[Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) – Photograph by Fred Holland Day]
AG: The other poem of (Edward) Carpenter‘s we might as well do, while we’re on Carpenter, is “The Secret of Time and Satan”. The reason I brought him up is he’s one of the children of (Walt) Whitman and one of the people who applied Whitman’s method of realistic all-inclusiveness, notation in present time, empathy in space, empathy and sympathy going out in space to make notions in present time. (It’s) a more philosophical poem based on theosophical ideas. It has Whitman’s basic impetus and openness. It has his basic cosmic optimism – belief in transformation and transmigration (of souls). I guess Whitman is a little more tenuous. In this man, I think, it’s a very definite schematic idea of reincarnation. But the way he uses it is an uncanny idea. Where it arrives, at the end of this poem, is an amazing, rare, visionary trip – totally enthusiastic and totally personal. There is something about it that makes me think that it is true, (at the same time it’s totally impractical – but, on the other hand, (there’s) a kind of a heart-yearning in it that gives it a ring of deja-vu familiarity) – the final image (in) “The Secret of Time and Satan”
The opening lines are very witty in a Whitmanic manner – “Is there one in all the world who does not desire to be divinely beautiful?/To have the most perfect body – unerring skill/strtength – limpid clearness of mind, as of the sunlight over the hills -/To radiate love wherever he goes – to move in and/out, accepted?/ The secret lies close to you, so close./ You are that person – it lies close to you, so close -/ deep down within -/ But in Time it shall come forth and be revealed./ Not by accumulating riches, but by giving away what/ you have/Shall you become beautiful -/You must undo thr wrappings, not case yourself in fresh ones,/Not by multiplying knowledge shall you beautify your mind,/It is not the food that you eat that has to vivify/ you/ but you have to vivify the food./Always emergence, and the parting of veils for the hidden to appear” – That tone is a direct steal out of Whitman..
The line “Always emergence, and the parting of veils for the hidden to appear” is exactly Whitman’s tone and Whitman’s syntax – “Always emergence” – “Always new mothers approaching” –
Student: It sounds very Theosophical.
AG: Yes. Well, it is, yes. He was a..
Student: Otherwise, rather than from Whitman.
AG: Well, Whitman got his from Theosophy too
Student: He did?
AG: A bit.. yeah.. the same.. Actually, Edward Carpenter was the tutor to the sons of the Royal Family – Queen Victoria, I believe..
Student: When did.. do you have any dates for.. Oscar Wilde?
AG: No, I don’t have him in here [in the Expansive Poetics anthology].
Student: Because it’s sort of Dorian Gray..
AG: Well, they’re of the same time.
AG: They knew each other. They knew each other, probably.
Carpenter was a tutor in the Royal Family (I forget (to) exactly who), and had a very high position in British respectable society, and was considered a very deep and respectable, thoughtful fellow. Then he gave it up, actually, and wanted to chase a spiritual life, and went to America to visit Whitman (who was having a vogue in England at that time). Everybody recognized that Whitman had made a great signal of openness, everybody interpreting him in their own way – the Theosophists, as transmigration of souls, the Democrats, as the man who had formulated a high-class democratic poetry, and exemplified it, and proved it by his images, proved a common humanity (which is what Carpenter (was) getting (at)). People were sexually interested. He seemed to make a “primeval password” for the first time in public, approving any sexual situation – so (Charles Algernon) Swinburne was interested. Then, the people who believed in Oriental philosophy, or Theosophy, found in him the best Western statement (of their beliefs), equal to the Vedas, actually – “Thou Vedic Caesar” (“Vedic Caesar” was Hart Crane‘s phrase – King of the Vedas, Vedic Caesar) – And (Chogyam) Trunpa (Rinpoche) even – I read some Whiman to Trungpa and Trungpa said, “It sounds like sutras“, – as good as sutra – which is to say that expansive insight in sympathy into other sentient beings outside of your skull.
