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.