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The Orphan Girl by Henry Derozio

“The Orphan Girl” is an 1827 poem from the treasure of Indian Writing in English. The poet of this piece, Henry Louis Vivian Derozio shows his sympathy toward an orphan girl’s lot. The girl’s orphaned pangs get featured in this heart-touching poem. Through his words, Derozio provides a pictorial representation of a child’s hapless face, her loneliness, and her struggle in the face of odds. This poem was first published in Derozio’s poetry collection Poems (1827).

  • Read the full text of “The Orphan Girl” here along with the analysis section.
Analysis of The Orphan Girl by Henry Derozio


Summary

“The Orphan Girl” is a story about a girl’s lonely struggle after losing both her parents. This poem has a story-like structure. It begins with a prologue where Derozio introduces the unfortunate character of the girl.

In the following stanza, he describes how the innocent girl looks. She had black hair, a red cheek, a soft voice, and a fair visage. This description of the girl portrays how innocent and noble the girl was. His father died in a war and her mother died of the pain of her husband’s death. It made the infant parentless.

The last stanza of the poem starts telling about what happened to the girl afterward. She was all alone. There was none to shelter her. Society did not even sympathize with the condition of the girl. People criticized her if she strayed from the accepted norms. After describing her condition, Derozio says that it is inhumane to hurt such a poor girl if she made a mistake. He wishes that some generous person may shelter her from sorrow and shame.

Structure & Form

“The Orphan Girl” consists of three stanzas. The first section acts as an introductory part. In the following stanzas, Derozio tells readers the sad story of the orphan girl.

This poem is written in a regular rhyme scheme. The first stanza does not have a rhyme scheme as such. The first two lines rhyme imperfectly. While the following stanzas contain a set rhyming pattern. The first four lines of the second stanza contain the ABAB rhyme scheme. While the following lines are written in the rhyming couplet form. So, the overall rhyme scheme of the first stanza is ABABCCDDEEFF. The second stanza contains the same AABB rhyming pattern.

Regarding the meter, the overall poem is mostly composed of the iambic tetrameter. It means, on average, there are four iambic beats (daa-dum) per line. Readers can also find a few metrical variations in the text.

Poetic Devices

Derozio makes use of the following poetic devices in order to make the story of the girl more appealing to readers.

  • Alliteration: It occurs in “yet young”, “Her hair”, “glorious grave”, “She sunk”, “dreary desert”, etc. Derozio uses this device to create internal rhymings.
  • Personification: It occurs in the “unpitying world” and “when night winds sing”. Here, the poet personifies the inanimate ideas such as the “world” and “night winds”.
  • Simile: The poet uses a simile to describe girl hair, cheek, voice, and brow in the first four lines of the second stanza. For example, he compares the girl’s hair to “a raven’s wing” and her brow to “moonbeam”.
  • Metaphor: In the line “Her cheek the tulip’s hue did wear”, Derozio compares the girl’s red cheeks to the hue of a tulip. By the phrase “guerdon of the brave”, he makes an implicit comparison between death and the reward of bravery.
  • Enjambment: It occurs throughout the poem. Derozio uses this device to create tension between the transition of lines. For example, the line “She sunk beneath her soul’s distress” makes one quickly read the next line “And left her infant parentless” for grasping the overall idea.
  • Irony: It occurs in the line “Such is the guerdon of the brave!”. Here, the poet sarcastically says that death is the ultimate reward of bravery. Literally, it is not a reward, but an unrecognized punishment.
  • Hyperbole: Derozio uses this device in “Marked for much woe in this unpitying world!” He tries to emphasize the suffering of the girl by using the hyperbolic expression “much woe”. It also occurs in “No tear is so bright as the tear that flows”.
  • Rhetorical Exclamation: This device is used in a number of instances. For example, “For alas! The wretched have never a friend!” contains this device. It is used here to emphasize the girl’s friendless, lonely life.


Line-by-Line Explanation & Critical Analysis

Stanza One

   She was yet young and fair–but oh she seemed

   Marked for much woe in this unpitying world!

   Poor friendless wanderer!—

Derozio’s poem “The Orphan Child” begins with a three-line stanza. It introduces the main character of the poem. In this stanza, the poet gives a hint to the girl’s impending tragedy. Besides, the title also serves a similar purpose. It tells readers that the poem is going to talk about the predicament of the girl after losing her parents.

In these lines, the poet refers to the age and looks of the little girl. One could not anticipate what was waiting for her in the future by merely looking at her innocent face. According to the poet, she seemed to be destined for many woes in this world. He refers to the people living in this world as “unpitying”. They don’t have any sympathy for an orphan kid like her.

The third line refers to the girl as a “poor friendless wanderer”. In this line, Derozio uses an exclamation in order to show his sympathy for the child’s fate.

