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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 NUMBER 1305.—April 8, 1998

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

Poetry, Domesticity, Love

Dear Unknown Friends:

I love the lecture we are serializing, and consider it great in literary criticism: Eli Siegel's Poetry and Practicality, of 1948. In it, Mr. Siegel shows that the "poetic" and the "practical," the literary and the quotidian, are not, as people have felt, in different worlds. To do so, he discusses poems about things mundane, down-to-earth, non-soaring—yet they are poetry, and therefore they have one feel that there is wonder in the practical, that the mundane is also the mysterious, the breathtaking. And, Aesthetic Realism shows, poetry and art are not liars: "Art," Mr. Siegel writes, "shows reality as it is, deeply: straight" (Self and World, p. 110). This fact is the greatest hope for humanity: as we make opposites fight, as we make most of life pedestrian and flat, to be offset by moments of romance or quests for the thrilling, it is we who are wrong about the world, and poetry which is right. 

So I comment a little on a famous passage of literary criticism and show, as only Aesthetic Realism can, that it is also about the other subject of this TRO: marriage. 

Two hundred years ago, in 1798, there appeared a book important in world culture, the Lyrical Ballads of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. English romanticism is sometimes seen as beginning with that collection of poems. In 1817, in chapter 14 of his Biographia Literaria, Coleridge tells how the Lyrical Ballads came to be written—and that chapter itself opens in a way at once literary and homey: "During the first year that Mr. Wordsworth and I were neighbours, our conversations turned frequently on the two cardinal points of poetry ...." Coleridge tells how he and Wordsworth decided to compose "a series of poems" which would represent those two aspects of poetry: the wonderful and the true. Coleridge would choose subjects that were "supernatural" but present them in such a way that they had "dramatic truth." 

Mr. Wordsworth, on the other hand, was to propose to himself as his object, to give the charm of novelty to things of every day .... Subjects were to be chosen from ordinary life; the characters and incidents were to be such as will be found in every village and its vicinity.

It was from Eli Siegel that I first heard these sentences. And it is he who showed this description matters not only in the history of poetry—but urgently in life, including in the lives of people who never heard of the Lyrical Ballads

Familiarity & Wonder in Marriage

All over America wives are bitter because they cannot feel "the charm of novelty [in] things of every day." The man whom they once saw as Mr. Romance, who brought to the tedium of life a something that made their hearts leap, is now a husband; and instead of offsetting the tedium, he now seems to be part of it, to add to it. So a wife tries to follow the advice in articles with titles like "How to Make Your Marriage Romantic Again." But putting candles on the table, or getting a new nightgown, doesn't work. Aesthetic Realism amazingly, kindly, and logically shows that what this woman needs is not an alluring new garment or candlelight, but the way of seeing reality itself that Coleridge and Wordsworth were going after. 

The poems of Wordsworth are related to a Chinese poem of perhaps the 7th century BC which Mr. Siegel discusses here: both tell simply, without verbal decoration, about ordinary things; yet the telling is musical and makes for wonder. Wordsworth wrote about a Cumberland beggar, about a rural little girl, about a sheep farmer—and he saw in them Meaning, Wonder. But Wordsworth himself did not know, nor did his friend Coleridge, of what that wonder consists. The wonder, present in all good poetry, consists—Eli Siegel explained—in seeing that the object before one is related to the whole world, says something about the whole world. We find in the poem itself, we hear in its music, the structure of the world: the oneness of opposites. For example, Mr. Siegel points out in the Chinese poem he discusses here a oneness of flow and uncertainty—forms of reality's great opposites Continuity and Discontinuity. 

She Made Less of the World

A wife, who now feels her marriage is flat, non-wondrous, does not see that the reason is: she has used her husband unpoetically—not to know the world in its wideness and care for it, but to make less of it. She thought, when they married eight years ago, that romance was their ability to kick out the world together, make a universe apart, and feel the two of them were superior to everybody. What she saw as romance was really contempt, which Eli Siegel described as "the addition to self through the lessening of something else." He showed that contempt is the most hurtful thing in the human mind; it is the beginning of every injustice. 

As man and wife belittle and dim the world together, they can feel triumphant at first—there can be a carnal thrill. But the thrill and triumph turn into boredom and resentment. This is because meaning, wonder, real romance, real thrill are the feeling that the world itself is close to us through another thing or person. That is so in art; and I am enormously grateful to know it is also the inescapable artistic and scientific law—the happiness-giving law—in love! 

