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Durable Link to this BlogSunday, September 15, 2013

Remembering Rose Aylmer

My friend Dr. Shrivatsa Desai, is son of late. Dr. P.B. Desai distinguished historian and my Guru as well. Dr. Shrivatsa is an leading ophthalmologist settled in Doncastor UK. He has flair for writing in Kannada and is good at limericks. The other day he called and e-mailed Kannada translation of a short lyric of Walter Savage Lander, which was a tribute to his Sweet Heart of a short duration, Rose Aylmer by name, who died at the tender age of twenty.

Rose Whitworth Aylmer! The name suddenly took me back to my Calcutta days (1977-1980). I was transferred there while working for All India Radio, and had gone to Old Park Street cemetery which is full of memorial stones which narrate stories of unsung heroes. There were graves of scholars, administrators, sailors, warriors, judges, teenagers, young kids and housewives, who contributed their mite in building British Empire. They were instrumental in building a lasting Indo-British Culture. Most of them died due to cholera, smallpox and other tropical ailments for which there was no cure or medicine in those days.

The most impressive monument at that place was and perhaps still is, that of Sir William Jones (1746-1794) who came to India as judge of the high-court and was the first among Orientalists, who introduced India's rich literary heritage to the West. A few yards across Jones's towering monument, lay Rose Aylmer whose marble tomb had pretty decoration of dainty roses. The lines on her grave read, "To the Memory of the Honourable Rose Whitworth Aylmer Who departed this life March 2nd 1800 aged 20 years" On that tomb also were lines of literary importance, a rare elegy by an English Poet of fame, Walter Savage Landor (1775-1880?) by name. It was dedicated to the young lass whom he had befriended for a short while and who disappeared suddenly but who nevertheless kindled his poetic genius in no small measure.

 The lines read-
 Ah! What avails the sceptered race?  
 Ah! What the form divine, 
 What every virtue, every grace,
 Rose Aylmer, all were thine 
 Rose Aylmer whom these waterful eyes
 May weep, but never see
 A night of memories and sighs
 I consecrate to thee

In just eight lines, Landor is able to depict Rose's royal heritage, her beauty, virtue and grace which all went in vain. The poet in utter despair dedicates a night of memories and signs with tearful eyes to her memory. Dr. Shrivatsa, who had lost his beloved wife recently fell for the last four lines, adding only 's' for "night" in translation and could relate to the poet's sentiments better. His rendering of Landor's lines into Kannada sound natural and equally touching. He has only replaced lotus (padma) the Indian National Flower for Rose, falling in line with B.M.Sri the doyen among modern Kannada poets who had introduced some world famous English lyrics in Kannada in 1920's. Landor's Tribute was one of them.


Daughter of an English baron, Rose Aylmer lost her father early and was living with her mother and sister in a town in South Wales, when Walter Landor met her. Fresh from college, he was only twenty one and Rose was sweet seventeen. The budding poet was drawn by her grace and vivaciousness. They must have met and exchanged letters, which are not forthcoming.

Soon after, Rose Aylmer proceeded to India with her relatives, to visit her aunt, wife of Sir Henry Russel, judge of the supreme court of Calcutta. Rose suddenly died of an attack of cholera and had to be interned in Calcutta only. The news must have reached Landor quite late, as the distance and journey time were very long. But his outpourings have become immortal, drawing attention of writers and poets like Wardsworth and Yates. . . Charles Lamb exclaimed.

"It is for Rose Aylmer, which has a charm. I cannot explain. . . . I lived upon it for weeks"

Amma's Column by Jyotsna Kamat

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Jyotsna Kamat

Jyotsna Kamat Ph.D. lives in Bangalore.


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