The lasting poetry of Mary Carshore – once treasured, long forgotten and scarcely remembered.
Dead in Jhansi at the terribly young age of 28 – what could Mary Carshore have achieved had she been granted a chance to live? This of course is a question no one can answer – yet she did leave us with the ageless sound of her poetry – but who has ever heard of Mary Carshore?
“Songs of the East” is the only book she ever published in her lifetime, a small volume of her poems under the name of Mrs. W.S. Carshore. The second volume was published 14 years after her death and included works she had intended to compile into a second volume. As it was, this melancholy duty was left to her sister, who also wrote a profoundly sad biography for her much loved sibling to accompany the second publication. Mary herself appears to have had a sense of foreboding – on the 2nd of June she wrote to her friend , Annie Vansittart, that she had buried her writings under a pillar in her Jhansi garden, where there was an arbour of vines, under which she and her family used to sit in the evenings. She called her manuscript her “undying child.” Luck allowed the work to be found and comprises a part of the second “Songs of the East.”
Born in Calcutta on the 29th of April, 1829, Mary Jane Franklin Seyers was the daughter of Irish-Catholic parents – Thomas and Mary née Franklin, Seyers. Thomas Seyers, a painter in his own right, worked as an agent in the Opium Department. The family travelled around Bengal and the North-West Provinces for much of Mary’s childhood and eventually moving to Fatehpur, where she married William Samuel Carshore.
What we know of Mary, comes from her sister’s touching biography. She speaks of Mary as a clever woman with a talent for words, a fine eye for painting, and above all, even at the tender of age of eight,
“Her own thoughts were often express in verse. Once having accidentally crushed a worm, she thus apostrophized the unnecessary suffering she had caused it –
“Why keep it in torture, why keep it in pain
Can I not restore it to liberty again…”
What Mary saw of life was limited to the confines of home. Educated by her mother in all the skills a genteel middle class girl was expected to possess, her natural tenacity to learn honed her talents – she spent much of her free time painting, playing a guitar and composing her own songs, as well as writing poetry while later taking on the role of teacher to her younger siblings. A year spent in a convent school in Calcutta added the finishing touchs to her abilities and she blossomed into a “sweet girl.” Her sister found no fault in her older sibling, praising her love for her parents, and a truely kind and unselfish nature.
“Mary never acted without consulting them; never murmured at their commands; never allowed a haughty look or impatient gesture to escape her. No duty to them was ever neglected. Nothing that could give them pleasure was too hard a task.”
In 1850, Mary married William Carshore, 15 years her senior. He had been, until he married,
“very careless and extravagant, keeping fine horses, camels &c., and his house was a rendezvous for all bachelor acquaintances,; consequently, he was overwhelmed with debt, but within two years, Mary had cleared all.” Her sister then writes,“she certainly was proof that talented women need not of necessity be bad housekeepers!”
For Mary, India was the only country she ever knew – it was familiar and it was home. Her admiration for the Hindustani and Bengali songs she heard would lead her to translate some of them, even though her own grasp of Hindustani was not perfect, her husband – who was a talented linguist and her ayah helped her in the task.
Main na kaha ke na dil...O Heart did I not Tell Thee
O heart, did I not tell thee?
Beware of thee hereafter,
One day this smooth deceiver
Will mock thy tears with laughter.
Now pride can only steel thee,
And hope can ne'er restore thee
They peace, O heart! or heal thee;
And death alone can cure thee.
O sad heart, and foresaken,
Yet heed my latest warning,
As thou didst love the lover,
With scorn repay his scorning.
THE HEART'S REPLY
"To love when loved, is human,
"But in its generous blindness
The godlike heart of woman
"With love repays unkindness.
Her travels through India with her family and later with her husband, left a lasting impression on Mary. With her keen eye for detail, she wrote, of the Ganges island temple of Janguira near Sultanganj, as she must have seen it, in the rain.
“Rock of Jungeera! dark is thy brow,
Deep is the gloom that encircles thee now;
The mists of the tempest have shrouded thy height;
The dark clouds are mantling thy temples in night:
The storm sweeps above thee, the waters below,
But thou hast withstood them, invertate foe;
And canst withstand them triumphantly still,
Alone on thy mist-covered throne rugged hill.”
Much of Mary’s poetry was devoted to her family – her parents, friends, her husband and her children. She gives small glimpses into her life as she saw it, with the trials she had to face, and the hope with which she met her future.
Scarcely married a year, WIlliam Carshore was sent up for trial on a charge her sister would say was brought, “by the malice of a brother officer,” and Mary, pregnant, went home to her parents until his name was finally cleared, four months later. In “When Friends Look Cold,” she touches on a betrayal
“Then trust not friends of earth,
Who fly in time of care;
Who cleave to us in mirth
And leave us in despair.”
And her poem to her son, Clarence, touches on her worries.
To Clarence, One Month Old ( Verse 1-7 of 10)
My baby boy! the daylight flies
And leaves us sad and lonely;
The evening breeze that round us sighs,
Sighs round thee and me only.
There is one more who should be here,
Be he from us is parted;
Alas! they father had been near,
But cruel hearts have thwarted.
