Poems by Edward Carpenter

Summer Heat

Summer Heat
by Edward Carpenter

Sun burning down on back and loins, penetrating the skin, bathing their flanks in sweat,
Where they lie naked on the warm ground, and the ferns arch over them,
Out in the woods, and the sweet scent of fir-needles
Blends with the fragrant nearness of their bodies;

In-armed together, murmuring, talking,
Drunk with wine of Eros’ lips,
Hourlong, while the great wind rushes in the branches,
And the blue above lies deep beyond the fern-fronds and fir-tips;

Till, with the midday sun, fierce scorching, smiting,
Up from their woodland lair they leap, and smite,
And strike with wands, and wrestle, and bruise each other,
In savage play and amorous despite.

Love’s Vision

Love’s Vision
by Edward Carpenter

At night in each other’s arms,
Content, overjoyed, resting deep deep down in the darkness,
Lo! the heavens opened and He appeared–
Whom no mortal eye may see,
Whom no eye clouded with Care,
Whom none who seeks after this or that, whom none who has not escaped from self.

There–in the region of Equality, in the world of Freedom no longer limited,
Standing as a lofty peak in heaven above the clouds,
From below hidden, yet to all who pass into that region most clearly visible–
He the Eternal appeared.

To a Stranger

To a Stranger
by Edward Carpenter

O faithful eyes, day after day as I see and know
you—unswerving faithful and beautiful—going about
your ordinary work unnoticed,
I have noticed—I do not forget you.
I know the truth the tenderness the courage, I know
the longings hidden quiet there.
Go right on. Have good faith yet—keep that your
unseen treasure untainted.
Many shall bless you. To many yet, though no word
be spoken, your face shall shine as a lamp.
It shall be remembered, and that which you have
desired—in silence—shall come abundantly to you.

Through the Long Night

Through the Long Night
by Edward Carpenter

You, proud curve-lipped youth, with brown sensitive face,
Why, suddenly, as you sat there on the grass, did you
turn full upon me those twin black eyes of yours,
With gaze so absorbing so intense, I a strong man
trembled and was faint?
Why in a moment between me and you in the full
summer afternoon did Love sweep-leading after it in procession across the lawn and the flowers and under the waving
trees huge dusky shadows of Death and the other world?

I know not.
Solemn and dewy-passionate, yet burning clear and sted-fast at the last,
Through the long night those eyes of yours, dear,
remain to me—
And I remain gazing into them.

You, proud curve-lipped youth, with brown sensitive face,
Why, suddenly, as you sat there on the grass, did you turn full upon me those twin black eyes of yours,
With gaze so absorbing so intense, I a strong man trembled and was faint?
Why in a moment between me and you in the full summer afternoon did Love sweep—leading after it in procession across the lawn and the flowers and under the waving trees huge dusky shadows of Death and the other world?
I know not.
Solemn and dewy-passionate, yet burning clear and steadfast at the last,
Through the long night those eyes of yours, dear, remain to me—
And I remain gazing into them.

Edward Carpenter & his lover George Merrill circa 1900

About the Poet

The Mount Cemetery of Guildford, an English town about 32 miles southwest of London, contains the graves of two gay lovers: Edward Carpenter, a man called the “gay godfather of the British left” and his longtime partner George Merrill. While this may not seem too surprising these days, and you may not recognize them by name, both men bucked the homophobia of the late 18th and early 19th centuries by living together in an out gay relationship, providing romantic inspiration for two books written by well-known gay authors in the process. Their final resting place has recently been designated as an LGBTQ historic site by Historic England, an organization that helps people care for, enjoy and celebrate England’s spectacular historic environment.

Born in 1844, Edward Carpenter knew he was gay from an early age. In his diary, he wrote, “At the age of eight or nine, and long before distinct sexual feelings declared themselves, I felt a friendly attraction toward my own sex, and this developed after the age of puberty into a passionate sense of love.” He studied at the prestigious Trinity Hall college at the University of Cambridge. There, he developed romantic feelings toward his friend Edward Anthony Beck, who also served as Trinity Hall’s master. Beck eventually ended their friendship, leaving Carpenter heartbroken.

Carpenter said the work of gay American poet Walt Whitman caused “a profound change” in him, as Whitman urged people to find divinity in nature and within themselves rather than in religious society. Though Carpenter served in the Anglican ministry until age 30, he gradually grew dissatisfied with church and university life. He left both to begin publicly lecturing on astronomy, historic Greek women, and music. When he moved to the town of Sheffield at age 31, he encountered many manual workers. Historians note that his poetry around this time expressed attraction to these workers, to “the grimy and oil-besmeared figure of a stoker” and “the thick-thighed hot coarse-fleshed young bricklayer with a strap around his waist.”

As such, it’s hardly surprising that at age 47, he met and fell in love with George Merrill, a working-class man who (unlike Carpenter) grew up in the slums and had no formal education. The couple met on a train after Carpenter returned from travels in India. Merrill worked numerous blue-collar jobs at a newspaper office, a hotel, and an ironworks. Seven years after meeting, the two men moved in together into Carpenter’s small farm home in Millthorpe, Derbyshire.

There, Merrill officially served as Carpenter’s servant, cooking, cleaning, and decorating their home in fresh flowers. Carpenter liked Merrill’s baritone voice and enjoyment in singing comical songs. Carpenter once wrote of him, “George in fact was accepted and one may say beloved by both my manual worker friends and my more aristocratic friends.” Their living openly as a gay couple was especially notable considering that, at the time, the United Kingdom had laws punishing “buggery” with prison time. Oscar Wilde was convicted and sent to prison for homosexuality in 1895 and shunned by society — countless other men had their lives ruined under similar offenses.

But despite this, Carpenter openly defended same-sex relationships in his 1895 book Homogenic Love, his 1896 work Love’s Coming of Age, and 1908 creation The Intermediate Sex, calling same-sex couples “not only natural but “inevitable.” The books generated controversy, even leading one of Carpenter’s neighbors to report him to the Derbyshire Police. The police pledged to keep a “discreet watch” on him and his activities.

Carpenter became friends with Whitman and other influential writers like Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore and the English authors D.H. Lawrence and E.M. Forester. Carpenter’s relationship with Merrill reportedly inspired the gay romance in Forster’s posthumously published novel Maurice and the straight romance in Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, both of which involved people in romantic relationships with men from lower social classes. Beyond the couple’s notoriety, Carpenter himself is also celebrated for being a socialist whose early works opposed environmental pollution, cruelty to animals, worker exploitation, and other positions which have since become mainstays of different social justice movements.

Merrill died in 1928. In May of the same year, Carpenter had a paralytic stroke. After 13 months, Carpenter too died. The men’s gravestone reads, “Do not think too much of the dead husk of your friend, or mourn too much over it, but send your thoughts out towards the real soul or self which has escaped-to reach it. For so, surely you will cast a light of gladness upon his onward journey, and contribute your part towards the building of that kingdom of love which links our earth to heaven.”

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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