Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, TOWARDS DEMOCRACY: PART 3. A VOICE OVER THE EARTH, by EDWARD CARPENTER



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TOWARDS DEMOCRACY: PART 3. A VOICE OVER THE EARTH, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The sound of a voice floating round the earth
Last Line: "wench: she cries, ""how good, how good it is, o come again!"
Subject(s): Civilization; Farm Life; Fields; Peasantry; Agriculture; Farmers; Pastures; Meadows; Leas


THE sound of a voice floating round the Earth, saying: Lo! I float over the
world and over all cities and lands—wherever men and women are at home I am
at home.

I
The snowy peaks, in ranges, that guard the cradles of the human
race—rising over their rocky cliffs, out of their valleys full of
trees—the wind fluctuating the forests, the clouds swift-flying over the
topmost jags;
The great plains, and lower lands, dotted with farms and villages and
cities, for scores, hundreds, thousands, of miles;
The winding rivers and the islands, and the broad seas;
All these I see, and those that inhabit them,
Over the world I float, I range all human experience.

II

The broad Italian landscape spreads below me—the lands of the upper Po
and Bormida,
I see the wave-like congregated hills terraced with vines to their very
tops, the pink or yellow painted home steads dotted here and there, the arched
stone barns, and villages clustered on the hill tops with belfries high against
the sky.
The old woman, my mother, with walnut brown skin haunts the lonely
farmhouse all day while the others are in the field;
She wanders from chamber to chamber, hardly knowing what she is doing. Her
memory carries her back to the far past—she lives not in the present.
Sometimes into the great attic overhead she climbs, with its huge
roof-beams and brick floor, and spreads the grapes to dry or leisurely picks
them over.
The haymakers work barefoot in the clover patch, turning the clover and
loading the low-wheeled waggon in the fragrant transparent evening;
The peasant plows with his one-stilted plow, or creaks along the road with
his cart and yoke of cream-colored oxen;
The girls and women with red or yellow kerchiefs stand among the branches
of the mulberry trees by the roadside, picking leaves for the silkworms;
The country folk congregate on the steps of the village church, looking out
over the hills—the women passing in by ones and twos;
The men play mora over their wine in the little hostelry; the boys play
at ball down the narrow by-streets, using the roofs and buttresses to baffle
their opponents' strokes;
The old play of daily life goes on—the centuries-long play;
The ruins of the Roman aqueduct still cross the bed of the river, the ruins
of Roman words and customs still lie embedded in the life of to-day;
The old blood still runs in the veins, the water runs in the rivers, the
crops grow in the fields—the light of youth, of love, of old age, of death,
shines in the eyes.

From the accident of here and now,
From this hill whence for a moment I overlook the fair garden of human
life, from this few feet of human flesh which I inhabit,
From these fierce desires which hem me in, these defects, these
limitations, these mortal sufferings,
This little creature-dom, this brief emprisonment of life,
I descend, I pass, I flow down,
[O words so vain to tell—O strange incredible transformation!]
I pass, I flow down, into the freedom of all times, into the latitude of
all places.

I work on the hills once more with the slave and the freedman among the
vines, I mix the mortar for them that build the aqueduct;
The lover and his girl lean against my breast in the moonlight long ages
back as now;
The face of the mother understands my face a thousand and ten thousand
years ago, as it does to-day;
I am the cream-colored ox with mild eyes, and I am the driver who curses
and goads it;
I am the lover and the loved—I have lost and foun my identity.

III

The Piedmontese peasant takes me again into his little cottage of sun-dried
bricks among the vineyards, and gives me a glass of cool wine in the shade;
I see again the scantily furnished interior, the floor of native rock, the
rickety ladder which serves for staircase to the chamber above, the table and
chairs and one or two cooking utensils;
And the great frame of sticks and canes, big as a four-poster bedstead,
where he breeds his thousands of silkworms.
But here too, alas! there is grief; for the poor son, so passionately loved
of his mother, is wasting away apparently in a decline;
All day with shawl thrown over him he squats in the sun by the door, or
walks feebly to and fro, unable to help his father in the field—at night he
lies awake and hears the wearisome rustle of the silkworms eating their food;
The mother prays the good God, but knows not whether anything comes of
it—the little figure of Mary in the niche of the wall looks just the same
though hearts are breaking.

IV

Ah! fragrance of human love exhaled!
Great clouds from frail and perishable forms escaping silently,
Into the night, into the vast aerial night of Time!
The little flash of youth, the reaching of hands to hands, of hearts to
hearts, of lips to lips,
The closing in of the outer shell, the chrysalis-death, and the terrible
struggles for liberation;
The larvae crawling the earth for a time—on hill-sides and in valleys,
in huts and palaces—chained to their little plots of earth, their few frail
feet of flesh;
The great thunderclouds passing over from snowy range to range, touching
the little creatures with their shadows;
The great sun out of the unfathomable touching them too with his
finger—breeding slowly but surely within them the life which must destroy
their mortality.

