“What Marriage Is Really For”

I recently read again a poem I feel is sweepingly beautiful: “A Marriage,” by Eli Siegel. In its free verse lines—many of them grand, some of them seemingly simple—it is about that meeting of one self and another, and that meeting of selves and the outside world, that are the essential thing in love. In Ellen Reiss’s commentary to the issue of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, in which Mr. Siegel’s lecture on this poem begins to be serialized, she explains:

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!

Here is the last section of the poem, which is pulsatingly beautiful, which stands for love and marriage, and which shows the great meaning of what Ellen Reiss describes as the hero of the poem: “a word.”

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.

Read the rest of this issue here.


“Heard”—a Poem by Ellen Reiss

Who has not been thrilled hearing the cry of a newborn baby? The new life in it, humanity-in-little, always stirs people, and I’m among them. So I point to this poem on the subject, by Ellen Reiss, which shows the grand meaning in that first sound:



Welcome to 2017

As we begin a new year, we’re all hoping for new beginnings in many aspects of our lives—and in the world itself. This short poem by Eli Siegel encourages me to feel it is never too late to start fresh.

We’ll Begin Again as Often as Need Be, Any Time
So we’ll begin again,
And then,
If we don’t do so well, or seem to, again
We’ll begin again.

Read more poems by Eli Siegel here.

Art Answers the Questions of Our Lives!

I’m looking forward to this exciting seminar at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation on Thursday, April 4 at 6:30 PM: 

Art Answers the Questions of Our Lives!

The speakers will describe what the philosophy Aesthetic Realism teaches as nothing else does: that the way of seeing that is in art is what we need to have in our everyday lives.  

Learn about the questions of your own life through discussions of Alexander Calder, Filippo Brunelleschi, and Duane Hanson.

For more information, you can print this flyer.

“The Shadows, Black” by Ellen Reiss

Here is a poem I love, written by Ellen Reiss, with whom I’ve studied for many years in the course The Aesthetic Realism Explanation of Poetry. As the world today is—and has been for so long—in turmoil about how to see the sameness and difference of people—in place, time, language, religion, culture, appearance, I am reminded of this moving poem about reality, which is introduced below with a brief note by the poet.

“The Shadows, Black” is about two different aspects of the world: an Arabian desert and New York, with its skyscrapers. The poem says that these two are of each other, inseparable—as a person needs to see different aspects of herself as the same person. —Ellen Reiss

To read more poems by Ms. Reiss, and by others, go to What Poetry Really Is: A Celebration. And read some of her critical writings, and also works by Eli Siegel, poet and founder of Aesthetic Realism, at On the Criticism of Poetry.

The Shadows, Black 

The shadows, dark, stretched across the desert sand,
Shadow-deep, shadow-thin,
Have the profundity of New York skyscrapers
Reaching toward blue.
A camel moves, pale against the large sun;
Feels the pulsing of the desert in his legs
Longs to curl up, puppy-like, beside a great tree:
He has known this life of winding caravans,
Of dark men shaded by white cloth.
The sand is grey now, the sun purely white,
The shadows black.
The camel drops his eyelids, trembles,
Remembering metal buildings soaked in rain,
The pounding of water on wide, dusty streets,
And he hears the tinkling of small bells echo over miles of sand
Made lovely by shadows.

©Ellen Reiss

The past comes back in a surprising way

A while ago, I learned that a wallet I’d lost decades ago as a college freshman had been found. I didn’t recall losing it, but when I saw a photo of it, I remembered the wallet—once ochre-colored embossed leather, bought, I think, at the kind of Indian clothing store popular in Greenwich Village at the time.

The contents were photographed too: a receipt from the campus health center, and one for room and board; a couple of stamps; a record of my summer job at a department store near my Brooklyn home; a picture of my best friend; a business card of someone in Japan that a professor of mine had put me in contact with.

Each of these items, and others, brought the past to me in a different way. Each stood for a different but very particular time in my life, and each meant something to me. Thinking about them, as they had been nestling together in a now-cracked, dried-out, grayish billfold, I was in awe of the meaning of time—both the distinct periods from which these pieces of paper came, each of which affected me differently, and also the meaning of right now.

Anyone who thinks of the past will have some mingling of regret and pride, a sense of what we wish we had done differently and memories of moments we look on fondly. What should we do with the past? How can it be useful to us now?

In an “Outline of Aesthetic Realism,” Eli Siegel writes:

“The past is what it is, but it can always be seen better. The past, seen better, can reasonably be regarded as changing. If we see what has happened to us better today, we give the past a more promising future. There is no limit to how well we can see anything in the past. This means the past can join the present and future, wisely.”

From the moment I first read this, I felt so hopeful about the possibility of making sense of the past. Though there is much I wish I had done, and much I wish I hadn’t done, I know the choices I made all led to my being who I am today. And today is a chance to be different, so that when I look back at the “right now” of late May 2015, I will see someone who was aiming to be more and more the person she hoped to be.

“Sunlight in Slush…”

It’s cold in New York. Very cold. Bitter, biting cold. Looking out my window yesterday, I watched as the East River froze over on the Brooklyn side, ice solidly covering more and more of the shore, and also floating upriver in lively dancing congregations of smaller ice floes. Here’s how it looks today, at a balmy 18°:

Ice on the East River, 2-16-15 #1

Ice on the East River, 2-16-15 #1

East River, Frozen & Moving

East River, Frozen & Moving

I know it gets colder elsewhere, and that New England has had record amounts of snow in the last few weeks. I’ve experienced a couple of Montana winter afternoons with sub-zero temperatures. It’s a cold, blizzard-filled winter—no doubt.

