The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941

What Marriage Is Really For

Dear Unknown Friends:

It is an honor to begin serializing the lecture Eli Siegel gave on April 3, 1964, on the tremendous and everyday subject of marriage. He explains, with ease and might, definitively and gracefully, what marriage means, what people hope for in relation to it, and what interferes with love. In the lecture, he discusses his 1930 poem “A Marriage.”

There are probably more poems on the subject of love than on any other, and I consider “A Marriage” one of the greatest of all. I’ll be commenting on why as our serialization continues; but the reason is in the relation of what is said, and the music, the sound, of how it is said. The poem is in 20 sections. Eli Siegel wrote it on the occasion of a particular marriage, but, as he describes in the lecture, it is not about that marriage and those people: it’s about what love truly is.

“A Marriage” was published in this journal 26 years ago—in issue 873 (December 27, 1989). Now, as we present Mr. Siegel’s discussion, we include it again here. The poem has in it the way of seeing people and the world which became Aesthetic Realism, the philosophy he would begin to teach in 1941, a decade after “A Marriage” was written.

What Love Is For

The purpose of love, Aesthetic Realism explains, is to like the world—the wide, inclusive world of things and people—through knowing a particular person. The big mistake, the ever so frequent and ordinary crime against love, is to use a chosen person to put aside the world, feel superior to it and other human beings. This mistake is a phase of contempt; and Aesthetic Realism identifies contempt as “the greatest danger or temptation” of everyone. Contempt is the getting “a false importance or glory from the lessening of things not oneself.”

These principles are taught now, with beautiful success, in consultations at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation and via Skype throughout the world. They are taught in seminars, and in the Foundation’s Understanding Marriage! class. They are present as poetry in the great poem printed here.

And the following central principle of Aesthetic Realism is true about love: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.” That principle is philosophic—it is a landmark in the history of philosophy—and it is as practical as anything can be. It’s about people right now looking for love online; and about a marriage, rather dreary, after 40 years. It’s about people trying to act at ease about sex but feeling confused, angry, and disgusted with themselves. And it’s about why the relation of Romeo and Juliet is beautiful. The 1930 poem “A Marriage” embodies the principle I just quoted, embodies it logically and also throbbingly, sweepingly. In the poem we see and hear the opposites: the intimacy of love, so personal, and also the width of things. And in it, in the statements and music, we feel too mind and body, closeness and intellect, touch and that hero of the poem, “a word.”

Always—Self & World

In this issue we have Mr. Siegel’s comments on the first section of the poem. He begins showing what he will show throughout: how the world is always present in the relation of two people, even as the people may want to put it aside.

Self and world are the biggest opposites in everyone’s life. And our deepest desire, Aesthetic Realism makes clear, is to like the world through knowing it. We become ourselves in proportion to how much we want to be fair to the world, have it of us. That is the reason for education, why people are impelled to learn. And it is the reason people are impelled to love.

Further: the pain about love, the letdown, the bitterness, why two people who thought they’d love forever now look at each other with fury or dullness, all arise from how the world has been dealt with by the people concerned. In an Aesthetic Realism lesson years ago, as he explained why I came to feel displeased with myself and a man who seemed to love me, Mr. Siegel said: “You used Mr. M to make a world somewhat apart from the world Aesthetic Realism tries to honor.” I find that sentence beautiful, and the explanation true. The very thing recommended by therapists, counselors, buddies, BFFs, and many thoughts of one’s own—to get away from the world with someone—is against what love really is!

People are as confused by love as ever. They need to know that their longing for it comes either from something true to oneself and just—to feel reality itself is close to one; or from something that’s unjust and against one’s own life—to be apart from and superior to the world. Or it’s a muddle of the two. The lecture we are serializing, and Aesthetic Realism itself, can enable people to love proudly and truly. I’m very thankful to know this personally, and to have seen that the oneness of logic and kindness, grandeur and tenderness, that are in this poem and lecture were in Eli Siegel himself all the time.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

A Marriage

by Eli Siegel


North Carolina, Washington and Baltimore.


An auto going south, and words in a room,

And outside, pink of May, white of June, brown of September, white of December.


In a widely tumultuous sky, a darkening sky, going out, dark on all sides, for miles, somewhere in the sky sweetly luminous air; quietly shining stillness somewhere amid strange thunders; and after strange thunders the meaningful careless calling of an unperturbed bird.

Vanishing of black, smoky train into softly-white, million-flowered field; disappearance of weighty smoke and heavy cinders into delicate summery shimmer.


The finely adequate word showing where justice might have been long ago and the meeting of this word by a line of feminine light.


Among a wildly numbered, swirling, diving, circling, plunging mighty army of flying things, See!—Some still power, which persons may call chance or choice or destiny or the Lord or ever-so-often-mentioned God—and the departing from a swirling army of two beings, a departing in some universal manner; and the making of some deliberate universe themselves.


And where have you been?

It is snowing fast,

It is a long way from here,

Sometime, yes—

All in a way for themselves.


With every instance of affection a world connives,

Every kind word is part of destiny’s business.

The universe cheers when the word of one person is met keenly, knowingly, lovingly by another.

Love is the mightiest point in a sweet and cunning world’s going after harmony;

Love is the color of the deftest and richest world geometry,

Geometry moving, and making a point a world, and a world a point.


