Edward Carpenter – Poet & Mystic

young edward carpenterEdward Carpenter (1844-1929), the English poet, has been described as a mystic, prophet, reformer, socialist and philosopher, possessed of moral courage, gentle and sensitive in spirit.

Peter Ouspensky, the Russian mystic and philosopher, corresponded with Edward Carpenter and translated one of Carpenter’s works: “Love and Death – a study of human evolution and transfiguration” which was published in Petrograd in 1915.

The celebrated American poet, Walt Whitman, whom Carpenter visited, described him as “one of the torch-bearers; an exemplar of a loftier England” and later “Carpenter is one of the altogether beautiful people who have made me welcome on earth”.

Edward Carpenter oldA contemporary, H. S. Salt, wrote of Carpenter:

“He was a mystic, inclined to be a believer in occult powers, though he himself did not possess any. (So he told me; and it is perhaps as well that I should record the fact, as it is quite likely that some of his admirers will credit him with supernatural gifts!). I know of several cases in which his “astral” made its appearance to friends when he himself was far distant.”

“His eyes were always the chief feature, and most wonderful they were; now grave and sad, as in the poem; now flashing with fire as his warmth of feeling was aroused. I used to think sometimes that he tried to withdraw and, so to speak, to sheath, their almost piercing brilliance, out of consideration for some lacklustre companion like myself.”

Something of Edward Carpenter‘s inner work can be glimpsed in the following passage from his book ‘Pagan and Christian Creeds’:

“Obtain power over your thoughts and you are free. If you want to obtain that priceless power of commanding thought – of using or dismissing it (for the two things go together) at will – there is no way but practice.

And the practice consists in two exercises:

(a) that of concentration – in holding the thought steadily for a time on one subject, or point of a subject; and
(b) that of effacement – in effacing any given thought from the mind and determining not to entertain it for such and such a time.

Both these exercises are difficult. Failure in practicing them is certain – and may extend over years. But the power equally certainly grows with practice. And ultimately there may come a time when the learner is not only able to efface from his mind any given thought (however importunate), but may even succeed in effacing, during short periods, all thought of any kind. When this stage is reached the veil of illusion which surrounds all mortal things is pierced and the entrance to the Paradise of Rest (and of universal power and knowledge) is found.”

Self-Improvement Takes Many Forms

When thinking about self-improvement, developing physically and mentally are usually what comes to mind – but there is more to it than that.

evolve through spiritual knowledge

The options for improving physically are commonly acknowledged. Building bodily strength and stamina through regular indoor and outdoor exercise are important and, with the outdoors, comes breathing fresh air. Weight loss or gain, if appropriate, through changes in diet, are also desirable, as are eating healthier food, and getting plenty of rest and sleep.

Mental improvement comes through education, through reasoning, solving problems, making conversation, learning to make decisions, and acquiring useful knowledge. Mental ability is also developed through learning to control attention, focusing and concentrating, thoughtfulness, and improving memory.

What is less obvious is the need to develop emotionally and spiritually to round out the process.

Emotional self-improvement comes from recognizing and developing feelings in oneself and learning to control those feelings, and through becoming sensitive to the personal needs of, and towards, others. Being open and receptive to beauty, as found in nature, helps to develop sensitivity.

Spiritual development does not necessarily mean joining a religion or following religious practices. Spiritual development can come from being open to the possibilities of the hidden aspects of life, especially the beauty and wonders of the world, and exploring the meaning of existence. Taking time to explore spiritual teachings can enhance spiritual development and help to provide a firm foundation for living.