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Ode to the Antiquities


Ode to an Antiquity

Henry Louis Vivian Derozio

Henry Louis Vivian Derozio was born on 18th April 1809 in Calcutta, India. He was given formal education at the Dhurumtollah Academy of David Drummond at Calcutta. He belonged to the Anglo-Indian community of India and his father had the ancestors of India and Portugal while his mother was English. His father served in J Scott and company in Calcutta, with his own house property and was also able to educate his children in private schools. Derozio had two brothers and one sister and very little is known about them. Derozio left school at the age of 14 as was the custom prevailing among his community at that time and joined the company his father worked for, as a clerk in the year 1823.

From the time he left school until his early death in 1831 he wrote a remarkable number of poems and also authored the famous poetry book “The Fakeer of Jungheera” which was published in the year 1828. The major influences in his life were his school where the school founder David Drummond, a Scottish man gave emphasis to classics of European heritage in his schooling of the children. He was also influenced by the rationalist philosophy of David Hume, Jeremy Bentham and Thomas Paine. By the age of twenty Derozio was well versed in the classics and philosophy of western intellectuals.

His expert writing style soon saw him as the sub-editor of the “India Gazette”, Editor of “Calcutta Gazette”, “The Bengal Annual” and “The Kaleidoscope” and he also contribute to the Literary Gazette. In the year 1826 he joined the Hindu college, Calcutta now known as Presidency College and worked as a teacher there till 1831. He taught English Literature and History and his method of teaching was unconventional. The college auditorium is named after him as “Derozio Hall”. Derozio aroused the interest of the students so much that in the year 1828 they formed a Literary and debating club known as Academic Association. The success enjoyed by the Academic Association paved way for many such associations to be formed in the city. Derozio was member in many such associations and was very active.

Derozio’s teaching had a critical outlook and his students learned to reason out everything and denounced everything that can not be reasoned. Since derozio openly denounced the Hindu religion, his teachings created trouble for him in the college which was dominantly managed by conservative Hindus and most of the students also came from orthodox Hindu families. He was dismissed from the college in April 1831 and this gave him more freedom to express his ideas. His students kept touch with him and followed his radical ideas.

Derozio worked hard in promoting his Anglo Indian community and after leaving the college job, he founded the English News Paper “The East Indian”. Through this medium he helped even his Hindu students to express their radical ideas. Following his example, Krishna Mohan Banerji established the English weekly “The Enquirer” in May 1831 and Dakshinaranjan Mukherji and Rasik Krishna Mallick started publishing a Bengali Newspaper “The Jnananvesan” which was later published in English also. Encouraged by Derozio’s guidance and ideas these young radicals launched a bitter attack on Hindu conservatism.

Derozio also wrote in the pseudonym of “Juvenis”. Derozio wrote many of his works when he was enjoying the hospitality of his mother’s sister and her husband Johnson in Bhaugalpore.

Derozio died of Cholera on 26th December 1831 and although the sudden death of the young scholar was a shock to the radicals, his spirit of enlightenment inspired the future generations and had a definite impact on the outlook of the Bengali Hindu community.

Works of the Poet

To My Native Land

My country! In thy days of glory past
A beauteous halo circled round thy brow
and worshipped as a deity thou wast—
Where is thy glory, where the reverence now?
Thy eagle pinion is chained down at last,
And grovelling 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 these wrecks sublime
Which human eye may never more behold
And let the guerdon of my labour be,
My fallen country! One kind wish for thee!

The Harp Of India

Why hang’st thou lonely on yon withered bough?
Unstrung for ever, must thou there remain;
Thy music once was sweet — who hears it now?
Why doth the breeze sigh over thee in vain?
Silence hath bound thee with her fatal chain;
Neglected, mute, and desolate art thou,
Like ruined monument on desert plain:
O! many a hand more worthy far than mine
Once thy harmonious chords to sweetness gave,
And many a wreath for them did Fame entwine
Of flowers still blooming on the minstrel’s grave:
Those hands are cold — but if thy notes divine
May be by mortal wakened once again,
Harp of my country, let me strike the strain!

Going Into Darkness

“It is that hour when dusky night

Comes gathering o’re departing light,

When hue by hue and ray by ray,

Thine eye may watch it waste away,

Until thou canst no more behold

The faded tints of pallid gold

And soft descended the shades of night,

As did those hues so purely bright;

And in the blue sky, star by star,

Shines out, like happiness afar;

A wilderness of worlds! – To well

In one, with those we have loved well

Where bliss indeed! – The waters flow

Gurgling, in darkest hue below,

And ‘gainst the shore the ripple breaks

As from its cave, the east wind wakes,

But lo! where Dian’s crest on high appears,

Faint as the memory of departing years.


