|The Edward Carpenter Archive|
by Simon Dawson
As explained in the introduction on the title page, Towards Democracy is a long (four volume) prose poem which Carpenter regards as the "start point and kernel" of all his later works.
To put the entire work online would be major undertaking which I don't have the resources to complete. For now I will put up the first few pages, to give an indication of the sort of work it is, and also some of my own personal favourite sections.
To put the entire work online would be major undertaking which I don't have the resources to complete. For now I will put up the first few pages, to give an indication of the sort of work it is, and also some of my own personal favourite sections.
The sun, the moon and the stars, the grass, the water that flow,
round the earth, and the light air of heaven:
To You greeting. I too stand behind these and send you word
Freedom at last!
Long sought, long prayed for - ages and ages long:
The burden to which I continually return, seated here thick-
booted and obvious yet dead and buried and passed into heaven,
[How know you indeed but what I have passed into you?]
And Joy, beginning but without ending-the journey of
journeys - Thought laid quietly aside:
These things I, writing, translate for you - I wipe a mirror and
place it in your hands.
The sun shines, as of old; the stars look down from heaven; the
moon, crescent, sails in the twilight; on bushy tops in the warm
nights, naked, with mad dance and song, the earth-children address
themselves to love;
Civilisation sinks and swims, but the old facts remain - the sun
smiles, knowing well its strength.
The little red stars appear once more on the hazel boughs,
shining among the catkins; over waste lands the pewit tumbles
and cries as at the first day; men with horses go out on the land
- they shout and chide and strive - and return again glad at
evening; the old earth breathes deep and rhythmically, night and
day, summer and winter, giving and concealing herself.
I arise out of the dewy night and shake my wings.
Tears and lamentations are no more. Life and death lie stretched
below me. I breathe the sweet aether blowing of the breath of God.
Deep as the universe is my life - and I know it; nothing can
dislodge the knowledge of it; nothing can destroy, nothing can
Joy, joy arises - I arise. The sun darts overpowering piercing
rays of joy through me, the night radiates it from me.
I take wings through the night and pass through all the wildernesses
of the worlds, and the old dark holds of tears and death -
and return with laughter, laughter, laughter:
Sailing through the starlit spaces on outspread wings, we two -
0 laughter! laughter! laughter!
Freedom! the deep breath! the word heard centuries and
centuries beforehand; the soul singing low and passionate to itself:
Not as in a dream. The earth remains and daily life remains, and
the scrubbing of doorsteps, and the house and the care of the
house remains; but Joy fills it, fills the house full and swells to
the sky and reaches the stars: all Joy!
0 freed soul! soul that has completed its relation to the body!
0 soaring, happy beyond words, into other realms passing,
salutations to you, freed, redeemed soul!
What is certain, and not this? What is solid ? - the rocks? the
The gates are thrown wide open all through the universe. I go
to and fro - through the heights and depths I go and I return: All
I conceive the purport of all suffering. The blear-eyed boy,
famished in brain, famished in body, shivering there in his rags by
the angle of the house, is become divine before me; I hold him
long and silently by the hand and pray to him.
I conceive a millennium on earth - a millennium not of riches,
nor of mechanical facilities, nor of intellectual facilities, nor
absolutely of immunity from disease, nor absolutely of immunity
from pain; but a time when men and women all over the earth
shall ascend and enter into relation with their bodies - shall attain
freedom and joy;
And the men and women of that time looking back with something
like envy to the life of to-day, that they too might have
borne a part in its travail and throes of birth.
All is well: to-day and a million years hence, equally. To you
the whole universe is given for a garden of delight, and to the
soul that loves, in the great coherent Whole, the hardest and most
despised lot is even with the best; and there is nothing more certain
or more solid than this.
Freedom! the deep breath!
The old Earth breathes deep and rhythmically, night and day,
summer and winter; the cuckoo calls across the woodland, and
the willow-wren warbles among the great chestnut buds; the
labourer eases himself under a hedge, and the frog flops into the
pond as the cows approach;
In the theatre Juliet from her balcony still bends in the moonlight,
and Romeo leans up from the bushes below; in the pale
dawn, still, faint with love he tears himself away; the great outlines
of the fields and hills where you were born and grew up remain
If I am not level with the lowest I am nothing; and if I did not
know for a certainty that the craziest sot in the village is my equal,
and were not proud to have him walk with me as my friend, I
would not write another word - for in this is my strength.