It is through Aesthetic Realism that love can truly flourish, and domesticity have wonder—be like art. That will be when a woman, for instance, feels about a man she sees every day: "This man, so close to me, has to do with everything—with all of history, with people he saw at the age of 3, with the people he met today, whom I don't know but who are as real as I am. I want him to see meaning in them and be just to them. I want him to be affected as fully as possible by objects, books, skies, trees, the words of people. I want to understand all people better through knowing him, including my mother - and his mother. This person whose coffee I am now pouring, whose face is so familiar, has in him what the whole world is: toughness and gentleness, tumult and calm, heaviness and lightness, surface and depth. And so, as I look at him now across the coffee cups, I feel wonder—and happiness, and pride!

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

Love and Practicality
By Eli Siegel

Then, there is another poem from the Chinese Book of Songs, which is definitely poetic. (A note says the Ch'i is a "river in northern Honan.") 

There is a fox dragging along 
By that dam on the Ch'i. 
Oh, my heart is sad; 
That man of mine has no robe. 


There is a fox dragging along 
By that ford on the Ch'i. 
Oh, my heart is sad; 
That man of mine has no belt. 


There is a fox dragging along 
By that side of the Ch'i. 
Oh, my heart is sad; 
That man of mine has no coat.

That is the whole poem; and its purport is this: love is difficult when your husband-to-be, perhaps, hasn't good clothes. It is very simple. There are love and practicality; the girl says, I like this man, but I do wish he'd have some clothes.

And there is a comparison: love meeting difficulties of an everyday sort, difficulties having to do with possessions or economics, goes along as sadly, perhaps as shamefacedly, as a fox dragging along by that dam on the Ch'i. 

I am quite sure that if a critic, perhaps in a learned place, saw the line "That man of mine has no belt," he would say, "This may be meant to be poetry but I don't accept that meaning." It is a line which definitely is prosaic. But it has lived for over 2,000 years, and Arthur Waley took the trouble to translate it, as others had before him. 

There is poignancy in this poem, there is a flowing, and an uncertain sadness. It is a sadness that puts together the practical matter of clothes or possessions and the possibilities of love or marriage. Love is made one with a coat, and also with a tired fox. That is the way the world is: an emotion can meet a button. And if persons want to see emotion through the absence of buttons, well, they don't want to see emotion very much. 

The poem says very poignantly, with the most unmistakable but subtle pathos, How good it would he for the man I love to have enough clothes. That's the message of the poem, which has come down to us through these hundreds, yea, thousands of years. 

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Aesthetic Realism is based on these
principles, stated by Eli Siegel:

1. The deepest desire of every person is to like the world on an honest or accurate basis.


2. The greatest danger for a person is to have contempt for the world and what is in it .... Contempt can be defined as the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it.


3. All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.

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First Thursday of each month, 6:30 PM: Seminars with speakers from Aesthetic Realism faculty

Third Saturday of each month, 8 PM: Aesthetic Realism Dramatic Presentations
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The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known (TRO) is a biweekly periodical of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation.
Editor: Ellen Reiss
Coordinators: Nancy Huntting, Meryl Simon, Steven Weiner

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TRO: Home |  Current |  Art |  Literature |  Racism |  Education |  Nat'l Ethics |  Love |  Economics |  Memorial |  Site Map
"Is a Person an Aesthetic Situation?" by Eli Siegel: a short explanation of Aesthetic Realism
The Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company in New York City. Authors in the repertory include Ibsen, Sheridan, Shakespeare, O'Neill.
Ellen Reiss, Commentaries in TRO:
The Mideast  |  Poetry of Eli Siegel |  Unions
Lord Byron |  Harry Potter |  Sherlock Holmes
Robert Burns |  The 'criticism' of John Keats
Racism & Its Solution

Aesthetic Realism Resources:
Aesthetic Realism Consultations
Two Biographies of Eli Siegel:
[1]Aesthetic Realism Foundation
[2]Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company Site
Friends of Aesthetic Realism—Countering the Lies

Art and Literature:
The Terrain Gallery / Aesthetic Realism Foundation
The Place of Aesthetic Realism in Culture & Literature

Two Teachers Speak on a Class Taught by Ellen Reiss
The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method:
Lesson Plans in Diverse Subjects
Teaching Indian Culture in the United States:
The Aesthetic Realism Method
Further Resources:
Essays and News Pieces about Aesthetic Realism
Photographic Education: the Aesthetic Realism Viewpoint
A New Perspective for Anthropology: The Aesthetic Realism Method
Self-Expression and What Interferes: an Aesthetic Realism Discussion
John Singer Sargent's Madame X, an Aesthetic Realism Discussion

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