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.

The Lake of Beauty

This post was inspired by the always-amazing T. Thorn Coyle, whose powerful and empowering book, Evolutionary Witchcraft, is one of those life-changing books I wish had been around years ago when I was a baby pagan (it would have saved me so much time).  It’s one of those books that will be enlightening and transformative to you regardless of your particular path(s) or tradition(s), and is of great value to both the wide-eyed newcomer and the experienced adept.  I cannot recommend it highly enough!

Today Thorn wrote a wonderful post entitled Lessons from the Lake.  The idea of learning from the lake, cultivating stillness, and finding love and the presence of divinity in all things, particularly resonated with me today. I was immediately reminded of one of my favorite poems, which I shared with Thorn in the comments to that post and which I would now like to share with you.

I have actually memorized this poem and use it as part of my daily practice of Passage Meditation (a topic for another post).  It was written by one of my poet-heroes, Edward Carpenter (1844-1929), 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.

So without further ado, here is the poem:

The Lake of Beauty
by Edward Carpenter

Let your mind be quiet, realising the beauty of the world, and the immense, the boundless treasures that it holds in store.
All that you have within you, all that your heart desires, all that your Nature so specially fits you for – that or the counterpart of it waits embedded in the great Whole, for you. It will surely come to you.
Yet equally surely not one moment before its appointed time will it come. All your crying and fever and reaching out of hands will make no difference.

Therefore do not begin that game at all.
Do not recklessly spill the waters of your mind in this direction and in that, lest you become like a spring lost and dissipated in the desert.
But draw them together into a little compass, and hold them still, so still;
And let them become clear, so clear – so limpid, so mirror-like;
At last the mountains and the sky shall glass themselves in peaceful beauty,
And the antelope shall descend to drink, and to gaze at his reflected image, and the lion to quench his thirst,
And Love himself shall come and bend over, and catch his own likeness in you.

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