My thoughts are nothing, but I myself will reach my arms
through time, constraining you.
These are the days which nourished and fed me so kindly and
well; this is the place where I was born, the walls and roofs which
are familiar to me, the windows out of which I have looked. This
is the overshadowing love and care of parents; these are the faces
and deeds, indelible, of brothers and sisters closing round me
like a wall - the early world in which I lay so long.
This is to-day: the little ship lies ready, the fresh air blowing,
sunlight pouring over the world. These are the gates of all
cities and habitations standing open; this is the love of men and
women accompanying me wherever I go; these are the sacred
memories of that early world, time may never change.
And this is the word which swells the bosom of the hills and
feeds the sacred laughter of the streams, for man: the purpose
which endures for you in those old fields and hills and the sphinx-
glance of the stars.
I, Nature, stand, and call to you though you heed not: Have
courage, come forth, O child of mine, that you may see me.
As a nymph of the invisible air before her mortal beloved, so
I glance before you - I dart and stand in your path - and turn
away from your heedless eyes like one in pain.
I am the ground; I listen the sound of your feet. They come
nearer. I shut my eyes and feel their tread over my face.
I am the trees; I reach downward my long arms and touch you,
Though you heed not, with enamored fingers; my leaves and
zigzag branches write wonderful words against the evening sky -
for you, for you - say, can you not even spell them?
O shame! shame! I fling you away from me (you shall not
know that I love you). Unworthy! I strike you across the face;
does the blood mount to your cheek now? my glove rings at your
feet: I dare you to personal combat.
Will you come forth? will you do the daring deed? will you
strip yourself naked as you came into the world, and come before
me and regard unafraid the flashing of my sword ? will you lose
your life, to Me?
O child of mine!
See! you are in prison, and I can give you space;
You are choked down below there, by the dust of your own
raising, and I can give you the pure intoxicating air of the moun-
tains to breathe;
I can make you a king, and show you all the lands of the earth;
And from yourself to yourself I can deliver you, and can come,
your enemy, and gaze long and long with yells of laughter into
The caddis worm leaves the water, and takes on wings and flies
in the upper air; the walking mud becomes amorous of the winged
sunlight, and behaves itself in an abandoned manner.
The Earth (during its infancy) flies round the Sun from which
it sprang, and the mud flies round the pond from which it sprang.
The earth swims in space, the fish swim in the sea, the bird
swims in the air, and the soul of man in the ocean of Equality -
towards which all the other streams run.
Here, into this ocean, everything dehouches; all interest in life
begins anew. The plantain in the croft looks different from what
it did before.
Do you understand? To realise Freedom or Equality (for it
comes to the same thing) - for this hitherto, for you, the universe
has rolled; for this, your life, possibly yet many lives; for this,
death, many deaths; for this, desires, fears, complications, bewilder-
ments, sufferings, hope, regret - all falling away at last duly before
the Soul, before You (O laughter!) arising the full grown lover -
possessor of the password.
The path of Indifference - action, inaction, good, evil, pleasure,
pain, the sky, the sea, cities and wilds - all equally used (never
shunned), adopted, put aside, as materials only - you continuing,
love continuing - the use and freedom of materials dawning at
last upon you,
O laughter! the Soul invading, looking proudly upon its new
kingdom, possessing the offerings of all pleasures, forbidden and
unforbidden, from all created things - if perchance it will stoop
to accept them; the everlasting life.
From that day forward objects turn round upon themselves
with an exceedingly innocent air, but are visibly not the same;
Fate is leveled, and the mountains and pyramids look foolish
before the glance of a little child; love becomes possessed of itself,
and of the certainty of its own fruition (which it never could have
Here the essence of all expression, and the final surrender of
Art - for this the divine Artists have struggled and still struggle;
For this the heroes and lovers of all ages have laid down their
lives; and nations like tigers have fought, knowing well that this
life was a mere empty blob without Freedom.
Where this makes itself known in a people or even in the soul
of a single man or woman, there Democracy begins to exist.
Of that which exists in the Soul, political freedom and institu-
tions of equality, and so forth, are but the shadows (necessarily
thrown); and Democracy in States or Constitutions but the
shadow of that which first expresses itself in the glance of the eye
or the appearance of the skin.
