Edward Carpenter





The Secret of Time and Satan

Member's Choice of an Edward Carpenter Work

Chosen By Joey Cain 

The Secret of Time and Satan 

Is there one in all the world who does not desire to be divinely beautiful?
To have the most perfect body-unerring skill, strength-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 the wrappings, not case yourself in fresh ones;
Not by multiplying clothes shall you make your body sound and healthy, but rather by discarding them;
Not by multiplying knowledge shall you beautify your mind;
It is not the food that you eat that has to vivify you, but you that have to vivify the food.
Always emergence, and the parting of veils for the hidden to appear;
The child emerges from its 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.
Freedom has to be won afresh every morning.
Every morning thou must put forth thy strength afresh upon the world, to create out of chaos the garden in which thou walkest.
(Behold! I love thee-I wait for thee in thine own garden, lingering till eventide among the bushes;
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 tongue and all that proceeds from it; spoken and written words, languages, commands, controls, the electric telegraph girdling the earth;
The eyes ordaining, directing; the feet and all that they indicate-the path they travel for years and years;
The passions of the body, 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;
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;
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;
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, or the unmanly act of any member-and swirling into society; all the good which gathers round a man who is clean and strong-the threads drawing from afar to the tips of his fingers, the interpretations in his eyes, all the love which passes through his limbs into heaven:
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.
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 at the 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 not yet 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 that 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;
And the images and powers which thou hast thus evoked 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.
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 thing that is not evil if it have mastery over a man;
And there is no passion or power, or pleasure or pain, or created thing whatsoever, which is not ultimately for man and for his use-or which he need be afraid of, or ashamed at.
The ascetics and the self-indulgent divide things into good and evil-as it were to throw away the evil;
But things cannot be divided into good and evil; but all are good so soon as they are brought into subjection.
And seest thou not that except for Death thou couldst never overcome Death-
For since by being a slave to things of sense thou hast clothed thyself with a body which thou art not master of, thou wert condemned to a living tomb were that body not to be destroyed.
But now through pain and suffering out of this tomb shalt thou come; and through the experience thou hast acquired shalt build thyself a new and better body;
And so on many times, till thou spreadest wings and hast all  powers diabolic and angelic concentred  in thy flesh.
And so at last I saw Satan appear before me- magnificent, fully formed.
Feet first, with shining limbs, he glanced down from above among the bushes,
And stood there erect, dark-skinned, with 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 brashed 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 he turned upon me, and smote me a thousand times and slew that body;
And I was glad and 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 might-exultant in pride and joy.
Then he ceased, and said, "I love thee."
And lo! his form changed, and 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.
Continue to read Joey Cain's comments about the Secret of Time and Satan.   

Comments On "The Secret of Time and Satan"   By Joey Cain 

ec05a_head.jpg" The Secret of Time and Satan" is my Member's Choice Carpenter Work. I first discovered it in 1984. The setting was San Francisco's Bound Together Anarchist Bookstore on Haight Street. About 25 - 30 folks who were active in the Gay men's movement called the Radical Fairies gathered there every Thursday evening for our Circle during which we played music together, chanted, sang and shared food and pot. The central aspect of the evening was the Heart Circle, in which participants would share their inner lives with each other, tell stories, plan political actions, read poetry and build and weave the webs of community.

A regular of the Circle was a Rad Fey named Haia Ted Burke. He had a long history as a poet extending back to the early 60's Beats up to the present and was a strong and loving presence in the Circle. We had known each other for 4 or 5 years and he was aware of my interest in Edward Carpenter and wanted to read one of Edward's poems for the Circle. That poem was the "Secret of Time and Satan".

Its effect on the group was revelatory. Haia perfectly worked the rhythmic incantation of the poem culminating in the ecstatic build up to and release of the magnificent 6th Section.  The image of the Horned God and the fusion of Eastern Ideas and Whitman fit perfectly with the tools and mythology the Fairies were using to chart our own unique gay explorations of spirit. We marveled at how this poem written nearly 100 years ago by an openly gay man still spoke so strongly to us across the distance of a century. I began to use the poem to end the Closing Circles of week long Radical Fairy Gatherings. Up to 300 gay men, holding hands in a loving Circle, heard in Carpenter our own voice from the distant past and felt a connection both to him and each other, connections deepened and electrified by the poem.  

Up to that point I had not really looked at Carpenter's poetry closely. It was his anarchist infused political writings and of course his formulations of gay consciousness and personhood that had drawn me to him. I probably was aware of Havelock Ellis's glib reaction to a cursory first perusal of Towards Democracy - "Whitman and water".  A reaction that would drastically change thereafter when Ellis would declare
"on growing familiar with Towards Democracy we find that we have here a distinct individuality, with, indeed, points of contact with Whitman, and using the same mode of expression, but a new and genuine voice nevertheless, not a mere echo. Even the form is not quite the same; it is flowing and eloquent rather than with the massive weight of Whitman's interrupted elephantine steps. ...  in this volume the bounds of person­ality are, as it were, loosened; and we have instead the soothing voice of an almost impersonal return to joy. Mr. Carpenter on the whole does not strive nor cry; he lifts up, rather, a tender voice of love and healing. It is the note of consolation rather than the stimulating "barbaric yawp" that we hear."

