AIR MECHANIC 3RD CLASS ARTHUR GEORGE CHARLES GROSS GROSS
ROYAL AIR FORCE
18TH JUNE 1918 AGE 19
BURIED: BOYNTON ST ANDREW CHURCHYARD, SUFFOLK, UK
This wonderful metaphor for death comes from the last two lines of The Light of Asia, Sir Edwin Arnold's long narrative poem, first published in 1879, which introduced Western readers to the philosophy of Buddhism. The words appear twice in Book 8:
Never shall yearnings torture, nor sins
Stain him, nor ache of earthly joys and woes
Invade his safe eternal peace, nor deaths
And Lives recur. He goes
Unto Nirvana! He is one with life
Yet lives not. He is blest, ceasing to be.
Om, Mani Padme, Om! the Dewdrop slips
Int the shining sea.
Arnold's words have a distinct echo of Shelley's Adonais:
He has outsoar'd the shadow of our night;
Envy and calumny and hate and pain,
And that unrest which men miscall delight,
Can touch him not and torture not again;
From the contagion of the world's slow stain
He is secure, and now can never mourn
A heart grown cold, a head grown gray in vain;'
Gross's precise inscription appears in the last two lines of the poem:
The dew is on the lotus! - Rise, Great Sun!
And lift my leaf and mix me with the wave.
Om Mani Padme Hum, the sunrise comes!
The Dewdrop Slips into The Shining Sea!
'Om mani padme hum', is a Bhuddist mantra which cannot really be translated into English since it is hardly more than a transformative, meditative collection of sound syllables all intended to bring the speaker closer to the way of the Bhudda. Arnold himself had spent some years in India and was keen to introduce Bhuddist philosophy to the Western world.
Arthur Gross died in hospital in Hounslow. At the time of his death he was an Air Mechanic Third Class at the Armament School in Uxbridge. I have been unable to discover whether the cause of death was accident or illness. His body was taken back home to Suffolk where he is buried in St Andrew's churchyard, Boynton. His father, Dr Charles Gross, chose his inscription, did he just like the words or was he interested in Bhuddism? Whichever, it's an interesting inscription in an English churchyard.