He was involved, I think, with Annie Besant and other people, but I think it was more of a radical socialist humanistic social shot. I think he was also in favor of the working man. So socialist-labor – labor-oriented
[Annie Besant (1847-1933)]
Student: (William Butler) Yeats a part of that (set)
AG: Yes. Gavin Arthur, who knew Carpenter, also knew Yeats and Maud Gonne. It’s a small group of people. [Allen continues reading from Carpenter] – “..The child emerges from it’s mother’s body, and out/ of that body again in time another child/When the body which thou now hast falls away,/another body shall be already prepared beneath,/And beneath that again another/Always that which appears last in time is first, and/ the cause of all – and not that which appears first” – So that’s a funny teleogical viewpoint – “Always that which appears last in time is first, and/ the cause of all – and not that which appears first” – [Allen continues, reading from Sections 2 and 3] – “Freedom has to be won afresh every morning”…”I tune the lute for thee, I prepare my body for thee/bathing unseen in the limpid waters..”…”Wondrous is Man – the human body – to understand/and possess this, to create it every day afresh is to possess all things”…”The eyes ordaining, directing, the feet and all that they indicate..” – that’s a Whitmanic word – “the feet and all that they indicate” – “..the path they travel for years and years,/The passions of the body and the belly, and the cry for/food, the heaving breasts of love, the phallus, the fleshy/thighs,/The erect proud head and neck, the sturdy back, and/knees well-knit or wavering..” – To mention the phallus, I guess, in 1889, must have been a big deal. Just to put that in as an artifact and as part of the body I think, probably, was very shocking then, just to include it as one of the instruments of the body with the belly and “The erect proud head and neck, the sturdy back, and/knees well-knit or wavering/All the interminable attitudes and what they indicate -/ Every relation of one man to another, every cringing/bullying, lustful, obscene, pure, honorable, chaste, just and merciful -/ The fingers differently shaped according as they/handle money for gain or for gift..” – (That’s a terrific line!)
AG: “The fingers differently shaped according as they/handle money for gain or for gift..” – that’s a really perceptive piece of karmic observation.
Student: What does he mean by that. I..
Student: I mean, it sounds like a continuation..
AG: A guy who is, say, handling money, in a bank, for gain, will have fingers that are…
Student: Turned in
AG:.. turned in (and they’re certainly not roughened by labor, with the cows, or iron pipes, or Broadway..)
Student: He could be talking about just tension too, almost (a)..
Student: Grasping attitude.
Student: Grasping hands.
Student: He’s talking about that
AG: He’s talking about physiognomy reflecting attitude.
AG: Which is tension.
AG: The next line is interesting too, from that. He’s introduced this idea – “All the different ramifications and institutions of/ society which proceed from such one difference in the crook/of a finger..” – which means, “won’t you come in, in? with a cruxed finger, won’t you come in the door?”, or “Woncha come in?” – ok – so.. “All the different ramifications and institutions of/ society which proceed from such one difference in the crook/of a finger/All that proceed from an arrogant or a slavish contour/ of the neck” – That’s a good one.
AG: That is, “all that proceed”, all the different consequences, ramifications, and institutions of society which “proceed from an arrogant or a slavish contour/ of the neck,/All the evil that goes forth from any part of a man’s/body which is not possessed by/ himself – all the devils let/loose – from a twist of the tongue or/a leer of the eye…”…”What it is to command and be/Master of this wondrous/body with all its passions and/powers, to truly possess it – that it/is to command and possess all/things, that it is to/ create.”
That’s a very Zen attitude, actually – the idea of becoming one with your body, possessing your body – a theme which you’ll find in Whitman and which you’ll find then spreading more and more and more in the twentieth century as a whole theory of society, with holistic medicine and what-not. But, in poetry, (it’s) D.H.Lawrence (who is) continually on that subject of possessing, being in control or possessing a body. (Arthur) Rimbaud, the next poet in this book (the Expansive Poetics anthology), ended his Season in Hell with the phrase – “Why talk of a friendly hand! My great advantage is that I can laugh at old lying loves and put to shame those deceitful couples, – I saw the hell of women back there, – and I shall be free to possess truth in one body and one soul” [in Louise Varese’s translation] – “in one soul and one body” [“Que parlais-je de main amie ! un bel avantage, c’est que je puis rire des vieilles amours mensongères, et frapper de honte ces couples menteurs, — j’ai vu l’enfer des femmes là-bas ; — et il me sera loisible de posséder la vérité dans une âme et un corps.] – Charles Olson in “Maximus” – “I feel that I am one with my skin” [ “I have this sense,/ that I am one/ with my skin”] (which is an interesting way of putting it) – “I feel that I am, at last, after all these years, one with my skin” – or Wallace Stevens [from “Esthetique du Mal”] – “The greatest poverty is not to live/ in a physical world, to feel that one’s desire/ Is too difficult to tell from despair”..(and) “..who could have thought to create so many worlds,/ so many sensuous selves,/ merely in living as where we live” [the exact quote is “…who could have thought to make/so many selves, so many sensuous worlds,/ As if the air, the midday air, was swarming/With the metaphysical changes that occur/Merely in living as and where we live”]
– So it’s actually akin to the Zen theory of “ordinary mind”, or the Zen idea-conception of “ordinary mind”, i.e. that the mind you have and the body you have, if worked with and accepted and entered into, becomes your possession, and then becomes sane and clear and lucid, (because there’s no confusion, (no) looking for another world). You’re in your body. But, then, some people don’t like it, so they’re looking for another (so that they’re awkward in their own body because (they’re) rejecting it).
