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Biography of Conrad Aiken

Conrad Aiken

Conrad Aiken (1889 - 1973)

American poet, short story writer, critic and novelist. Most of Aiken's work reflects his intense interest in psychoanalysis and the development of identity. As editor of Emily Dickinson's Selected Poems (1924) he was largely responsible for establishing that poet's posthumous literary reputation. From the 1920s Aiken divided his life between England and the United States, playing a significant role in introducing American poets to the British audience.

Conrad Aiken was born in Savannah, Georgia. In his childhood Aiken experienced a considerable trauma when he found the bodies of his parents after his physician father had killed his mother and committed suicide. He was brought up in Massachusetts from the age of eleven by a great-great-aunt.

Before entering Harvard Aiken was educated at private schools and at Middlesex School, Concord. In Harvard he shared a class with T.S. Eliot, with whom he edited the Advocate and whose poetry was to influence his own. Aiken graduated in 1912, in the same era as Eliot, Walter Lippman, Van Wyck Brooks, and E.E. Cummings. After working as a reporter, Aiken devoted himself entirely to writing, having also a small private income. Of the many influences Aiken acknowledged, the writings of Freud, Havelock Ellis, William James, Edgar Allan Poe, and the French Symbolists are evident in his work. Freud considered Aiken's GREAT CIRCLE a masterpiece of analytical introspection.

Aiken's first collection of verse, EARTH TRIUMPHANT, appeared in 1914 and made him known as a poet. He was a contributing editor to Dial, which led to a friendship with Ezra Pound. Aiken's essays, collected in SKEPTICISMS (1919) and A REVIEWER'S ABC (1958), dealt with the questions provoked by his commitment to literature as a mode of self-understanding.

During the First World War Aiken claimed that he was in an 'essential industry' because of being a poet, and was granted an exemption for this reason.

Aiken's adult life was marked by trans-Atlantic journeys. In 1921 he moved from Massachusetts to England, settling in Rye, Sussex. In 1927-28 he was a tutor in English at Harvard. He married Clarissa M. Lorenz in 1930 (divorced in 1937). In 1933 he sailed again for Boston, and then spent two years in Rye (1934-36), writing 'London Letters' to the New Yorker. He returned to New York and Boston, and travelled in Mexico, where he married the artist Mary Hoover. They returned to Rye in 1937, but moved to the United States after the outbreak of World War II.

In 1930 Aiken was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his collection SELECTED POEMS. Most of Aiken's fiction was written in the 1920s and 1930s, among others novels BLUE VOYAGE (1927), in which he used interior monologue, KING COFFIN (1934), and short story collections BRING! BRING! (1925) and AMONG THE LOST PEOPLE (1934).

After staying two years in Rye, Aiken settled in 1947 in Brewster, Massachusetts. He was a consultant in poetry at the Library of Congress from 1950 to 1952. In 1953 he published COLLECTED POEMS, which included the masterwork 'Preludes to Definition' and 'Morning Song of Senlin'. Aiken's 'autobiographical narrative' USHANT (1952) depicted his friendships with Malcolm Lowry, T.S. Eliot, and other figures he knew. It dramatized the attempt of its protagonist, the author's persona, to read the palimpsest of hieroglyphs that constitutes the landscape of his soul, and mingled sketches of the literary generation between the wars with psychoanalytic free association.

From 1962 on Aiken wintered in a Savannah house adjacent to that of his childhood. He died in Savannah on August 17, 1973. Aiken received Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Bollinger Prize in 1956, Gold Medal in Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1958, and National Medal for Literature in 1969. Aiken's psychological penetrations and verbal richness never received the wide recognition they deserve in spite of his several awards. Posthumously published THE SELECTED LETTERS OF CONRAD AIKEN (1978) contains correspondence with such literary colleagues as Wallace Stevens, Harriet Monroe, and Edmund Wilson.

Biography by: Petri Liukkonen

64 Poems written by Conrad Aiken

The poems are by default sorted according to volume, but you can also choose to sort them alphabetically or by page views.

