.
Derozio’s poems demonstrate his eager desire to inspire the young Indians to struggle and strive for India’s independence from the clutches of the British imperialism.
To India My Native Land is a typical Deroozian poem in its theme and style. The poem laments the degradation and devaluation of India because of her slavery to the British and seeks to regain India’s lost glory and reverence.
The poem begins with a grief-stricken utterance My country! that reverberates throughout the poem. The poet, with a heart brimming with sorrow, grieves over the lamentable and nightmare scenario of present India. India is trodden under the British feet.
* My country!
The profound patriotic fervor of the poet finds expression in this passionate address.
º Here, the poet uses the figure of speech – Apostrophe.
Apostrophe is rhetorical device that addresses things which are personified; absent people or abstract ideas. Apostrophe is often used to convey extreme emotion.
These are examples of Apostrophe from Shakespeare:
“O happy dagger! This is thy sheath; there rust, and let me die.” Romeo and Juliet
“O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth….” Julius Caesar
Derozio personifies India as a Divine Goddess. India is considered as a female figure since we always relate to our country as mother and in India we refer to our country as Bharat Mata (or Mother India).
* in thy days of glory past: in the past when India was full of glory
In the past, India had a rich cultural, spiritual and literary attribute: she was full of glory and was admired and reverred all over the world. India was regarded highly by all but now, because of her subjugation to the British imperial intentions, she has lost all her glory and grandeur.
* a beauteous halo
Halo: a circle of light surrounding the head of a holy person in a painting or a sculpture.
The phrase underscores the divine and stellar status that India enjoyed in the past. She was worshipped as a deity, as a goddess.
º The poet resorts to the figure of speech Metaphor to compare India to a deity.
Metaphor is a figure of speech in which two things are compared omitting like or as.
E The car flew down the highway. My love is a red, red rose.
Simile is a figure of speech in which two things are compared using like or as.
E The car flew like a bird down the highway. My love is like a red, red rose.
The poet then exclaims rhetorically where the glory and reverence that India enjoyed in the past have vanished.
Rhetorical Question is a question in which the answer is implied in the question itself.
E Can we forget those happy days?
Such a poetic technique is used by the poet to involve the readers in the drift of the poem.
* Thy eagle pinion is chained at last
Eagle is a royal bird; pinion is its wings.
The poet metaphorically compares India at present to an eagle, a regal bird, which is chained and, hence, cannot fly. The contrast of India at present to the India in the past is obvious. In the past, India was like an eagle regally soaring high up in the sky. But, at present, she has been demeaned to the condition of a chained eagle unable to fly but can only crawl piteously on the lowly rubble.
* grovelling in the lowly dust art thou
grovelling = crawling
humble = cheap, worthless, mean
dust = earth
The use of the word dust is significant in that it refers to a saying in the Bible “Thou art dust; thou returnst to dust”.
Dust is an image of death. According to the Christian belief, God created man out of clay (dust) and when, after his death, he is buried, he becomes one with the earth (dust).
* Thy minstrels hath no wreath to weave for thee
Minstrels are poet-singers.
Wreath is a floral decoration placed over man’s dead body to show respect and regard to the dead soul. Wreath is an image of death.
The poet employs these images of death- dust and wreath- to communicate to the readers the worthless and meaningless as well as the demoralised condition of India under the British dominance.
The writing of a poem is compared, using a concealed metaphor, to the weaving of a wreath. In the past, the poets used to compose and sing songs of praise glorifying the greatness of India. Now, the poets can no more write these eulogies since India is in a miserable state having lost all its glory and divine status of the past.
* Save the sad story of thy misery
The word Save is used here, not in its original meaning rescue, but to mean except/but.
The poets cannot glorify India in their poems but they can only write poems on the tragic tale of India’s present misery under the British colonialism.
In the octet of the sonnet, Derozio laments the loss of glory and reverence of his beloved country India. The sorrowful strain of the poem carries the poet’s deep distress at India’s misery.
The poet comes to a decision. He offers his selfless labours to his prized country and attempts to salvage her from the abject abyss of ruination now.
The poet’s intention is to comprehensively explore (dive into) the past history of India (depths of time) and to write poems (bring out) on a few glorious and esteemed epochs (a few small fragments) from the chronicles of Indian history.
By this means, Derozio hopes to introduce to the present and future generations the dignified status and magnificent grandeur that his country once enjoyed. By making the men and women of now and coming days aware of the bygone grandeur and greatness of India, Derozio expects to regain and reestablish India’s glory and reverence. His poems of glory, dedicated to his dearest motherland, will inspire the young Indians to break the shackles of slavery under the British supremacy.
* wreck sublime
Though India is at present in a wrecked and wretched state, she still retains a few remnants of her past nobility and sublime nature.
The poet compares India to a shipwreck. (Metaphor)
Just as a diver plunges into the depths of the sea to search in a wrecked ship for valuable treasures and retrieve them, the poet studies India’s past and writes poems about those treasured moments in Indian history.
my efforts- the poet’s efforts (of writing poems on the past glory of India)
fallen – in a ruined state
My fallen country! – The figure of speech is Apostrophe
The poet demonstrates his selfless patriotic feelings by asserting that he expects no worldly rewards for his efforts to regain the glory of his country. He wishes to have only the loving blessing of his Mother country.