Student: Isn’t there also the idea of the macrocosm and the microcosm?
Student: In the body is the universe.
AG: Um-hmm. Well, the body is the universe in a very direct way. It’s through your eyeballs that you see space. And if you don’t possess your eyeballs, then your view of space will be, like mine, myopic. It’s (through) your ears that you hear – your ears – the sounds of the universe, and if you’re going to hate your ears, then all you’re going to hear is bad noise, and so forth. In other words, since we see the universe through our senses, the macrocosm is a projection of our microcosmic body. Yes?
[Allen continues his reading of Edward Carpenter’s “The Secret of Time and Satan”] – “The art of creation, like every/other art, has to be/learnt/ Slowly, slowly, through many/years thou buildest up/thy body/ And the power that thou now hast/(such as it is) to/ build up this present body, thou/ hast acquired in the past in other/bodies,/So in the future shalt thou use again the power that/thou now acquirest./But the power to build up the/body includes all/powers./ Do not be dismayed because thou art yet a child of/chance, and atthe mercy greatly/both of Nature and fate,/Because if thou wert not subject/to chance, then/wouldst thou be Master of thyself,/but since thou art notyet Master of/thine own passions and powers, in/ that degree/must thou needs be at the mercy of/some other power -/ And if thou choosest to call the/power ‘Chance’, well/and good. It is the angel with whom thou hast to wrestle./ Beware how thou seekest this for/thyself and that for/thyself. i do not say Seek not, but Beware how thou/seekest./For a soldier who is going a/campaign does not seek/what fresh furniture he can carry on/his back, but rather/what he can leave behind,/Knowing well that every/ additional thing which he/cannot freely use and handle is an/impediment to him./ So if thou seekest fame or ease/or pleasure or aught/for thyself, the image of that thing/which thou seekest will/come and cling to thee – and thou/wilt have to carry it about…”
– Boy, that’s absolutely true – Absolutely! – because the last few weeks I’ve been sort of lusting after various people and getting into relations with them and then I’m finding that my mind is dominated by it now, practically. So that I can’t hardly make a move without having to consider “Let’s see, who am I going to fuck tonight?” or “Am I going to get laid?” – and, it’s a giant piece of furniture on my back, exactly as this. Yes
– “And the images and powers which/ thou hast thus/evoled will gather round and form/for thee a new body -/ clamoring for sustenance and/satisfaction -/And if thou art not able to/discard this image now,/thou wilt not be able to discard/that body then, but wilt/have to carry it about./ Beware then lest it become thy/grave and thy prison/ – instead of thy winged abode, and/palace of joy” – (Carpenter) sounds like (William) Blake there. And Carpenter would have known Blake, also, or known of Blake, because, being friends with Whitman, he would have known Whitman’s great friend in Philadelphia, Mrs Gilchrist (Anne Gilchrist), who was the wife, or the widow, of the first biographer of Blake (so there was oddly an intimate connection between Whitman and Blake, too).