Stanza Two

Lines 1-4

Her hair was black as a raven’s wing,

   Her cheek the tulip’s hue did wear,

Her voice was soft as when night winds sing,

   Her brow as a moonbeam fair;

The main story begins in this stanza. In the first few lines, Derozio describes the child’s looks. According to him, her black hair was similar to the wings of a raven. Her cheek is reddish just like the tulip flower. Here, the “tulip” acts as a symbol of innocence. It hints at the innocence of the girl.

Her voice has the softness of night winds and her brow is as fair as the moonlight. In this way, the poet seeks elements from nature in order to describe the childish beauty of the orphan girl.

All the lines from this section begin with the word “Her”. It is an example of anaphora. This device is used for connecting the ideas of the speaker.

Lines 5-8

Her sire had joined the wake of war;–

The battle-shock, the shout, and scar

He knew, and gained a glorious grave–

Such is the guerdon of the brave!–

In these lines, Derozio describes how her father died. The term “sire” is an archaic term for “father”. According to the poet, her father went to war. Though he was aware of the outcome of the war, he still went there. The terms “battle-shock” and “scar” refer to the impact of war. While the word “shout” resonates with the noise of war.

The child’s father died on the battlefield and gained a “glorious” grave. Here, “glorious” is used in its ironic sense. Derozio does not want to glorify the outcome of the war. He rather criticizes it by using this lofty term and ties it with the idea of death. In the following, he further satirizes the reward a soldier gets in return for his contribution to the nation. According to him, they just get the “guerdon of the grave”. “Guerdon” means a reward or recompense. The poet uses the theme of the futility of war in these lines.

Lines 9-12

Her anguished mother’s suffering heart

Could not endure a widow’s part;

She sunk beneath her soul’s distress,

And left her infant parentless.–

Her father’s untimely death at war made her mother extremely sorrowful. She could not bear the pain of losing her husband. Besides, it was very difficult for her to play a “widow’s part”. Gradually, she sank beneath her soul’s distress. Here, Derozio metaphorically compares “distress” to a sea. Finally, she died of her heartache. In this way, the child lost both her parents. She could even imagine that things would change so fast. All of sudden her little world shattered into pieces and she was at a loss. 

Stanza Three

Lines 1-4

   She hath no friend on this cold, bleak earth,

To give her shelter, a home and a hearth;

Through life’s dreary desert alone she must wend,

For alas! the wretched have never a friend!

The third stanza of “The Orphan Girl” deals with what happened with the child after the tragedy. In the first four lines of this stanza, the poet talks about how lonely the girl was. She had no friend to comfort her during her hard times. Besides, the world around her appeared as cold and bleak as a winter landscape. The term “cold” is a reference to the lack of compassion and passivity of others toward the poor girl. “Bleak” hints at the idea of hopelessness.

There was no one to shelter the child. Derozio uses the term “home” and “hearth” as a symbol. The first term symbolizes love and the second one is a symbol of warmth and comfort. By using these symbols, the poet tries to say that there is nobody to love or care for the girl.

Her life turned into a “dreary desert”. She had to wend alone. In the fourth line, the poet uses a rhetorical exclamation to repeat the idea of the first line. Here, the poetic persona says that as the girl never had a friend, she had to walk alone, in the lonely desert of her life. The “desert” is a symbol of hopelessness as well as loneliness.

Lines 5-8

And should she stray from virtue’s way,

The world will scorn, and its scorn can slay.

Ah! shame hath enough to wring the breast

With a weight of sorrow and guilt oppress’d;

In these lines, Derozio specifically comments on the attitude of society toward an unfortunate girl like her. According to the poet, people were just waiting to point out her mistakes. They did not care about her condition or how lonely she was. What mattered to them the most was the mistakes of the girl. If she went astray from “virtue’s way”, they would come with their scathing words to demean and blow off the girl’s dim-lit confidence.

They would scorn and their scornful words could “slay” her soul. Here, the poet compares their criticism to a sword metaphorically. The former hurts one’s mind while the other hurts one externally. But, the effect is more or less similar. The criticism of society makes it difficult to even breathe. From this perspective, the sword is better than the harsh words of hypocrites. The scars they cause are invisible, yet they pain one’s soul deep.

According to the poet, they did not have shame to wring the breast of the orphan girl with “a weight of sorrow and guilt”. It means their harsh words increased the burden on her heart and intensified her suffering.

Lines 9-12

But oh! ’tis coldly cruel to wound

The bosom whose blood must gush unbound.

No tear is so bright as the tear that flows

For erring woman’s unpitied woes;

In these lines, Derozio says that it is “coldly cruel” to wound the girl mentally. Here, the term “cold” refers to the passivity of society towards the girl’s suffering. Their cruelty wounded the girl. They did not care about the age of the girl. The girl, who should play and run in an unbound manner, was burdened with oppression.