V

Onwards, onwards, I float.
The smoke and glare, the confused roar and tumult of a manufacturing town
spread all around; sounds of voices ascend past me into the silent supernal
blue.
In the tobacco factory amid rows of girls, with my little bit of mirror or
comb concealed in a nook of my bench—I sit—or photograph placed where
I can see it as I work;
Or in the printing office of the daily paper—printing reports of
law-courts and cricket-matches—I scramble with five or six others to the
boxes for a fat take.

The long trial is over, and I am the prisoner on whom sentence has been
pronounced.
The judge in scarlet and ermine, preceded by liveried heralds blowing
trumpets, strides down the corridors and through the crowd thronging the steps
of the Town Hall, into his blue and silver paneled coach;
Hustled and thumped and buffeted by the police, I am fetched from the dock
by underground passages to the prison van, and bumped through the streets to the
gaol—there to await my execution.

Pale and desperate in the cutlery buffing shop boys and girls bend over
their wheels;
In squalor and monotony the winter daylight through dirty windows dawns and
dies away again upon them;
In squalor and monotony the light of youth and of hope dawns and dies away
again from their eyes;
The master looks round with his hands in his pockets, well satisfied;
The cheap goods ready to fall to pieces as soon as used are duly packed and
despatched to African and Pacific Island traders.

Civilisation plays its part in the history of each nation and each
individual,
Unerringly the time of its unfoldment to each arrives, and again the time
of its dismissal and departure.

Brawny figures move to and fro in the iron works, half-seen through clouds
of flying steam or against the glare of furnaces;
The flame of the Bessemer cupola roars, with showers of sparks, and
rattling of cranes, and shouts of men;
The foreman stands calmly aside, spectroscope in hand, or gives a signal
with uplifted arm;
I see the reversing of the cupola, and the outpour of molten steel, lilac
with yellowing vapor around it;
The rose-colored shafts of sunlight through the high roof, the terraces and
platforms, the glints and halos amid the vapor;
The balcony where the men stand with their hydraulic handles controlling
the huge lifts and cranes beneath them;
The groups steadying with iron poles and hooks the great lifted ingots of
steel, or regulating the outflow of liquid stuff into the moulds;
The man in a corner washing his shoulders and head in a bucket of water;
The steam-hammers, the blocks of yellow-hot iron shimmering in the heated
air;
The steel-melter's men around the crucibles with their tongs—their
feet and legs swathed in rags to keep off the heat, their sweat-handkerchiefs
held between their teeth;
The daring, recklessness even at times, the delight in the power and
endurance—the drink, gross talk, rough jokes—throwing the great
pressures upon the novices or shamming to pick quarrels with them;
The planing and cutting of armor-plates, the huge resistless steam-driven
machinery, the gouges and drills,
The shaping of the plates (each one numbered) to the lines of the ships
they are intended for—the careful drawing and planning, and following out
of the plans;
The transporting of them to the sea-coast, the riveting of them each in its
place;
And the floating away of these thousands of tons over the ocean and round
the bend of the world.

And he at the forge streaming with sweat, the striker, with bared breast,
turning out claw-hammer heads by the score,
Keeps dreaming and dreaming all day between the strokes, of love which is
to come and change our earth into heaven;
But his brother who works with him laughs at his dreams—and the spring
comes in the woods to all alike:
The gnarled oak breaks into pale yellow buds against the blue, the mouse
stirs under the dry grass, and the corn-crake runs with head erect among the
young green blades of corn.

VI

Each morning anew the mist rests on the hills; the sun rises on fresh
clouds to be dispersed;
It splinters its shafts against the great rock face, and brings out in bold
relief the figure of the quarryman in his loose blue-checked shirt;
Where on a projecting angle he stands, with mighty hammer-stroke driving
the brods and wedges;
Now he splits off a great mass and displaces it with the crowbar,
While overhead among the tree-roots, in a sunny niche of the barings,
A sparrow chirps cheerfully to him.

Meanwhile the scythe-smith goes to see what he can do for his brother in
prison;
He takes the train and finds out the public-house to which the turnkey
goes, and gives him half-a-sovereign to get his brother something to eat.
The turnkey is a mild old man and would not willingly harm anybody;
He says nothing to the prisoner, but when he leaves his cell each day he
quietly drops a good-sized tommy behind him.

And this is the Hogarthian interior of the Lincolnshire dancing chamber:
the gas, the smoke, the fiddle-scrape, the slopped drink;
The great projecting bay-window with seats in it, the twilight fading on
the groups in the market-place without;
The Dutch-looking ramshackle rooms lighting into one another—farmers'
men and girls tumbling and sitting on each other's knees;
Fat women gyrating together; the young man pressing his comrade to him in
the dance;
The middle-aged farmer slipping off into a barn at the back with a great
wench: she cries, "How good, how good it is, O come again!"





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