The moon is gone; and thus go those we love;

The night winds wail; and thus for them we mourn;

The stars look down; thus spirits from above

Hallow the mourners’ tears upon the urn.

Some thoughts are all of joy, and some of love;

Mine end in tears – they’re welcome – let them flow

……………………………… We look around,

But vainly look for those who formed a part

Of us, as we of them, and whom we wore

Like gems in bezels, in the heart’s deep core.

Where are they now? – gone to that “narrow cell”

Whose gloom no lamp hath broken, nor shall break

Whose secrets never spirit come to tell: –

Oh that their day might dawn, for them they would awake


A Walk By Moonlight

Last night — it was a lovely night,
And I was very blest —
Shall it not be for Memory
A happy spot to rest?Yes; there are in the backward past
Soft hours to which we turn —
Hours which, at distance, mildly shine,
Shine on, but never burn.And some of these but yesternight
Across my path were thrown,
Which made my heart so very light,
I think it could have flown.

I had been out to see a friend
With whom I others saw:
Like minds to like minds ever tend —
An universal law.

And when we were returning home,
“Come who will walk with me,
A little way”, I said, and lo!
I straight was joined by three:

Three whom I loved — two had high thoughts
And were, in age, my peers;
And one was young, but oh! endeared
As much as youth endears.

The moon stood silent in the sky,
And looked upon our earth:
The clouds divided, passing by,
In homage to her worth.

There was a dance among the leaves
Rejoicing at her power,
Who robes for them of silver weaves
Within one mystic hour.

There was a song among the winds,
Hymning her influence —
That low-breathed minstrelsy which binds
The soul to thought intense.

And there was something in the night
That with its magic wound us;
For we — oh! we not only saw,
But felt the moonlight around us.

How vague are all the mysteries
Which bind us to our earth;
How far they send into the heart
Their tones of holy mirth;

How lovely are the phantoms dim
Which bless that better sight,
That man enjoys when proud he stands
In his own spirit’s light;

When, like a thing that is not ours.
This earthliness goes by,
And we behold the spiritualness
Of all that cannot die.

‘Tis then we understand the voice
Which in the night-wind sings,
And feel the mystic melody
Played on the forest’s strings.

The silken language of the stars
Becomes the tongue we speak,
And then we read the sympathy
That pales the young moon’s cheek.

The inward eye is open then
To glories, which in dreams
Visit the sleeper’s couch, in robes
Woven of the rainbow’s beams.

I bless my nature that I am
Allied to all the bliss,
Which other worlds we’re told afford,
But which I find in this.

My heart is bettered when I feel
That even this human heart
To all around is gently bound,
And forms of all a part;

That, cold and lifeless as they seem,
The flowers, the stars, the sky
Have more than common minds may deem
To stir our sympathy.

Oh! in such moments can I crush
The grass beneath my feet?
Ah no; the grass has then a voice,
Its heart — I hear it beat.

Song Of The Hindustanee Minstrel

With surmah tinge the black eye’s fringe,
‘Twill sparkle like a star;
With roses dress each raven tress,
My only loved Dildar!II
Dildar! There’s many a valued pearl
In richest Oman’s sea;
But none, my fair Cashmerian girl!
O! none can rival thee.III
In Busrah there is many a rose
Which many a maid may seek,
But who shall find a flower which blows
Like that upon thy cheek?

In verdant realms, ‘neath sunny skies,
With witching minstrelsy,
We’ll favour find in all young eyes,
And all shall welcome thee.

Around us now there’s but the night,
The heaven alone above;
But soon we’ll dwell in cities bright,
Then cheer thee, cheer thee, love!

The heart eternally is blest
Where hope eternal springs;
Then hush thy sorrows all to rest,
We’ll treat the courts of kings.

In palace halls our strains we’ll raise,
There all our songs shall flow;
Come cheer thee, sweet! for better days
Shall dawn upon our woe.

Nay weep not, love! thou shouldst not weep,
The world is all our home;
Life’s watch together we shall keep,
We’ll love where’er we roam.

Like birds from land to land we’ll range,
And with our sweet sitar,
Our hearts the same, though worlds may change,
We’ll live, and love, Dildar!

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