Without that first the others are of no account, and need not
Innevitable in time for man and all creation is the realisation:
the husks one behind another keep shelling and peeling off.
Rama crosses to Ceylon by the giant stepping-stones; and the
Ganges floats with the flowers and sacred lamps of pilgrims;
Diotima teaches Socrates divine lore; Benedict plunges his mid-
night lust in nettles and briars; and Bruno stands prevaricating
yet obstinate before his judges.
The midnight jackals scream round the village; and the feigned
cry of the doe is heard as she crosses the track of the hunter
pursuing her young; the chaffinch sits close in her perfect nest,
and the shining leaping waters of the streams run on and on.
The great stream of history runs on.
Over the curve of the misty horizon, out of the dim past (do
you not see it?) over the plains of China and the burning plains
of India, by the tombs of Egypt and through the gardens beneath
the white tower of Belus and under the shadow of the rock of
Athens, the great stream descends:
Soft slow broad-bosomed mother-stream - where the Ark
floats, and Isis in her moon-shaped boat sails on with the corpse
of Osiris, and the child-god out of the water rises seated on a
lotus flower, and Brahma two-sexed dwells amid the groves, and
the maidens weep for Adonis.
Mighty long-delaying vagrant stream! Of innumerable growing
rustling life! Out of some cavern month long ago where the cave-
dwellers sat gnawing burnt bones, down to to-day - with ever
growing tumult, and glints of light upon thee in the distance as
of half-open eyes, and the sound of countless voices out of thee,
nearer, nearer, past promontory after promontory winding,
Now to-day, turbid wild and unaccountable in sudden Niagara-
plunge toward thy nearer oceanic levels descending -
How wonderful art thou!
Lo! to-day the falling waters - the ribbed white perpendicular
seas - shaking the ground with their eternal thunder! Lo! above
all rising like a sign into the immense height of the sky, the
columned vapor and calm exhalation of their agony
The Arisen and mighty soul of Man!
[The word runs like fire along the ground; who shall contain
it? the word that is nothing - as fire is nothing and yet it devours
the land in a moment.]
Lo! to-day the eagle soul that stretches its neck into the height,
looking before and after; the living banner calling with audible
inaudible voice through all times; the spirit whose eyes are heavy
with gazing out over the immense world of MAN!
[O spirit! spirit! spirit! spirit! stretching thy arms out over
Calling to thy children - spirit of the brow of love and feet of
war and thunder -
Thou art let loose within me!
No delicate fiction art thou to me now - the sound of thy steps
appals me with joy as thou stridest - fills me with joy and
Go, go, my soul, stream out on the wind with this one - I
laugh as the ancient cities shake like leaves in the din and
Go shout on the winds that the world is alive, that the Arisen
one controls it -
I laugh as the ground rocks under my feet, I laugh as I walk
through the forest, and the trees reel to and fro, and their great
dead branches chatter -
Shout on the winds, though the foaming hell grows hoarse with
gusty thunder, shout that the crashing distracted hurrying eddying
world is taken
Prisoner in the highest!]
Ah! the live Earth trembles beneath thy footsteps; the passionate
deep shuddering words run along the ground: who shall contain,
who shall understand them?
Surely, surely, age after age out of the ground itself arising, from
the chinks of the lips of the clods and from between the blades of
grass, up with the tall-growing wheat sureley ascending -
Deep-muttered, vast, inaudible - they come - the strange new
words, through the frame of the great Mother and through
the frames of her children trembling:
And among the far nations there is a stir like the stir of the
leaves of a forest.
Joy, Joy arising on Earth!
And lo! the banners lifted from point to point, and the spirits
of the ancient races looking abroad - the divinely beautiful
daughters of God calling to their children.
The nations of the old and of the new worlds!
See, what hastening of feet, what throngs, what rustling
Lo! the divine East from ages and ages back intact her priceless
jewel of thought - the germ of Democracy - bringing down!
[Gentle and venerable India well pleased now at last to hear ful-
filled the words of her ancient sages.]
