“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.


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