Volume | Alphabetically | Page Views | Comments | [First Lines]

First LineComments
'Draw three cards, and I will tell your future . . .
'Number four—the girl who died on the table—
'This envelope you say has something in it
1 Comments and analysis of Senlin: His Dark Origins by Conrad Aiken 10 Comments
from Senlin: A Biography
from Senlin: A Biography Comments and analysis of Morning Song Of Senlin by Conrad Aiken 2 Comments
After the movie, when the lights come up,
All lovely things will have an ending,
As evening falls,
As evening falls, Comments and analysis of The House Of Dust: Part 04: 06: Cinema by Conrad Aiken 197 Comments
Behold me, in my chiffon, gauze, and tinsel,
Beloved, let us once more praise the rain.
Fanfare of northwest wind, a bluejay wind Comments and analysis of A Letter From Li Po by Conrad Aiken 14 Comments
From time to time, lifting his eyes, he sees Comments and analysis of The House Of Dust: Part 03: 10: Letter by Conrad Aiken 1 Comment
He Comments and analysis of Chiarascuro: Rose by Conrad Aiken 1 Comment
He thinks her little feet should pass
He, in the room above, grown old and tired,
Here on the pale beach, in the darkness;
I. Comments and analysis of Nocturne Of Remembered Spring by Conrad Aiken 1 Comment
I. (Bread and Music)
Midnight; bells toll, and along the cloud-high towers
More towers must yet be built—more towers destroyed—
Music I heard with you was more than music, Comments and analysis of Music I Heard by Conrad Aiken 1 Comment
No, I shall not say why it is that I love you—
Now, when the moon slid under the cloud Comments and analysis of The House Of Dust: Part 03: 12: Witches' Sabbath by Conrad Aiken 2 Comments
Of what she said to me that night—no matter. Comments and analysis of The House Of Dust: Part 03: 04: Illicit by Conrad Aiken 1 Comment
One, from his high bright window in a tower,
One, where the pale sea foamed at the yellow sand,
Over the darkened city, the city of towers, Comments and analysis of The House Of Dust: Part 01: 06: Over the darkened city, the city of towers by Conrad Aiken 2 Comments
Round white clouds roll slowly above the housetops,
See, as the carver carves a rose,
She looks out in the blue morning
She turned her head on the pillow, and cried once more. Comments and analysis of The House Of Dust: Part 02: 06: Adele And Davis by Conrad Aiken 6 Comments
Snow falls. The sky is grey, and sullenly glares
Southeast, and storm, and every weathervane
The cigarette-smoke loops and slides above us,
The days, the nights, flow one by one above us,
The door is shut. She leaves the curtained office,
The half-shut doors through which we heard that music
THE HOUSE OF DUST Comments and analysis of The House Of Dust: Complete (Long) by Conrad Aiken 14 Comments
The lamplit page is turned, the dream forgotten;
The parrot, screeching, flew out into the darkness,
The round red sun heaves darkly out of the sea.
The snow floats down upon us, mingled with rain . . . Comments and analysis of The House Of Dust: Part 01: 05: The snow floats down upon us, mingled with rain by Conrad Aiken 1 Comment
The sun goes down in a cold pale flare of light.
The sun goes down in a cold pale flare of light.
The warm sun dreams in the dust, the warm sun falls Comments and analysis of The House Of Dust: Part 02: 03: Interlude by Conrad Aiken 8 Comments
The white fog creeps from the cold sea over the city,
This is the house. On one side there is darkness,
Through that window—all else being extinct
Two lovers, here at the corner, by the steeple, Comments and analysis of The House Of Dust: Part 02: 07: Two Lovers: Overtones by Conrad Aiken 5 Comments
Up high black walls, up sombre terraces,
We sit together and talk, or smoke in silence.
Well, as you say, we live for small horizons: Comments and analysis of The House Of Dust: Part 04: 03: Palimpsest: A Deceitful Portrait by Conrad Aiken 1 Comment
Well,—it was two days after my husband died—
What shall we talk of? Li Po? Hokusai?
When she came out, that white little Russian dancer,
Wind blows. Snow falls. The great clock in its tower
You read—what is it, then that you are reading?
You see that porcelain ranged there in the window—

Books by Conrad Aiken
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