Poet-Hero: Edward Carpenter (August 29, 1844 – June 28, 1929)

Today is the birthday of one of my most beloved Poet-Heroes – Edward Carpenter.  As I wrote in a previous post, Carpenter was:

“a visionary poet who was also an early activist for gay rights, women’s rights, worker’s rights, animal rights, prison reform, economic reform, and many other progressive topics that made him very much ahead of his time.  His life with his partner, George Merrill (Merrill and Carpenter lived openly as a couple for over thirty years, until Carpenter’s death), was the inspiration for E.M. Forster’s novel Maurice.  And Carpenter was certainly a pagan mystic himself, as his opinions in Pagan and Christian Creeds and numerous other works clearly show.  I believe that Carpenter’s book-length poem Towards Democracy (a conscious imitation/homage to his hero Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass), is a woefully overlooked and marginalized masterpiece of late 19th-/early 20th-century English poetry.  My pocket-sized copy from 1921 (with a battered green cover and gold lettering), has a special place on my household shrine.”

I honestly can’t understand why Carpenter’s beautiful poems aren’t more widely known.  I’ve already posted one of my favorites, “The Lake of Beauty,” (which I use for  my daily Passage Meditation) but here are two more gems:

All Night Long
by Edward Carpenter

All night long in love, in the darkness, passing through your lips, my love—
Breathing the same breath, being folded in the same sleep, losing sense of Me and Thee,
Into empyreal regions, beloved of the gods, united, we ascend together.

Then in the morning on the high hill-side in the sun, looking down upon the spires of the larches and Scotch firs,
Mortal, we tread again the earthy floor.

O Earth, the floor of heaven—
O Sun, shining aloft in the sky so pure—
O children of the sun, ye flowers and streams, and little mortals walking the earth for a time—
And we too gazing for a time, for a time, for a time, into each other’s eyes.

The Central Calm
by Edward Carpenter

Drawing back for a moment from Time, and its superficial claims and conclusions,
Realising for a moment the artistic nature of the utterance of the Universe:
That all is for expression, and that for this end commencement and finale, first evolved and latest evolved, are equally important;
That Progress is a word which may be applied to any world-movement or individual career in the same sense as it may be applied to the performance of a musical work,
Which progresses to its final chord, yet the conclusion of the whole is not in the final chord, but in that which runs beneath and inspires the entire web—in that which from first to last the whole complex succession of chords and phrases indicates:
Realising this—
Realising—thus for a moment withdrawn—that there is no need to hurry, no need to dash against the bars;
But that Time itself rushing on with amazing swiftness in its vast and endless round, with suns and systems, ages and geologic epochs, races and tribes of beings, mineral, vegetable, animal, and ethereal, circle beyond circle, infallibly fulfills and gives utterance to the glorious whole:
Like one in the calm that is the centre of a cyclone—guarded by the very tornado around—
Undisturbed, yet having access equally to every side,
I drink of the deep well of rest and joy,
And sit with all the gods in Paradise.

Leave a comment


  1. Carnivalia

     /  August 29, 2012

    Lovely, thanks for sharing these, they’re both brilliant. While I like both, I like the first poem a bit more because it seems to flow effortlessly whereas the second one is concise and methodical. Blessings.

  2. I adore Edward Carpenter. Read his Pagan and Christian Creeds at a very formative time in my life. Didn’t really understand or appreciate it at the time, but it stuck with me, nagging and goading my thoughts to involve. Very important man who did very important work.

  3. I have known about Carpenter for a long time, but have not actually read him yet…and haven’t read much on him either, though I have Pagan and Christian Creeds (that I picked up in Michigan), as well as Toward Democracy (sitting under a copy of Leaves of Grass, as Carpenter may well have preferred!), just waiting to be dug into when I have a moment…and those are fewer than I’d prefer! 😉

    If I am not mistaken, George Cecil Ives considered Carpenter to be on a level nearly the same as that of Whitman, whom he considered a prophet for the Uranians of his day…

  4. I think you will absolutely *adore* Edward Carpenter! Let me know if you’d like some recommendations on where to start and what not to miss. Is he one of the Sancti?

    • With bells on, I believe! 😉

      (I think the only way he could move up, in certain respects, is if he wrote about Antinous at some point…do you know if he did? I haven’t read enough of him, obviously, to know that for sure…So, if you have info on this, I’d love to know it!)

      • Surprisingly, I haven’t yet seen a reference to Antinous in Edward Carpenter’s work (perhaps he thought his friend John Addington Symonds had Antinous covered?), but if I ever encounter one, I will definitely let you know!

        • Yes–Symonds has been a long-time Sanctus (since ’03, I think!), and he wrote a whole essay on Antinous in Sketches and Studies in Greece and Rome (if I am remembering the title correctly), as well as talking about him in “A Problem in Greek Ethics”; and, he also (if I recall correctly) wrote a whole poem on him that is somewhat lengthy, which I’ve never been able to get my hands on.

          • Ask and ye shall receive! I absolutely love John Addington Symonds, and I didn’t realize you hadn’t read his poem on Antinous, so I just posted “The Lotos-Garland of Antinous” for your reading pleasure! It’s very long and very typical of the 19th-century Uranians (which I happen to love, but it’s certainly an acquired taste), and I don’t think you’ll like the interpretation of Antinous sacrificing himself for Hadrian and the Empire, but there are also moments of great lyrical beauty and many, lush purple patches of deliciously decadent verse!

            • Cool! I’ll have a look, and probably post a link in the near future!

              I read about his poem in an interesting article called “The Most Famous Fairy in History” by Sarah Waters (of Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith fame), which is pretty good (though it gets some of its details about Antinous wrong), and details the Uranians and other late 19th/early 20th century literary treatments of Antinous. I can’t recall where that line “the most famous fairy in history” comes from, but it was said about Antinous in some book from that period…I almost want to say it was in Joyce, but I don’t think that’s quite right. I’ll have to revisit it in the near future…

              But yes, one of the reasons I hadn’t sought it out was because based on the article mentioned, it didn’t sound like it would particularly resonate with some of my own views on these matters, and that it also seemed (if I recall correctly) to have attempted to heterosexualize him a great deal. I don’t think “heterosexuality” (which, of course, didn’t exist then!…but, anyway…) was outside of the realm of possibility for him, particularly in the future and if he had lived to adulthood; he’d probably have gone on to get married, have children, and also have young lovers of his own one day. But, from what I heard about Symonds’ poem, it might have reflected some of his own struggles with these issues more than anything…He did have a rather tragic story in certain respects over his sexuality, which is unfortunate…but, so many at that time did.


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