The Harp of India by Henry Derozio; Summary & Analysis

Introduction

The poem Harp of India is written by Henry Derozio, who led the Young Bengal Movement and is also known as the first modern English poet of India. His father was an Indo-Portuguese and mother British. In spite of having little Indian blood, Derozio loved India very much.

The poem Harp of India celebrates the glorious past of India and mourns over its loss because of British Rule and ends with the hope that she (India) will regain its glory. The poet uses Harp as a symbol for the Indian poets who were earlier famous but under the British Rule, they are suffering.

The poem is a sonnet. However, it is different from the traditional sonnets and has a rhyme scheme ababbabcdcdcbb. There are mainly two sections in the poem. In the first section, the poet laments the loss of the glorious past of India. In the second part, the poet hopes that glory will be back.

Summary

Part 1

The poem begins with the question Why hang’st thou lonely on yon withered bough?. Thou here refers to the harp and in a deeper sense the natives of Indian. The poet wonders why the harp is hanging lonely on the dry and dead branch.

Thus the very beginning of the poem is full of sadness and melancholy. In the next line, the poet imagines with deep grief that it will remain there forever without its strings. So like the dead branch, it is also dead.

Further, the poet sighs that once its music was quite sweet meaning that before being unstrung, it used to have sweet melodies. But who hears it now? because its strings have been removed and hence it cannot produce music. It has become too old to be played now

Even the breeze or air which passes by the harp cannot wake it up or in other words cannot play it. The silence or being unmusical, it is dead now. It is now neglected, muted and deserted like a very old monument in the desert that is ruined now.

Part 2

The second part begins with a mourn but ends in hope. Also, there is a shift from the musical instrument (harp) to those who sung melodies (poets).

The poet says that there were a number of poets before him whose melodies are more worthy far than his own. They produced excellent poetry that would make the listeners blissful.

The fame (or the immortal artworks of those poets) has always honoured them i.e. kept them famous throughout the ages. Thus they have lived after their death as the flowers still bloom on their graves.

In the end, the poet says those hands are cold. Cold Hands here refer to poets who are dead now. But he desires to revive their works and hopes that the lost glory of India will be back again.

Analysis

We have discussed the literal meaning of the poem so far. However, it holds deep and profound meanings which we will discuss in this part.

Part 1

Harp here refers to the poets whose poetry and melodies were sweet and who have lost their glory in the British Rule and thus they are “unstrung“.

Nobody listens to them now because of the development and the modernity due to the intervention of the British. And even little hope and struggle (depicted by the breeze) cannot make them write again.

Silence here refers to the metaphorical death (of their poetry). According to the poet, by restricting them from writing, the British has made them like the ruined monument in the desert which is neglected, silenced and exiled.

Part 2

In the second part, hand refers to the poets who lived before the poet and wrote marvellous poetry. According to the poet, their immortal work has kept them alive even today and thus they live in spite of being in the grave.

In the end, the poet says that now that they (elites) are dead, he desires to revive that literature and thus bring the glory of Indian culture back which is lost now.

Literary Devices

  1. Simile
    • Neglected, mute, and desolate art thou,
      Like ruined monument on desert plain
  2. Personification
    • Why hang’st thou lonely
    • must thou there remain
    • breeze sigh over thee
    • Silence hath bound thee with her fatal chain
  3. Synecdoche
    • Many a hand 
    • Those hands are cold