(For Ellis'1886 review of Towards Democracy go to the Forum's "Book Shelf" section or click here.)

The "Secret of Time and Satan" became my doorway into a deeper exploration and reading of Edward's poetry. Through it I came to see the greatness that so many thousands of admirers of Carpenter's day had ascribed to Towards Democracy. I realized that it did indeed have its own unique voice, personality and atmosphere and that a significant amount was great poetry. It is not unreasonable to say that Carpenter was the most original and successful poetic voice influenced by Whitman's free verse forms from the 1880s until well into the early 20th century. 

Voices East and West
"The Secret of Time and Satan" fuses two of Carpenter's source points into a poetic invocation of the experience of that union imagined as an archetypical encounter with the Western European pre-christian deity, Pan or the The Horned God.  

What are the philosophical points that Carpenter fuses? In his personal copy of Towards Democracy, Gavin Arthur, Grandson of a President, Irish freedom fighter and astrologer, who visited Carpenter in 1923 and 24 and wrote a famous account of their time in bed together,(1) wrote:

“The best poem here / “The Secret of Time / and Satan” / which he agreed with / me was the distillation / of his contact with Walt Whitman – / The Voice of the West / and Ramakrishna / The Voice of the East.”(2)

The reference to Whitman is obvious. Carpenter's life began to change forever after his reading in 1868 the Rossetti Edition of Whitman's Poems. Edward would eventually visit Walt twice in the USA, and during his first visit developed a sexual and affectional relationship with him. Carpenter and Whitman corresponded with each other from 1874 until Walt's death in 1892. Whitman embraced and celebrated nature, the body, sex and the world. He laid waste to the soul crushing hierarchies of bourgeois existance. Carpenter found Walt's message spiritually, emotionally and physically liberating.

Ramakrishna is considered to have initiated a Hindu spiritual renaissance in the late 1800s when, under the yoke of British Imperialism and materialism, those spiritual aspects were under attack. Some of his key concepts were the oneness of existence; the sacredness of all living beings; the unity of God and the harmony of religions; and that the primal bondage in human life is lust and greed.

The "Secret" was written in 1888, 2 years before Carpenter traveled to Ceylon and India and sat with his friend Arunachalam's Guru Ramaswami. Carpenter however had a deep interest in all spiritual teachings extending back to his Cambridge years and credits the Upanishads and specifically the Bagavad Gita as having a profound influence on his thinking. By 1923 Ramakrishna would have represented that influence, at least to Gavin Arthur, due to the popularity of Ramakrishna's teaching in the West brought about by the work of his disciple Swami Vivikananda.

Therefore as, Gavin Arthur states, this poem integrates the teachings of "Whitman - the Voice of the West and Ramakrishna the Voice of the East."


Read This Poem Out Loud and Pass Out Into Paradise

So how does Carpenter achieve this Union in the poem? Through the use of magical/poetic invocation.

The tradition of formal invocation, the "calling down" of the deity into consciousness extends at least as far back the Egyptians. The basic formula is to name the god/dess, recite their attributes (physical and psychological), and name the powers they bring. Then through art create an intense and ecstatic identification with the deity causing the consciousness to be flooded or possessed with the knowledge, the gifts, of the deity. This is often done in the form of telling or acting out the deity's life story. Looked at as a psychological practice it is bringing into consciousness an aspect of the unconscious where the particular unconscious aspect is the deity. Carpenter follows this very pattern in the poem. He names the "god" and his powers in the first stanza - divine beauty (what he came to call Cosmic Consciousness later).  He then names the first attribute, the method for approaching the deity.  Section 2 is the god starting to "wake". In 3 we have the naming of the gods physical attributes, Whitman's radical celebration and deification of the flesh and world (lots of body parts here).  Section 4 echoes Section 1 in naming the attributes of approach. Section 5 is the twin to 3 and names the emotional/psychological state, what Carpenter saw as the influence of the East. The form even reflects the style of Eastern teaching in contradistinction to the Whitman-like form of Section 3.  In Section 6 the ecstatic state is achieved through the rhythm of the words themselves and the god appears as Pan and possesses the aspirant in the dissolution of equals,

 "Till we stood again in Paradise."

1. Arthur, Gavin. The Circle of Sex. New York, University Books, 1966.

2. Carpenter, Edward. Towards Democracy. New York and London, Mitchell Kennerley, 1922. Gavin Arthur's personal copy with notes. Author's collection.