"What Was He to Himself?"
In Eli Siegel's poem "Ralph
Isham, 1753 and Later" there is the question, "What was he to
himself?" I think this is one of the
greatest, kindest lines of poetry, and I believe in
the history of good will between people they are among the
most powerful words ever written. It was
when I was asked, in an Aesthetic Realism consultation, about my
father, "What did he have most against
himself?" that I began to feel I could know him—the feelings inside,
granted existence. Pain in
families will end when people ask and try to answer this question.
Marston studies Aesthetic
Realism in consultations, and it was
clear from her first
consultation the person she was angriest with was her father. She was raised mostly by her mother, she
said; when she was a
girl, her father left her mother for another woman.
When we asked what she thought her father felt at
that time, she was short and
uncomfortable in her answer. "I
saw he was guilty and angry," she said.
We asked: "Do you see your father's feelings as
real? Do you think if he felt he was
wrong, and felt guilty, against himself, that you should respect that?"
Marston: Yes, that's true. Mostly
think of his anger.
Miss Marston to write a monologue of her father
at the age of 18, and try to think what his hopes and his fears were
then. She brought the monologue to her
consultation, and read what she had written about her father's thoughts
as he dressed
to go to a dance:
jacket is too short...I want to belong...The guys like my sense of
like it when I goof around, but I hate being something I'm not. And I don't even know who I am.
think your father is still trying to know who he is?" we asked. "Do you think you have given men the
right to have a question about who they are...this enormous question
that you know
you have?" "Not enough,"
Miss Marston answered.
think your father, now, is for himself or against himself?
him that well—it's probably a combination.
Do you want
him to think more of himself, or less of himself?
Marston: I want him to think
more of himself.
think you've used your father and the pain you saw your mother
have," we asked, "to keep your distance from the world?"
Yes, she said.
how she felt writing the monologue. "I
feel better," she said.
Consultants: Do you
feel proud? To write [this way]
about your father is a major event in your life, because you tried to
about the insides of a person you used to hate the world.
You're going to give the world a second
V. Good Will Has
Coleridge did have a hard time
because the father whose warmth of heart she truly loved and respected
also wanted to forget the persons who meant the most to him. I believe the way Sara Coleridge had
resentment about her father's absence had to do with the difficulty
and ill health that plagued her from early childhood, and her death
long illness at the age of 49. But her life has
value because in such a large way she did try to understand her father
he went through.
the conclusion of her introduction she asks for honesty from the
critics. I am impelled to say, this is what
Eli Siegel has been denied by the press and literary world:
I have endeavored to
give the genuine
impressions of my mind respecting [my
father], believing that if reporters will but be honest, and study to
and that alone, which they really think and feel, the color, which
opinions and feelings may cast upon the subject they have to treat of,
finally obscure the truth.
Commented Mr. Siegel:
What Ms. Coleridge
is saying here is that
need to have good will to be a critic. The critic always has to hope
that he meet something good. At the same time, in order to be just to
your hope, you have to
make sure you don't want to be deceived.
In a letter she wrote to
her husband, Mr. Siegel said, is her greatest writing: "She is saying
sweet way, that once there has been good will for a person, love that
it can be seen as part of the permanent being of the world, and can't
destroyed." Sara Coleridge writes:
Will death at one
blow crush into endless
ruin all our mental growths as an
autumnal tempest prostrates the frail summer-house...? Surely there
will be a
second spring when these firm and profuse growths shall flourish
again.... how utterly
impossible it is to reconcile the mind to the prospect of the
extinction of our
Mr. Siegel explained:
If it's honest
love, it's immortal, you cannot feel it
otherwise....There is a notion that if the world ever comes to
honest, honest, honest, honest, honest, it couldn't let it die. In the
largest sense honesty is the beauty of
beauty itself. The more it's honest and beautiful, the more it has to
be immortal. This is what Sara Coleridge is dealing with.
about the power a
hopes to have. Eli Siegel
wanted to see the value of persons of the past, in this instance a
unknown, and made it possible for us, of the present, to understand