Lo, Arabia! peerless in dignity, eternal in manhood of love and
war - pivoting like a centre the races of mankind; Siberia, the
aged mother, breaking forth uncontrollable into exultant shouting,
from Kokan to farthest Kamschatka and the moss-morasses of the
See how they arise and call to each other! Norway with wild
hair streaming, dancing frantic on her mountain tops? Italy from
dreams, from languid passionate memories amid her marble ruins,
to deeds again arising; Greece; Belgium; Denmark; Ireland -
liberty's deathless flame leaping on her Atlantic Shore!
O the wild races of Africa, beautiful children of the sun, hardy
and superb, givers of gifts to the common stock without which
all the other gifts were useless! The native tribes still roaming in
the freedom of the earth and the waters: the Greenlander and his
little boy together in their canoe towing the dead seal, the tawny
bronzed Malay, and Papuan, and Australian through the inter
minable silent bush tracking infallibly for water or the kangaroo!
Lo! the great users and accumulators of materials, the proud
and melancholy Titans struggling with civilisation! England,
ringed with iron and with the glitter of her waves upon her;
Germany; France; Russia - and the flow of East and West, and
the throes of womanhood and the future; lo! Spain - dark, proud,
voiceless, biting her lips, with high white arm beckoning beckon-
ing! And you, too, ye manifold Stars and Stripes - unto what great destiny . . . . . . . . . .
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 back 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 processing 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 stedfast
at the last,
Through the long night those eyes of yours, dear, remain to me -
And I remain gazing into them.
Who are you who go about to save them that are lost?
Are you saved yourself?
Do you not know that who would save his own life must lose it?
Are you then one of the "lost" ?
Be sure, very sure, that each one of these can teach you as
much as, probably more than, you can teach them.
Have you then sat humbly at their feet, and waited on their
lips that they should be the first to speak - and been reverent
before these children - whom you so little understand?
Have you dropped into the bottomless pit from between yourself
and them all hallucination of superiority, all flatulence of
knowledge, every shred of abhorrence and loathing?
Is it equal, is it free as the wind between you?
Could you be happy receiving favors from one of the most
despised of these?
Could you be yourself one of the lost?
Arise then, and become a saviour.
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
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.
0 Earth, the floor of heaven -
0 Sun, shining aloft in the sky so pure -
0 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
Think not that the love thou enterest into to-day is for a few
months or years:
The little seed set now must lie quiet before it will germinate
and many alternations of sunshine and shower descend upon it
before it become even a small plant.
When a thousand years have passed, come thou again. And
behold! a mighty tree that no storms can shake.
Love does not end with this life or any number of lives; the
form that thou seekest lies hidden under wrapping after wrapping;
Nevertheless it shall at length appear - more wondrous far than
aught thou hast imagined.
Therefore leave time: do not like a child pull thy flower up by
the roots to see if it is growing;
Even though thou be old and near the grave there is plenty of
I saw a vision of Earth's multitudes going up and down over the
Earth - and I saw the great earth itself wheeling and careering
onward through space.
And behold! here and there to one among the multitude a
And to whomsoever it came continued onward apparently as
before, yet as from the larva springs the perfect image,
So (as it appeared to me) from that mortal form a new being,
long long long in preparation, glided silently up unobserved into
the breathless pure height of the sky.
Ah! blessed is he that hath escaped -
Whom love hath opened the doors of his cage:
No more returning
Shall he be subject again to sin and sorrow.
I use my name and powers, I use my great prestige,
As a joiner uses a tool: they serve my purpose well.
Nevertheless think not that I regard them
Except as things to be destroyed in using.
I accept you altogether - as the sea accepts the fish that swim in it.
It is no good apologising for anything you have done, for you
have never been anywhere yet but what I have sustained you -
And beyond my boundaries you cannot go.
Coruscating flame I behold the soul,
Mine, yours, whoever it may be -
Darting great tongues of flame thousands of miles long,
Thousands of years.
Here at last having arrived I take my rest, my long long fill of
rest, no more to move;
The roaring subsides, the wheels cease to go round, a calm
falls on all - the stars and the daisies shine out visibly from the
bosom of God.
You cannot baulk me of my true life.
Climbing over the barriers of pain - of my own weaknesses
and sins - I escape.
Where will you hold me? by the feet, hands? by my personal
vanity? would you shut me in the mirror-lined prison of self-
Behold! I acknowledge all my defects - you cannot snap the
handcuffs faster on me than I snap them myself: I am vain, deceitful,
cowardly - yet I escape.