According to the poet, the sorrow of the girl is unmatchable. Her grief originates from “unpitied woes”. Through this line, the poet tries to say that society did not forgive her for her errors. They kept on criticizing the girl and remained unsympathetic to her woes.

Lines 13-14

And blest be for ever his honored name

Who shelters an orphan from sorrow and shame!

The last two lines reflect the poet’s sympathy for the girl. He refers to an honored man who, he thinks, may shelter the orphan from her “sorrow and shame”. His blessing is showered on that generous person who does so. Here, sheltering the girl from “sorrow” and “shame” means comforting the girl with love and protecting her from the hypocritical society. In this way, Derozio remains hopeful regarding the future of the child. Besides, the concluding section of this poem resembles that of his poem “Freedom to the Slave”. It also ends on a similar note.

Themes

In “The Orphan Girl”, Derozio taps on the theme of the sorrow and suffering of an orphan child. This poem also showcases the themes of the futility of war, distress, the hypocrisy of society, and loneliness. The main idea of Derozio’s poem concerns the predicament of a girl after losing both her parents. In the first few lines, the poet implicitly says that none could anticipate that such a tragedy could happen with her. However, when she was all alone, hypocritical society came with their criticizing words. They taunted her at each step that caused her to suffer internally. Through this poem, the poet’s sympathy for the helpless and unfortunate girl is portrayed.

Imagery

Derozio uses the following types of imagery in this poem.

  • Visual Imagery: In the first few lines, the poet uses visual imagery in order to depict the girl’s looks.
  • Auditory Imagery: The line “Her voice was as soft as when night winds sing” contains auditory imagery of the soft sound of the night wind. In “The battle-shock, the shout, and scar”, Derozio uses the term “shout” in order to describe the noise on the battlefield.
  • Tactile Imagery: By this line “She hath no friend on this cold, bleak earth”, the poet refers to the chilling atmosphere during winter and its impact on the child. It is an example of a tactile image.
  • Organic Imagery: This type of imagery is used throughout the poem to convey the emotions (such as grief, loneliness, and guilt) of the child to the readers.


Historical Context

“The Orphan Girl” was written in March 1827. It was published in Derozio’s first poetry collection Poems (1827). This poem closely resembles the theme of romantic works. The romantic poets (such as William Wordsworth) and essayists (for instance, Charles Lamb) were sympathetic towards the poor section of society. They showed their concern for the people in distress. Similarly, in this poem, Derozio reflects on the plight of an orphan girl. He is optimistic concerning the better future of the child. Besides, Derozio was an Anglo-Indian poet who was considered one of the precursors of the Bengal Renaissance.

Questions & Answers

How does the poet describe the orphan girl?

In the first stanza, the poet describes the girl as young and fair. He says that she was marked for many woes in this world. Then, he goes on to describe her innocent looks in the second stanza. According to him, her hair is as black as a raven’s wing, her cheek resembles the hue of a tulip, her voice’s softness reflects the sound of the night wind, and her face is as fair as the moonlight.

Is “The Orphan Girl” a nationalist poem?

It can be appreciated as a nationalist poem. However, the main story deals with an orphan girl’s predicament in an orthodox society. This girl can be taken as a symbol of India whose fate is similar to that of the orphan girl. The poet is hopefully regarding the girl’s future in the end. Possibly, he is hinting at his country’s freedom.

What is the theme of the poem “The Orphan Girl”?

The main theme of this poem concerns the life and struggle of an orphan. It also taps on the themes of the futility of war, suffering, lamentation, orthodoxy, compassion, and humanity.

How was the hair of the orphan girl?

The girl’s hair is compared to the black wing of a raven (a large heavily built crow).

How did the orphan girl lose her father?

In the poem, the girl lost her father in a war.

How did the orphan girl’s mother die?

The mother of the orphan girl died of depression and sorrow. She could not bear the pain of losing her husband.

What is the meaning of the phrase “She sunk beneath her soul’s distress”?

This line means that the orphan girl’s mother sank in her mental pain as a person drowns in the sea. Here, the inability to bear the distress of her husband made her sink in agony and pain. At last, she died.

What is the message of “The Orphan Girl”?

Through this poem, Derozio emphasizes the importance of kindness and sympathy in the world. In the last two lines, he blesses the person who shelters the orphan girl out of compassion and sympathy. Such simple acts of kindness keep the spirit of humanity alive.


External Resources


Explore More Derozio Poems

  • “Freedom to the Slave”
  • “To India – My Native Land”
  • “The Harp of India”
  • “A Walk By Moonlight”
  • “Song of the Hindoostani Minstrel”

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