“To India – My native Land” by Derozio

I am not a poet and cannot write poetry but I am capable of appreciating good poems. I had started taking English poetry reading seriously during my class (grade) nine and ten, when we were to study a whole collection of poems as a part of our English syllabus (in I.C.S.E). Poetry had a profound influence on me and to this date I remember quite a few poems from my English poetry text book. I wish to post some of those poems here without which this diary will be so incomplete.

I am not aware of any copyright issues but would like to declare in this post that unless otherwise stated, no works of poetry published on this blog belong to me and I shall make every effort to mention the name of the poet clearly for each poem I post here.

About the Poet

(Short summary based on this Wikipedia article)

To India – My native land is a poem by Henry Louis Vivian Derozio. Derozio lived during the early 19th century. He was a teacher, a scholar, a poet and an academician of Eurasian and Portuguese descent. He considered himself to be an Indian and encouraged free thinking among his students. He oversaw the publication of a journal in which his student wrote against the British rule in India, orthodox Hindu practices and favored emancipation of women. The journal was banned and Derozio lost his job due to his unorthodox views.

His opposition to the British and the orthodox Hindu practices alienated him from both the society as well as the government. He spent his last days in penury, starvation and died of cholera at the age of 22.

It’s sad to know such a great thinker and poet had a sad end. Derozio was one of the few people who used to think much ahead of their times and is remembered as an intellectual anarchists of his times.

To India – My Native land

My country! In thy day of glory past

A beauteous halo circled round thy brow,

And worshipped as a deity thou wast.

Where is that glory, where that reverence now?

Thy eagle pinion is chained down at last,

And groveling in the lowly dust art thou:

Thy minstrel hath no wreath to weave for thee

Save the sad story of thy misery!

Well let me dive into the depths of time,

And bring from out the ages that have rolled

A few small fragments of those wrecks sublime,

Which human eyes may never more behold;

And let the guerdon of my labour be

My fallen country! One kind wish from thee!

– Henry Louis Vivian Derozio

Brief explanation (extended and updated on June 23. 2011)

In this poem, Derozio personifies India and talks to her in a monologue. Derozio talks about the glorious past of India. He tells her (while Derozio does not hint at what sex he personifies India as, I assume it to be a female because we always refer to a country as mother and in India we refer to our country as Bharat Mata (or mother India the diety)) that in her days of glory, she used to be regarded highly, worshipped  and was considered sacrosanct. But now (at the time of writing the poem) all this grandeur of hers is lost.

Derozio is evidently unhappy with the British rule in India and refers to the same in the line “The eagle pinion is chained down at last”, where eagle refers to India. It is believed that in early days of British rule, foreigners referred to India as the Golden Eagle or Golden bird as it was very rich and one of the largest producer of gold and diamonds. Foreign visitor were awed by the riches and hospitality that India offered.

However, the British rule and internal weaknesses brought the country slavery and demolished its pride and identity. This thought is clearly conveyed in the following line by Derozio: “And groveling in the lowly dust art thou”

There was an acute sense of hopelessness due to lack of freedom and stagnation in the standards of living. Derozio says that there is nothing more to write apart for the then current situation of the country (“no wreath to weave for thee, Save the sad story of thy misery“).

Therefore Derozio wishes to bring back / write about the past of India (“ages that have rolled”) by “diving into the depths of time” and bringing back its glory (“small fragments of those wrecks sublime”). This glorious past may be forgotten with time and people may never get to see or read about again (“Which human eyes may never more behold“).

As a reward for his labour, Derozio prays to his country to grant his wish i.e. return of the past glory and pride