So I’m not saying all this about our cold snap to complain. Rather, as I’m glad to be able to stay warm indoors, I’m just musing on the forces of nature—and on how people in a city such as ours meet them.

I got to thinking of how things will be next week and in other days to come, when the sun is warm and the ice begins to melt. How often people grumble about slush! I’ve been among them, I admit.

But here’s a poem that has an attitude to slush that can have everyone see it as not just an inconvenient and messy phenomenon, but as a chance to wonder at the nature of reality, and the relation of slush to human beings going about our daily lives. Read “Sunlight in Slush, in Puddles, and in Wet Municipal Surfaces; or, Miracle on Eighth Avenue below Fourteenth Street,” by Eli Siegel.

It was a dying sun, too.
The sun did not have the energy it had two hours ago, nor in some days last June,
But it was the same sun, with the same distances.
—Was it the sun in black water
On an Eighth Avenue pavement?
What else could it be?
The sun was allotting itself to ever so many dark, watery surfaces;
I guess, being the sun, it could do nothing else.
But it was a miracle, a miracle being that you can look at, with amazement inhabiting what you look with….

Click to read the rest of the poem

“This to Delia,” a poem by Eli Siegel

Something I hope to do on this blog is to comment on poems I love. I’ll start with one that was just published on the Aesthetic Realism  Online Library: Eli Siegel’s 1929 poem “This to Delia.”

It is musical, surprising, and so encouraging. The speaker asks the large universe to show a woman, Delia—who is symbolic, I think, of people anywhere and at any time—to see the outside world not as inimical, but as to-be-liked. Yes, it has obstacles, difficulties, things that can confuse us—storms, things that can come at us sharply—but these things are not against us just so. The poem has wild images, but its music is lush.

Here’s how it begins:

This to Delia

O mover of pillars whom the Greeks
Called their friend; O pounder of huge drums,
The rage in Africa; O maker of rivers noisy and wild—
Come to the languid Delia.
See that she sees skies as approachable;
Storms as friendly.
Let her see points as soft, soothing….

Read the whole poem here

Pickwick, continued

Well, I had to put dear Pickwick down for a while, but I’ve just picked it up again in the past few days—and am enjoying it immensely!

The powerfully written scene with the trial of Pickwick is, in its satire, one of the clearest indictments of how the legal profession can be misused for evil. For “chops and tomato sauce” and “slow coach” to be damning evidence of Pickwick’s wickedness does show the way words can be manipulated to serve whatever purpose one chooses—and we see plenty of evidence for that today.

Fortunately, there are lawyers whose purpose is different and much more noble than that of Dodson and Fogg, but in his work as a court  reporter Dickens saw a great deal, and was a valuable social critic.

Now, Mr. Pickwick is in debtors’ prison because, on principle, he will not pay damages to Mrs. Bardell when he has done nothing wrong, despite the guilty verdict. And I love dear Sam Weller who will not desert Pickwick—even arranging to be imprisoned himself to be near him as an encouragement.



Reading Pickwick, again—& loving it!

It’s probably been about 25 years since I first read The Pickwick Papers—one of Charles Dickens’ most delightful works. I can remember particular scenes so well, and some of his immortal characters, such as Alfred Jingle, the fat boy Joe, Sam Weller, Mr. Perker, and, of course, Mr. Pickwick himself—are alive in my mind as if I’d just met them for the first time.

Educator Eli Siegel spoke often about this great novel. In one lecture I had the pleasure of hearing, he spoke about how it stirred people when it was published: “The effect of the The Pickwick Papers on the public of then is one of the mighty things in man’s history. People felt this was different: there was a kind of laughter in this work that was different from previous laughter.”

I’d thought about assigning Pickwick to my high school English classes, but its episodic nature—and certainly its length too—kept me from doing so. I did, however, discuss excerpts on many occasions for various reasons. One reason was to have my students understand parallel construction, which Dickens used often and well. Here’s one (very famous) excerpt I especially liked discussing—and even my tough NYC high school juniors and seniors liked it very much. It’s from early in the book:

There are very few moments in a man’s existence when he experiences so much ludicrous distress, or meets with so little charitable commiseration, as when he is in pursuit of his own hat. A vast deal of coolness, and a peculiar degree of judgment, are requisite in catching a hat. A man must not be precipitate, or he runs over it; he must not rush into the opposite extreme, or he loses it altogether. The best way is to keep gently up with the object of pursuit, to be wary and cautious, to watch your opportunity well, get gradually before it, then make a rapid dive, seize it by the crown, and stick it firmly on your head; smiling pleasantly all the time, as if you thought it as good a joke as anybody else.

The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method, which I used for nearly three decades, is based on this central principle: “The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites.” The opposites most clearly together in parallel construction are sameness and difference, unity and variety, continuity and change. As different ideas are expressed with the same grammatical structure, we feel a coherence, a continuity, between or among them. Yet within even the same structure (as in the pronoun+verb+adverb phrase+adjective+noun in “he experiences so much ludicrous distress” and “meets with so little charitable commiseration”), there are nuance, subtle difference, syllabic and rhythmic variety. And with all the difference, the paired (in this instance) structures make for a sense of organization and unity that is very satisfying.

Students can feel—as we all can—that there’s so much going on in their lives, that things change unpredictably, and that there’s no pleasing organization that they can count on. They can also feel there’s too much sameness, and that nothing changes; they’re bored. I find it beautiful, exciting, and so hopeful that we can learn from grammar and from literature—as in this instance of parallel construction in The Pickwick Papers—that opposites don’t have to fight: they can be together in a way that makes us feel good.

  • Copyright ©2017 by Leila Rosen