The whiteness of a petal,

The clean shiningness of a diamond,

The racing of clouds into clouds, and the curving of winds round trains;

Steel, mist, light, wheels, and old ocean,

All are the attendants of mind liking mind,

And all serve today.


Today has been served for ever.

The reins of the mighty, earth-possessing drivers,

The disposers of society,

And they who bind wild lines into one line,

Are the humble attendants of today.


Green of North Carolina, history in Washington, and white in Baltimore are concerned today.


It is a constantly arranging and rearranging world,

And the arrangements and rearrangements are what science and law are after.

The most glorious chase in the world is that of mind after a frisky universe,

And earth joins in the cheering when some of its colorful madness

Has science and law for its conquerors,

And the colorful madness is greater than ever.


Two in this serious game of making law and color one,

Like two clouds that join and together go down
the sky—

After an unknown sun—

And a light beyond suns—

Join, kindly, for the management of this terrifyingly deceptive, evanescent, massive, high and low, god-like, snail-like—this and that—and all around us, in us, and beyond us, and beyond us, and beyond us—and for us world.


Marriage is a successful simile in the poetry of this startling existence we’re in.


Here’s affection and here is, too,

Observation of history together,

Notation of the law,

Worriment about justice,

Regard for the atom,

Companioned conversation with some imposing German.


An auto may take one,

To the knowing light in a dear face,

Or the knowledge-having laugh of a dear mind,
mind shown in mischievous eyes.

So many fields passed for the meeting of love,

So many flowers whizzed by for the meeting of love,

So many houses spurned, meadows banished, barns raced past—

For the meeting of a dear face.

Houses spurned for the meeting of love,

Stars abandoned for the meeting of love.


Springs we’ll have again,

And springs with the presence of love.

Sultry nights will be ours again,

And nights with knowledge and care about.

The opening of doors, the cessation of rain, the disappearance of birds,

All will have love around.


For love changes birds for us,

And makes the delicate pink petal soberly hidden away,

And the gliding, motor-mad, dashing through clouds aeroplane,

Something else; affection has made a new adjective for petals and aeroplanes.


We hail today new summers,

New waves;

And a new past.


Eyes we may suppose,

Are made so that the rose

May be seen; this is the way

Something uses to convey

To us, it has made

Besides our eyes and us,

Something else; and thus and thus

This thing goes about its business.

And for eyes is light and shade,

And for eyes is nothing less

Than a world and a rose,

Than a world and a rose.

The rose has lines and victories,

Despairs, defeat and hate,

Ugliness, terror, shocks.

The rose has all of fate,

The world has all of fate,

The rose has early and late,

The world has early and late—

And spears and stars and fires.—

And don’t you, however, suppose

The eye is for the rose?

Surely the world mocks

Us and so does the rose.

However one sees

Things; however strangely attires

Itself this earth of ours—

Both in steel and flowers—

See it—for don’t you suppose

The eye is for the rose?


Eyes and mind together,

In thunder a hand lying on a hand.

Wheels whizzing to reach an active page, a learned page—a word.

And a hand lying on a hand,

And a cloud on a cloud,

And a mist over ocean,

And flower going off towards dazzling planets,

And a word meeting a word,

And a word meeting a word,

And a word meeting a word,

And North Carolina, Washington, Baltimore,

And a hand lying on a hand,

And a word.

The World, Come to a Point

By Eli Siegel

I’m going to discuss a poem of mine written in 1930, for the marriage of Huntington Cairns and Florence Butler. It is written idealistically, because it’s really about marriage as such, though certain things that were in the lives of the two people mentioned are present, not in a gossipy way. This is a poem that preludes what Aesthetic Realism says about marriage.

Let’s take the first section:

North Carolina, Washington and Baltimore.

This, though not seeming so, has much to say about what is called “in-law trouble,” and place trouble. It often happens that two persons have different backgrounds. And the in-laws are the first statement that geography matters, because the in-laws represent what both the bride and the bridegroom have that is not seen under the nose of one another. The backgrounds may be somewhat alike—for instance, two Jewish people may marry each other in Brooklyn and their families came from the same province of Romania. But even so, there’s another way of seeing the world.

North Carolina, here, had something to do with the bride; it was her state. She was the daughter of a senator. Washington was where the two people saw each other and where the marriage was held. And Baltimore was the city of Huntington Cairns. A question that arises, then, is: is everybody a compact presence, in a different way, of the world as past? Some of it is obvious. If one person is born in Italy and the other is born in the Michigan of lumber, there is a difference that can be quite interesting. Difference is necessary. But difference can also make for quarrels. Difference is what interests us in people, but difference is also a cause of trouble.

So there are three place names. Every person was born somewhere. Every person, after being born, learned how to talk somewhere. Some persons, let’s say, learned how to talk in Portland, Oregon. Others learned how to talk in Tallahassee, Florida.

It is quite clear that the world has come to a point when there is an individual. And a point, by itself, is a very lonely thing. It likes to be a point of something. A point without something it’s a point of, misses a lot. As individuals, we are points, but our base is as wide as anything. It’s endless. Every now and then we can show it, because we do have our background. And our in-laws are a most social form of someone’s background. We bring in-laws to the other person and in-laws are brought to us. And we find that we cannot see the person alone. There is a big desire to see nothing but the person. But that is, strictly speaking, impossible. As soon as you start really seeing the person, you have to see something that concerns the person, is related to the person. —So place is related to poetry and to love.