About Eli Siegel (1902-1978)
Poet, critic, philosopher and educator Eli Siegel
(1902-1978) grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1925
his poem Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana
won the esteemed Nation Poetry Prize. "I say
definitely," William Carlos Williams was to write of
it, "that that single poem, out of a thousand others
written in the past quarter century, secures our place
in the cultural world."
Eli Siegel taught how crucial
it is for people, in order to like themselves, to want
to know and respect other people and the world. These
lines from Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana
stand for the just way of seeing which he had all the
The world is waiting
to be known; Earth, what it has in it!
The past is in it;
All words, feelings, movements, words, bodies, clothes,
girls, trees, stones, things of
beauty, books, desires
are in it; and all are to be known;
Afternoons have to do with the whole world;
And the beauty of mind, feeling knowingly the world!
Beginning in 1941, the year he founded
the philosophy Aesthetic Realism, Mr. Siegel gave thousands
of lectures and classes on the arts and sciences, as
well as individual lessons, in which he explained that:
(1) the deepest desire of every person is to like the
world on an honest or accurate basis; (2) "the
chief reason for liking the world is that the world
has the opposites which, as one, we see as beauty itself";
(3) the desire for contempt--"the addition to self
through the lessening of something else"--is what
most hurts a person, makes one timid, unexpressed, held
back, afraid to be deeply affected--and also makes a
person unkind, even brutal.
Among Mr. Siegel's many published works
are Self and World: An Explanation of Aesthetic
Realism; Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana: Poems,
which was nominated for a National Book Award in
1958 (John Henry Faulk, speaking of the poems in this
book, said on CBS radio, "Eli Siegel makes a man glad
he's alive"); Hail, American Development, containing
178 poems, including 32 translations; James and the
Children: A Consideration of Henry James's Turn of the
Screw; Goodbye Profit System: Update and
Children's Guide to Parents and Other Matters .
Some of the many playwrights Mr. Siegel
lectured on definitively are Sophocles, Sheridan, Moliere,
Vanbrugh, Massinger, Ibsen, Strindberg, O'Neill, Susan
Glaspell, George Kelly, Congreve, Oscar Wilde, Sean
O'Casey, Galsworthy, and Kaufman and Hart.
And Eli Siegel is the critic who understood William
Shakespeare--the dramatist, poet, and man. Mr. Siegel
cared for Shakespeare early and all his life. At 16,
he wrote to his friend Adolphus D. Emmart in Baltimore:
Shakespeare is finished completely
now. This I consider to be my best literary
performance. From 'Ho Boatswain' of The
Tempest to the last line of the Phoenix and
the Turtle, all has been read. This includes
Pericles, Titus Andronicus, and Troilus
and Cressida. Did you read Troilus and Cressida,
villain? Oh, so many things could be said about Shakespeare.
And Mr. Siegel was to say them!
Throughout the years, he spoke about
Shakespeare's works with a oneness of complete freshness
and eternal principle that was his alone. He discussed
every one of the 154 sonnets. He lectured on many of
the plays, including The Tempest, Julius Caesar,
Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, Two Gentlemen of Verona,
King Lear, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Taming of
the Shrew, Othello.
And there is his Shakespeare's Hamlet:
Revisited, in which the reason Hamlet could not
avenge his father is understood for the first time.
In this critical masterpiece, he discussed every scene
of the play in detail and showed its poetic and dramatic
power, its meaning for us right now.
To learn more about Eli Siegel, read
Eli Siegel" from the U.S. Congressional Record.
Siegel in the 1930s at the Village Vanguard (NYC),
likely reciting Vachel Lindsay's The Congo