The handcuffs hold me not, out of my own hands I draw myself
as out of a glove; from behind the empty mask of my reputed
qualities I depart, and am gone my way,
Unconcerned what I leave behind me.
Into the high air which surrounds and sustains the world,
Breathing life, intoxicating, with joy unutterable, radiant,
As the wind of Spring when the dead leaves fly before it-
I depart and am gone my way.
Are they not mine, saith the Lord, the everlasting hills?
(Where over the fir-tree tops I glance to the valleys.)
The rich meads with brown and white cattle, and streams with
weirs and water-mills,
And the tender-growing crops, and hollows of shining apple-blossom
From my mountain terraces as from a throne beholding my lands -
Are they not mine, where I dwell, and for my children?
How long, you, will you trail your slime over them, and your
talk of rights and of property ?
How long will you build you houses to hide yourselves in,
and your baggage? to shut yourselves off from your brothers and
sisters - and Me?
Beware! for I am the storm; I care nought for your rights of
In lightning and thunder, in floods and fire, I will ruin and
ravage your fields;
Your first-born will I slay within your house, and I will make
your riches a mockery.
Fools! that know not from day to day, from hour to hour
if ye shall live,
And yet will snatch from each other the things that I have
showered among you.
For I will have none that will not open his door to all, treating
others as I have treated him.
The trees that spread their boughs against the evening sky,
the marble that I have prepared beforehand these millions of years
in the earth; the cattle that roam over the myriad hills - they are
Mine, for all my children -
If thou lay hands on them for thyself alone, thou art accursed.
The curse of property shall cling to thee;
With burdened brow and heavy heart, weary, incapable of joy,
Thou shalt crawl a stranger in the land that I made for thy
The smallest bird on thy estate shall sing in freedom in the
branches, the plough-boy shall whistle in the furrow,
But thou shalt be weary and lonely - forsaken and an alien
For just inasmuch as thou has shut thyself off from one of the
least of these my children, thou hast shut thyself off from Me.
I the Lord Demos have spoken it - and the mountains are my
Seek not the end of love in this act or in that act - lest indeed it
become the end;
But seek this act and that act and thousands of acts whose end
is love -
So shalt thou at last create that which thou now desirest;
And then when these are all past and gone there shall remain
to thee a great and immortal possession, which no man can take
Not by running out of yourself after it comes the love which
lasts a thousand years.
If to gain another's love you are untrue to yourself then are
you also untrue to the person whose love you would gain.
Him or her whom you seek will you never find that way - and
what pleasure you have with them will haply only end in pain.
Remain stedfast, knowing that each prisoner has to endure in
patience till the season of his liberation; when the love comes
which is for you it will turn the lock easily and loose your chains -
Being no longer whirled about nor tormented by winds of
uncertainty, but part of the organic growth of God himself in
Another column in the temple of immensity,
Two voices added to the eternal choir.
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 spin 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
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.
So thin a veil divides
Us from such joy, past words.
Walking in daily life the business of the hour, each detail seen to;
Yet carried, rapt away, on what sweet floods of other Being:
Swift streams of music flowing, light far back through all
Loved faces looking-
Ah! from the true, the mortal self
So thin a veil divides!
O joy divine of friends!
To hold within the circle of one's arms
More than the universe holds:
So sweet, so rare, so precious beyond words,
The god so tenderly mortal!
Not kisses only or embraces,
Nor the sweet pain and passion of the flesh alone;
But more, far more,
To feel (ah joy!) the creature deep within
Touch on its mate, unite, and lie entranced
There, ages down, and ages long, in light,
Suffused, divine - where all these other pleasures
Fade but to symbols of that perfect union!
0 child of Uranus, wanderer down all times,
Darkling, from farthest ages of the Earth the same
Strange tender figure, full of grace and pity,
Yet outcast and misunderstood of men-
Thy Woman-soul within a Man's form dwelling,
[Was Adam perchance like this, ere Eve from his side was
So gentle, gracious, dignified, complete,
With man's strength to perform, and pride to suffer without sign,
And feminine sensitiveness to the last fibre of being;
Strange twice-born, having entrance to both worlds-
Loved, loved by either sex,
And free of all their lore!
