Village Portraits — Eli Siegel
by J. Dosbriora Irwin
Someone told me, a few days ago, that, to-date, Eli Siegel was the most popular man on what may be termed the left wing of the Village. This is no doubt true, but Eli Siegel, as I know him, is not a politician; he does not want to be the leader of the community activities. He is too utterly true and too sincere to lobby, handshake or praise. Eli Siegel has another mission in life than to be popular amongst men. That mission is to be true to himself, to his soul, to his work. Hence he gains respect, which is ever so much more important than popularity. I do not mean by this that Eli Siegel shuts himself into an Ivory Tower...no...not exactly. He has actually many friends and his friendship is just the human exchange to give and take that real friendship should be. But because he is a little finer, a little more idealistic, more sincere than most, and because work means to him a little more, one classes him amidst the rather superior beings one is privileged to meet here and there through life, and that one can, perhaps like or love, despise or envy, but always must respect.
He was educated in Baltimore, where his family lives. His first contact with the Village was in 1926, and he has lived off and on in the Village ever since. At the present he lives on 15th Street. In silence and retirement he reads, studies and writes and certainly like all healthy humans sleeps and eats. This is where he works at his History of America, to which he has given, and now gives, the central part of his mind. Also, he composes the delicate or violent, the sentimental or humorous poems he recites evenings, and prepares the highly documented literary lectures he delivers at the Sam Johnson. For Eli Siegel is a past master at entertaining, at holding the interest of an audience, also at gathering about him men and women of talent and at encouraging them in the field of their particular endeavours. Despite the genius of his profound mind, Eli Siegel is not egoistic, but sensitive to all beauty, appreciative of all artistic expressions. His own poems have been published in many magazines, some have become famous. One has been rewarded by a prize. His recitation of them is original and forcible. One retains in one's ears the vibrations of his The Elevated Goes Roaring By, or the plaintive wail of What Can a Weak Man Do. This last put to music by Nat Katlin, a young Village composer, is now gaining popularity on the radio.