Dimly o'er thy cradled sleep
The vesper ray is playing;
While upon they slumbering cheek
Thy mother's tears are straying.
But little reck'st thou, baby boy!
Thy mother's burning tears;
Little reck'st thou, in thy infant joy,
The ills of future years.
Ah! precious little innocent,
Thou smilest in thy sleep;
As tho' on life's tossed element
There were no cause to weep.
Yet many cares now rack his breast,
Who yearns for thee my child,
And grief disturbs his troubled rest
With visions dark and wild.
And many a mile now intervenes
Betwixt thy sire and thee,
And he must thread thro' troubled scenes,
Away from me and thee.
Her sister writes that Mary was devoted to her children, keenly aware of their wants and wishes, never letting a cry go unattended, – but Clarence held a special place in her heart, her first born son. It was his death, at the age of 2 of croup, that left Mary in the depths of despair sitting by his “little corpse for two days without any nourisment or rest, and could not be persuaded he was dead.” The poem, “To Clarence in Heaven,” we can see Mary as a mother in grief.
“Too well I loved thee, woe for me!
Too well – too well, by far!
My erring soul’s idolatry,
Its heaven-eclipsing star!
Thy little cot is filled with one
Almost as fair as thee;
But like thee-“oh! there can be none,
Nor half as dear to me.”
But O! my vacant heart’s recess,
Its light what can restore?
Or what can cheer its loneliness,
Or fill it as before?
Mary would have 5 children in 7 years of marriage:
Arthur Chrisostom, born 1852
Clara, born 1854
Herbert, born 1856.
Her daughter Violet, born in 1855, seemed to have helped her come to terms with Clarence’s death.
To My Daughter Violet
To have seen thee, as I have seen thee,
Who could e'er thy charms forget;
To have loved thee, as I've loved thee
Darling little Violet.
Truly never, dreamed I ever,
So to love another yet;
But thou'st won me, and undone me
With thy jet eyes, Violet.
All they wiling and they smiling,
Round my heart have flung a net;
O'er it weaving, to it cleaving,
Pretty baby, Violet.
Ray like glancing, wave like dancing,
Wave were evening winds are met;
Sometimes darkling, sometimes sparkling,
Witching, fairy, Violet.
Tho' thou may be but a baby,
How thy sweetness haunts me yet.
In my bosom, like a blossom,
Knowing Mary’s temperment and her devotion to her children, it is her death her sister could not understand.
“How Mary stood this scene I cannot imagine, save that “Reason reeled, and grief went wild.” How she stood and uttered no cry, and sought no means of escape, unless she was bound, is to me a mystery, knowing her energetic, impulsive character, and her deep, tender love for her darlings..”
Her sister had read several accounts, all purporting to be true, of the killings at Jhansi, and the only one she seems to have found remotely plausible is the one “supposedly to have been written by a Baboo from Mr. Carshore’s office.” One can only imagine the horror of Mary’s family when reading of the Jhansi massacre and not even being spared the detail that small Arthur Chrisostom Carshore, had pleaded with his killers for his life. The distress such writings must have caused are beyond our comprehension. They would never know the absolute truth – and it is the same for us, 164 years later, we too can only sift our way through contradictory eyewitness accounts and pure fabrications, to arrive at the semblance of something our minds still are not able to fully understand.
Of Mary we have no better picture than that written by a grieving friend:
“..did you wish me to tell you how beautiful and talented she was, how wonderful her poetry, painting and music for one so untaught. Those who criticize her books should rather dwell on what such a talented woman might have become, with opportunities and education, than on what she was….She was one of those women we read of in books, but seldom see in real life – good, beautiful, talented and pious without cant.. She was very sensitive, and now that she is gone, I am sensitive for her – so pray let her goodness and beauty rise before you…Conjure up to your imagination a face very like that of the pictures of Lord Byron’s “Maid of Athens” extremely gentle, with the softest, darkest eyes, and let them plead if you feel tempted to be severe, or I may say just, and do not let them plead invain.”
Song of the Dying Love me not, love me not, for this spirit is flying, Fast, fast from this world, to the land of the blest; Let my name be forgot, ere you bury it - sighing In the grave, where you lay my sad ashes to rest. Love me not, love me not, for I'm summoned above, And it grieves me to part from your kindness and love; Disengage every thought from a life that's exhaling, From a frame that's dissolving, untwine every feeling. Weep me not, weep me not, grief is now unavailing, Resign what is fast from you silently stealing; Remove all your wealth from this crumbling fane, Lest heaped in its ruins, it buried remains. Yet love me, O! love me sweet friends! for I'm dying, Soon the green grass shall hide me, and cold earth shall lie Too deeply above me, and I shall be lying Too far in the earth, for your love to come nigh. Yes, love me sweet friends! for I grieve to depart Unloved and unmourned by one faithful heart. - Mrs. W.S. Carshore
Mary Carshore, her husband and her children are long resigned to their graves, their memories in the dust under a sky they called home. Her words remain to remind you, that there once were lives long ago, as meaningful as our own.
“Songs of the East” Mrs. W.S. Carshore, 1855, is available on Google Books
“Songs of the East” Mrs. W.S. Carshore, 1871, is available on Archive.org