I see thee where down all of Time thou comest;
And women break their alabaster caskets, kiss and anoint thy
feet, and bless the womb that bare thee,
While in thy bosom with thee, lip to lip,
Thy younger comrade lies.
Lord of the love which rules this changing world,
Passing all partial loves, this one complete - the Mother love
and sex emotion blended-
I see thee where for centuries thou hast walked,
Lonely, the world of men
Saving, redeeming, drawing all to thee,
Yet outcast, slandered, pointed of the mob,
Misjudged and crucified.
Dear Son of heaven - long suffering wanderer through the
wilderness of civilisation-
The day draws nigh when from these mists of ages
Thy form in glory clad shall reappear.
There among the woods, after the battle returning,
In a little open spot - how well I remember it -
Where the ground was red with the blood of my lover, my dead
[Him whom to save I would have died so gladly, 0 so gladly,
Whom I could not at any time bear to see suffer even a little hurt,
So tenderly we loved, so tenderly,]
There on the stained red ground, in the midst of the clotted
precious blood, not even yet dry, stood a small yellow flower -
The little Cow-wheat they call it, with its slender yellow blossoms
in pairs, and its faint-tinged lips.
And now in the woods each year - in the silent beautiful woods,
so calm, so sweet - though the same flowers spring by hundreds -
Not a word do they utter of that awful scene, not a word of all
Of the splintered trees, the blood-smeared corpses, the devilish
noises and the sights and smells,
Or of the livid face and faint-blue lips of him I loved as never
another I could love.
0 how can you grow so careless, little flowers, and yet continue
ages to grow under the trees the same -
And all the light gone out of the world for me?
Each year when summer comes and July suns,
To the woods I must go like one drawn by a fatal dread and
To see the sight I most abhor to see -
The patch of blood, and the unharmed flower in the midst
And faint in death the lips I love so well.
Having sometimes been asked questions about "Towards Democracy" which I found it difficult to answer, I will try and shape a few thoughts about it here.
Quite a long time ago (say when I was about 25, and living at Cambridge) I wanted to write some sort of a book which should address itself very personally and closely to anyone who cared to read it - establish so to speak an intimate personal relation between myself and the reader; and during succeeding years I made several attempts to realise this idea - of which beginnings one or two in verse may be found in a little volume entitled "Narcissus and other Poems," now well out of print, which I published in 1873. None of these attempts satisfied me however, and after a time I began to think the quest was an unreasonable one - unreasonable because while it might not be difficult for any one with a pliant and sympathetic disposition to touch certain chords in any given individual that he might meet, it seemed impossible to hope that a book - which cannot in any way adapt itself to the idiosyncrasies of its reader - could find the key of the personalities into whose hands it should happen to come. For this it would be necessary to suppose, and to find, an absolutely common ground to all individuals (all at any rate who might have reached a certain stage of thought and experience) - and to write the book on and from that common ground: but this seemed at that time quite impracticable.
Years followed, more or less eventful, with flight from Cambridge, and university lectures carried on in the Provincial Towns, and so forth; but of much dumbness as regards writing; and inwardly full of tension, and suffering. At last early in 1881, no doubt as the culmination and result of struggles and experiences that had been going on, I became conscious that a mass of material was forming within me, imperatively demanding expression- though what exactly its expression would be I could not then have told. I became for time time overwhelmingly conscious of the disclosure within of a region transcending in some sense the ordinary bounds of personality, in the light of which region my own idiosyncrasies of character - defects, accomplishments, limi- tations, or what not - appeared of no importance whatever - an absolute Freedom from mortality, accompanied by an indescribable calm and joy.
I also immediately saw, or rather felt, that this region of Self existing in me existed equally (though not always equally con- sciously) in others. In regard to it the mere diversities of temperament which ordinarily distinguish and divide people dropped away and became indifferent, and a field was opened in which all might meet, in which all were truly Equal. Thus I found the common ground which I wanted; and the two words, Freedom and Equality came for the time being to control all my thought and expression. The necessity for space and time to work this out grew so strong that in April of that year I threw up my lecturing employment. Moreover another necessity had come upon me which demanded the latter step - the necessity namely for an open air life and manual work. I could not finally argue with this any more than with the other, I had to give in and obey. As it happened at the time I mention I was already living in a little cottage on a farm (at Bradway, near Sheffield) with a friend and his family, and doing farm-work in the intervals of my lectures. When I threw up the lecturing I had everything clear before me. I knocked together a sort of wooden sentinel-box, in the garden, and there, or in the fields and the woods, all that spring and summer, and on through the winter, by day and sometimes by night, in sunlight or in rain, by frost and snow and all sorts of grey and dull weather, I wrote "Towards Democracy" - or at any rate the first and longer poem that goes by that name.
