Henry Louis Vivian Derozio is considered as the first Indian poet in English. Derozio’s humanitarian aspect in his poetry gave Indian poetry a new direction. His humane treatment of the distressed is vividly portrayed in the poem “The Orphan Girl”.
The Orphan Girl Summary
Henry Derozio’s “The Orphan Girl” recounts the plight of an infant girl who loses her father and later her mother and the uncertain fate of the orphan girl.
At the outset, the beauty of the girl is described and the death of her parents is informed. In the next stanza, the poet projects the unpredictable life of an orphan in a callous world.
The Orphan Girl Analysis
The first lines of the poem “The Orphan Girl” (1827) inform readers about the tone of the poem. The gloomy tone of the poem is shown by the girl’s description. Though she is young and lovely she seemed to have so many sorrows. She is a poor friendless girl in the unmerciful world.
The Girl’s appearance
The poet begins with a description of the beauty of the girl. The poet says that her hair is black as raven’s wings. Her cheek is as bright as tulip’s hue. Similar to the calm, soft, serene music of night winds her voice is soft. Her brow is fair as a moonbeam.
While describing the beauty of the girl the poet uses simile. A simile is a figure of speech that compares two different things based on similarity.
Here in the poem, the girl’s hair, cheek, voice, and brow are compared to that of raven’s wings, tulip’s hue, night winds, and moonbeam.
In each comparison, the things compared are different from each other. For instance, the girl’s hair and raven’s wings are both different things. However, despite the difference Derozio draws a similarity, and that is the color.
The color of the girl’s hair and raven’s wings are black. Based on this similarity he draws this comparison between the girl’s hair and raven’s wings.
Derozio uses similes in describing her physical attributes. For example, while describing the girl’s hair Derozio says her hair “was black as a raven’s wings”.
A simile is a figure of speech that draws a comparison between two different things by showing similarities between the things. Here the poet draws a comparison between the blackness of her hair and the black raven.
The Onset of miserable life
After the pleasant description of the beauty of the girl, the tone of the poem changes. The poet moves his description from a pleasant state to gloominess. After describing the beauty of the girl, the poet comes to talk about her father.
Her father joins the war, the reference to the beginning of the war is not clear in the poem. Irrespective of any war, the experience of a soldier is almost common and here the experience of her father is not different from other soldiers.
“The battle shock, the shout, and the scar” – the horrors of the battleground has a severe impact on him. He fights bravely in the war but unfortunately becomes a martyr.
Seeing the demise of her father, her mother can’t bear the pain as a widow in her heart. As a result, she does not live long. She too dies and leaves her child alone in the world.
The Plight of the orphan girl
In the second stanza of “The Orphan Girl” we see the unpredictable future of this orphan girl.
Derozio throws light on the hardship that the orphan girl faces. There is no friend in the world to provide a helping hand to the girl. There is no one to offer her shelter. Her life has turned into a dreary desert where she must travel alone. The wretched like her never a friend.
In such hard time where there is no one, she must need one thing to survive in life and that is food. Now the ‘virtue’s way’ in the poem could mean no stealing, no lying, etc. but under compulsion, the girl must break the ‘virtue’s way’.
However, if she takes the vicious path to survive in the cruel world the society is ready to lash at her with its criticism. The hail of harsh words is enough to break the morale of the orphan girl.
A crime in society is in a way a mistake of society and if anyone like the girl follows a wrong path, it is the failure of the society that the society has failed to guide the poor girl.
Society is silent when it sees the plight of the orphan girl and no help is provided in the hour of need. However, when it comes to judging the society will not step back from critiquing as it is the easiest thing to do.
The condition of the helpless girl is similar to another poem “An Orphan Girl” by Thomas Vaughan Jones. “An Orphan Girl” also expresses the tragic condition of an orphan girl.
The orphan girl in “An Orphan Girl” stands barefoot in a street of town with her ragged doll. She shivers in the winter’s biting cold. But nobody is there to offer a helping hand to that lone girl. Both orphan girls are helpless in the hand of time and society seems uncaring of their miseries.
Troubles in the life of orphan girl
This is the reality of the wretched in society. The orphan girl has to live her life. The shame is intense enough to hurt her breast. Here ‘breast’ could mean her femininity.
As she grows up, she will live with the burden of sorrow and guilt. Her shame of doing wrong will always remind her. It is brutal that the insensitive society around her will also wound her bosom.
The poet says that no tear could be brighter than the tear of such woman that flows from such a woman’s eyes who has failed to follow the standards of society and whose sorrows have never been listened to. The tears that a sorrowful woman sheds would be heartbreaking than any other tear.
At last, as we have seen in the Freedom to the Slave the poet praises the one who offers shelter to the orphan and protects her from sorrow and shame. His name should be glorified and honored.
The poet’s humanitarianism is suggested by his concern about the plight of the orphan girl. The poem throws light into the condition of orphan children especially girls who become a subject of society’s oppression and criticism.
- Naik, M.K. A History of Indian English Liteature. Sahitya Akademi, 2012.
- Poems of H.L.V Derozio. 1827. Pp. 29-30.