Student: This sounds like a fairly direct connection to that little bit of Blake – “He who binds to himself a joy…
Student: …does the winged love destroy”
AG: Yeah. “He who binds to himself a joy”, or “He who binds a joy to himself” – “He who binds to himself a joy/Does the winged life destroy/ He who kisses the joy as it flies/ Live in eternity’s sun rise” [William Blake’s “Eternity’]
[Infant Joy – from “Songs of Innocence” (1789) – William Blake]
[Edward Carpenter, again] – ” …instead of thy winged abode,/and palace of joy./For (over and over again) there/is nothing that is/evil except because a man has not/mastery over it” – (that’s good (advice) about L.S.D. actually) – “For (over and over again) there/is nothing that is/evil except because a man has not/mastery over it, and there is no good/thng that is not evil if it have/mastery over a man…” – [Allen contines, reading on, until the end of the poem] – “And so at last I saw Satan appear/before me -/ magnificent, fully formed./Feet first, with shining limbs,/he glanced down from/above the bushes,/And stood there erect, dark-/skinned, wih nostrils/dilated with passion -/ (In the burning intolerable sunlight he stood, and I/in the shade of the bushes) – /Fierce and scathing the effluence/of his eyes, and/scornful of dreams and dreamers – (he/touched a rock hard/by and it split with a sound like/thunder) -/Fierce the magnetic influence of/his dusky flesh, his/great foot, well-formed, was planted/firm in the sand – with/spreading toes -/ ‘Come out’, he said with a taunt,/’Art thou afraid to/ meet me?’/ And I answered not, but sprang/upon him and/smote him,/ And he smote me a thousand times,/and bashed and/scorched and slew me as with hands/of flame,/ And I was glad, for my body lay/there dead, and I/sprang upon him again with/ another body -/ And with another and another and again another,/And the bodies which I took on yielded before him,/and were like cinctures of flame/upon me, but I flung them aside,/ And the pains which I endured in one body were/powers which I wielded in the next,/and I grew in strength,/ till at last I stood before him/complete, with a body like his/own and equal in mght – exultant in/pride and joy./ Then he ceased, and said, ‘I love/ thee.’/ And lo! his form changed, an he/leaned backwards/and drew me upon him,/And bore me up into the air, and/floated me over/the topmost trees and the ocean, and/round the curve of/the earth under the moon-/ Till we stood again in Paradise.” – So it really has a great visionary ending after all of that..talk.
[The Fall of Satan (1805) – William Blake (1757-1827) in the collection of the Morgan Library, New York]
AG: It’s a great poem, that last piece, I think.
Student: It’s…after the dissertation..it..finally..
AG: Yeah, takes off.
Student: … (from) some kind of poetry or something.
AG: Well, the dissertation is so smart it’s almost poetry. It’s good. That’s really rare. Some of these lines are almost as good, or equally as good, (as) some of the most perceptive lines of Whitman. And Whitman is a nonpareil – that is, there’s one and only Whitman, and yet, he had a friend who visited him, who picked up enough from him to write great lines. There is in this four-volume work (Towards Democracy) at least one totally good book of poetry. It’s worth looking at. And these two (“From Turin to Paris” and “The Secret of Time and Satan”) I’ve chosen because they’re the most moderne.
Student: So what happened to him?
AG: Oh, he lived to a very ripe old age in England and was one of the founders of the Socialist party and one of the encouragers of revolution and rebellion among the young. I think you can find a little picture of him in old age in Gavin Arthur‘s description.
He wound up living in a cottage with a nice garden (a good-sized cottage and well-kept), in the (19)20’s., with two young guys who were his lovers (one was something like twenty, or Gavin Arthur was twenty, and the next oldest guy was forty, and the next oldest guy was sixty, and then Carpenter was eighty when Gavin Arthur visited him. There was some kind of family arrangement that seemed to work out, balancing the ages, it’s a funny story). So, actually he lived out his fantasy, or he lived out his ambition. He wrote innumerable books. There’s a lot of books by him – the biography of Whitman – there are essays (he wrote a lot of Fabian.. Socialist essays, an Anarchist). He was involved in the movement for Arts and Crafts, (and hand-crafts) contrary to the Industrial Revolution.. Beyond that, I don’t know much. I haven’t read very much beyond it. I read a few essays, but it’s mostly his poetry that I really admire. And it’s so rare and unknown, it’s amazing! – I’ve been trying to get (Lawrence) Ferlinghetti (at City Lights) to do a “Selected” Carpenter, because there’s a lot of good little poems in it.
I’ll put these on reserve [Allen points to his editions of Carpenter]. I got them out today. I’ll put these on reserve (in the library) if you want to look at more Carpenter. And it would be interesting..
(Audio for the above is available here, beginning approximately two-and-a-half minutes in and concluding approximately twenty-five-and-a-half minutes in)