By the end of 1881 this was finished - though it was worked over and patched a little in the early part of 1882.; and I remember feeling then that, defective and halting and incoherent in expression as it was, still if it succeeded in rendering even a half the splendour which inspired it, it would be good, and I need not trouble to write anything more (which, with due allowance for the said "if," I even now feel was a true and friendly intimation)!
The writing of this and its publication, (in 1883) got a load off my mind which had been weighing on it for years - a sense of oppression and anxiety which I had constantly suffered from before - and which I believe, in its different forms, is a common experience in the early part of life.
In this first poem were embodied with considerable alterations and adaptations a good number of casual pieces, which I had written (merely under stress of feeling and without any particular sense of proportion) during several preceding years. They now found their interpretation under the steady and clear light of a new mood or state of feeling which previously had only visited me fitfully and with clouded beams. The whole of "Towards Democracy"-I may say, speaking broadly and including the later pieces - has been written under the domination of this mood. I have tested and measured everything by it; it has been the sun to which all the images and conceptions and thoughts used have been as material objects reflecting its light. And perhaps this connects itself with the fact that it has been so necessary to write in the open air. The more universal feeling which I sought to convey refused itself from me within doors; nor could I at any time or by any means persuade the rhythm or style of expression to render itself up within a room - tending there always to break back into distinct metrical forms; which, however much I admire them in certain authors, and think them myself suitable for certain kinds of work, were not what I wanted, and did not express for me the feeling which I sought to express. This fact (of the necessity of the open air) is very curious, and I cannot really explain it. I only know that it is so, quite indubitable and insurmountable. I can feel it at once, the difference, in merely passing through a doorway - but I cannot explain it. Always especially the sky seemed to contain for me the key, the inspiration; the sight of it more than anything gave what I wanted (sometimes like a veritable lightning- flash coming down from it onto my paper - I a mere witness, but agitated with strange transports).
But if I should be asked - as I have sometimes been asked - What is the exact nature of this mood, of this illuminant splendour, of which you speak? I should have to reply that I can give no very concise and clearcut answer. The whole of "Towards Democracy" is an endeavour to give it utterance; any mere single sentence, or direct definition, would be of no use - rather indeed would tend to obscure by limiting. All I can say is that there seems to be a vision possible to man, as from some more universal stand- point, free from the obscurity and localism which especially connect themselves with the passing clouds of desire, fear, and all ordinary thought and emotion; in that sense another and separate faculty; and as vision always means a sense of light, so here is a sense of inward light, unconnected of course with the mortal eye, but bringing to the eye of the mind the impression that it sees, and by means of a medium which washes as it were the interior surfaces of all objects and things and persons - how can I express it ? - and yet this is most defective, for the sense is a sense that one is those objects and things and persons that one perceives, (and even that one is the whole universe,) - a sense in which sight and touch and hearing are all fused in identity. Nor can the matter be understood without realising that the whole faculty is deeply and intimately rooted on the far side of the moral and emotional nature, and beyond the thought-region of the brain. (Footnote 2)
And now with regard to the "I' which occurs so freely in this book. In this and in other such cases the author is naturally liable to a charge of egotism - and I personally do not feel disposed to combat any such charge that may be made. That there are mere egotisms and vanities embodied in these pages I do not for a moment doubt; and that so far as they exist they mar the expression and purpose of the book I also do not doubt. But the existence of these things does not affect the real question: What or Who in the main is the "I" spoken of?
