Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, TOWARDS DEMOCRACY: PART 2. A MILITARY BAND, by EDWARD CARPENTER

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

TOWARDS DEMOCRACY: PART 2. A MILITARY BAND, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: With open mouths and eyes intent thy press around the stand
Last Line: O eyes no wonder you are intent.
Subject(s): Flags; Military Bands

WITH open mouths and eyes intent they press around the stand,
A thousand listeners, in the flare of gas beneath the trees,
Young men and boys mostly, yet some older, and a few girls and women.

The red-coats sit in circle round their leader—solid and
robust—their lips retracted, taking short quick breaths, their throats
full-veined and swollen;
The first cornets ring out wild and clear, backed by the ripienos, the
tenors and the trombones;
The euphonium takes its strong and leading part, the cry of the hautboy is
heard—apart—like the cry of a wounded animal, the flutes and
flageolets pipe merrily, and the drums resound.

But the circle of faces—pale in the flickering gas—scarcely
Look! how intent they are, face after face, with eyes fixed, strained, as
though they would pierce through brass and scarlet!
What is it you fix so intently, O faces, have you never seen a red-coat
But no, they hardly see the red-coats: though all eyes centre there they
hardly see what is before them.

Lo! a great curtain hanging from the topmost sky right down to the bottom
of creation—
Flat, enormous, without rent, covering the whole world (yet hardly
half-an-inch in diameter)—
Before each listener it hangs, and on it all things are painted.

Wonderful, figured all over from top to bottom, from side to side,
wonderful wonderful—and for each one different:
On it—for some—forms of lust displayed, the glory of limbs
flame-girdled, floating from side to side, with fierce clutches of
beauty—(O eyes no wonder you are intent!)
On it—for some—the battle-field mounting in smoke the flag, the
roar, the appalling roar of faced cannon, the certain death: the heroic the
decisive the furious and disdainful act, the deathless figure of bravery—(O
eyes no wonder you are intent!)
On it—see here!—a maiden at her window, peeping over her flowers:
the pure, the sweet, the stainless starlike face, for the vow of true knighthood
only—(O eyes no wonder you are intent!)
Lo there! even more beautiful, the face of year and year-long wife-hood:
the friend, the trusted one without whom life cannot be imagined—dual love
dividing and filling the universe—(O glistening eyes no wonder you are
On it—Ah! these are the eyes of the lost one, the departed mother: the
tender watchful beseeching eyes, the sacred light—not God himself more
This is the glorious brow of comradeship, faithful un alterable, to heroic
deeds arousing;
On it—here for this boy—scenes of the wild ocean and adventure,
the ship in a storm, the raft, the lightning, and the rescue;
For another, ambition, the political arena, the debate, the crowded
galleries, the centering of eyes;
The footlights of the stage, the murmured delight of the audience, the
enthusiastic encore;
Scenes of travel, the lands of day-dreams and longing, the Andes, the
Pacific, the Polar aurora and the ice, the trackless forests of Central America
and Siberia and Western Australia, and of the Amazon; the wild animals of
Central Africa;
The ancient cities, the historical world-old sites, the birth-places of
gods, the thrones of kings, the centres of civilisation, the churches,
ceremonials, processions, pilgrimages, the markets, railroads, great feats of
Faces, costumes, forms, objects innumerable—all these figured,
Running in free lines over the curtain which hangs from the zenith to the
And on it besides with the rest arabesqued and running,
The band-stand with the scarlet and the brass, and the conductor energetic
with his baton in the midst, and the swollen veins and lithe lips of the first
cornet player;
And on it running waved and dazzling the lines of gas against dark
shade-masses of foliage—shot through with the electric scream of the
flageolets and underborne with the deep thunder of drums;
And on it the faint blue evening sky and the faint faint stars behind it.

Wonderful, wonderful!
I too look upon the curtain: I see the figures, the symbols, the shining
hieroglyphs written with free hand across it—I see the sun and moon;
I see the great dark background on which they are written—flat,
enormous—falling from the zenith to the nadir.
See! how it flaps and sways in the cool night-air, as if it were about to
give way—surely there is something behind it!—yet no rent.
Holding yet well together, holding your secret faithfully,
Curtain of each soul, curtain of creation, tiny curtain, vast enveloping
all the universe,
Veil of the imperfect creature, under which the wings form—growing
thinner momently and more transparent—
Amnion-veil of the vast universe—growing thinner—
O shot through with the scream of flageolets and under-borne with the deep
thunder of drums! almost pierced with the fixed gaze and strain of innumerable
Ah, wonderful wonderful!
Gazed upon thousands of years, nearer nearer, fascinating, drawing ever
drawing multitudes towards it;
Children sitting at a theatre thinking the drop-scene the real play
itself—others older guessing somewhat how the matter stands—lights
dimly seen moving behind, corners lifted or swaying;
The Andes and Pacific dividing down their middle line, the vast forests
disclosing in their depths, ancient cities blossoming like huge flowers and
fading away in fragrance; the faint-blue star-spangled sky of evening rolling
swiftly and noiselessly together, the round earth floating for a moment in the
sunlight—and then gone, like the last patches of gold and blue on a
soap-bubble; faces of brothers and sisters, faces of the speechless animals,
opening back, myriads myriads of years back in perspective to him who sits upon
the throne—
Ah, wonderful wonderful!
In the great dark of the night swaying floating like a flag which a gentle
wind dwells among the folds of—
Great mother Thou that foldest all creatures in thy folds—
Whom to explore, the children traveling from ages and ages back, by long
pilgrimages and routes labyrinthine ever pressing on, to decipher, to unravel,
to read the words that are written:
Once more and the stars shall fall showering from thee—the shining
hieroglyphs shall fade; black for a moment thou shalt hang—then rolling
swiftly together—

Lo! what mortal eye hath not seen nor ear heard—
All sorrow finished—the deep deep ocean of joy opening within—the
surface sparkling—
The myriad-formed disclosed, each one and all, all things that are,
Being filled with joy, hardly touching the ground, reaching cross-shaped
with out-stretched arms to the stars, along of the mountains and the forests,
habitation of innumerable creatures, singing joy unending—
As the sun on a dull morning breaking through the clouds, so from behind
the sun another sun, from within the body another body—these shattered
Lo! now at last or yet awhile in due time to behold that which ye have so
long sought—
O eyes no wonder you are intent.

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