To this question I must also frankly own that I can give no answer. I do not know. That the word is not used in the dramatic sense is all I can say. The "I" is myself - as weIl as I could find words to express myself: but what that Self is, and what its limits may be; and therefore what the self of any other person is and what its limits may be - I cannot teIl. I have sometimes thought that perhaps the best work one could do - if one felt at any time enlargements and extensions of one's ego - was to simply record these, as faithfully as might be; leaving others, the science-man and the philosopher, to explain - and feeling confident that what reaIly existed in oneself would be found to exist either consciously or in a latent form in other people. And I will say that I have in these records above all endeavoured to be genuine. If I have said "I, Nature" it was because at the time, at any rate, I felt "I, Nature"; if I have said "I am equal with the lowest," it was because I could not express what I felt more directly than by those words. The value of such statements can only appear by time; if they are corroborated by others then they help to form a body of record which may well be worth investigation, analysis and explanation. If they are not so corroborated, then they naturally and properly fall away as mere vagaries of self-deception. I have not the least doubt that anything which is really genuine will be corroborated. It seems to me more and more clear that the word "I" has a practically infinite range of meaning - that the ego covers far more ground than we usually suppose. At some points we are intensely individual, at others intensely sympathetic; some of our impressions (as the tickling of a hair) are of the most local and momentary character, others (as the sense of identity) involve long periods of time. Sometimes we are aware of almost a fusion between our own identity and that of another person. What does all this mean? Are we really separate individuals, or is individuality an illusion, or again is it only a part of the ego or soul that is individual, and not the whole? Is the ego absolutely one with the body, or is it only a small part of the body, or again is the body but a part of the self - one of its organs so to speak, and not the whole man? Or lastly is it perhaps not possible to express the truth by any direct use of these or other terms of ordinary language? Anyhow, what am I?
These are questions which come all down Time, demanding solution - which humanity is constantly endeavoring to find an answer to. I do not pretend to answer them. On the contrary I am sure that not one of the pieces in "Towards Democracy" has been written with the deliberate view of providing an answer. They have simply been written to express feelings which insisted on being expressed. Nevertheless it is possible that some of them - by giving the experiences and affirmations even of one person - may contribute material towards that answer to these and the like questions which in some region must assuredly be given.
That there is a region of consciousness removed beyond what we usually call mortality, into which we humans can yet pass, I practically do not doubt; but granting that this is a fact, its explanation still remains for investigation.
I have said in this brief note on "Towards Democracy" nothing about the influence of Whitman - for the same reason that I have said nothing about the influence of the sun or the winds. These influences lie too far back and ramify too complexly to be traced. I met with William Rossetti's little selection from "Leaves of Grass" in 1868 or 1869, and read that and the original editions continuously for ten years. I never met with any other book (with the exception perhaps of Beethoven's sonatas) which I could read and re-read as I could this one. I find it difficult to imagine what my life would have been without it. "Leaves of Grass" "filtered and fibred" my blood: but I do not think I ever tried to imitate it or its style. Against the inevitable drift out of the more classic forms of verse into a looser and freer rhythm I fairly fought, contesting the ground ("kicking against the pricks") inch by inch during a period of seven years in numerous abortive and mongrel creations - till in 1881 I was finally compelled into the form (if such it can be called) of "Towards Democracy." I did not adopt it because it was an: approximation to the form of "Leaves of Grass." Whatever resemblance there may be between the rhythm, style, thoughts, constructions, etc., of the two books, must I think be set down to a deeper similarity of emotional atmosphere and intension in the two authors - even though that similarity may have sprung and no doubt largely did spring out of the personal influence of one upon the other. Anyhow our temperaments, standpoints, antecedents, etc., are so entirely diverse and opposite that, except for a few points, I can hardly imagine that there is much real resemblance to be traced. Whitman's full-blooded, copious, rank, masculine style must always make him one of the world's great originals - a perennial fountain of health and strength, moral as well as physical. He has the amplitude of the Earth itself, and can no more be thought away than a mountain can. He often indeed reminds one of a great quarry on a mountain side - the great shafts of sunlight and the shadows, the primitive face of the rock itself, the power and the daring of the men at work upon it, the tumbled blocks and masses, materials for endless buildings, and the beautiful tufts of weed or flower on inaccessible ledges - a picture most artistic in its very incoherence and formlessness.
"Towards Democracy" has a milder radiance, as of the moon compared with the sun - allowing you to glimpse the stars behind. Tender and meditative, less resolute and altogether less massive, it has the quality of the fluid and yielding air rather than of the solid and uncompromising earth.
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