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About this poet

Conrad Potter Aiken was born in Savannah, Georgia, on August 5, 1889. When he was a small boy, his father killed his mother and committed suicide himself, a tragedy that had a profound impact on Aiken's development. He was raised by a great-great-aunt in Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard in 1912, the same period as T. S. Eliot and E. E. Cummings. During this time, he was also a contributing editor to Dial magazine, where he befriended Ezra Pound. His first collection of poetry, Earth Triumphant, was published in 1914, establishing his reputation as a poet. He avoided military service during World War I by claiming that, as a poet, he was part of an "essential industry". During the 1920s and 1930s Aiken travelled extensively between England and North America and married three times, once to Jessie McDonald, then to Clarissa M. Lorenz and later the artist Mary Hoover. (Joan Aiken, the children's book writer, is Aiken and McDonald's daughter.)

Most of Aiken's poetry reflects an intense interest in psychoanalysis and the development of identity. Of the many influences Aiken acknowledged, the writings of Freud, William James, Edgar Allan Poe, and the French Symbolists are most evident in his work. The forms and sounds of music pervade all of Aiken's highly introspective poetry, collected in The Jig of Forslin (1916); The Charnel Rose (1918); Selected Poems (1929), which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1930; Brownstone Eclogues (1942); The Kid (1947); Collected Poems (1953), which won the National Book Award; and Collected Poems 1916-1970 (1970). His work in Collected Novels (1964), including Blue Voyage (1927), shows Aiken to be a master of interior monologue. His novels had a profound influence on the works of many young writers of the day, including his protégé, Malcolm Lowry.

Aiken was Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress (now the U.S. Poet Laureate) from 1950-52. His other honors included the Bollingen Prize, the Gold Medal in Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a National Medal for Literature. Aiken's critical essays are compiled in A Reviewer's ABC (1958); his Collected Short Stories appeared in 1960. As editor of Emily Dickinson's Selected Poems (1924), Aiken was largely responsible for establishing her posthumous literary reputation. The Selected Letters of Conrad Aiken (1978) contains correspondence with such literary colleagues as Wallace Stevens, Harriet Monroe, and Edmund Wilson, and his autobiographical book Ushant (1952) affords much insight into other literary figures he knew, mingling personal references with mention of his associates. Conrad Aiken died in Savannah in 1973.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

A Letter from Lí Po and Other Poems (1955)
A Seizure of Limericks (1964)
And in the Hanging Garden (1933)
And in the Human Heart (1940)
Brownstone Eclogues (1942)
Collected Poems (1953)
Collected Poems (1970)
Earth Triumphant and Other Tales in Verse (1914)
Gehenna (1930)
John Deth, A Metaphysical Legacy, and Other Poems (1930)
Landscape West of Eden (1934)
Nocturne of Remembered Spring and Other Poems (1917)
Prelude (1929)
Preludes for Memnon (1931)
Priapus and the Pool (1922)
Punch: The Immortal Liar (1921)
Selected Poems (1929)
Selected Poems (1961)
Sheepfold Hill: Fifteen Poems (1958)
Skylight One: Fifteen Poems (1950)
The Charnal Rose, Senlin, and Other Poems (1918)
The Coming Forth by Day of Osiris Jones (1931)
The Divine Pilgrim (1949)
The Fluteplayer (1956)
The House of Dust: A Symphony (1920)
The Jig of Forslin: A Symphony (1916)
The Kid (1947)
The Morning Song of Lord Zero (1963)
The Pilgrimage of Festus (1923)
The Soldier: A Poem (1944)
Time in the Rock: Preludes to Definition (1936)
Turns and Moves and Other Tales in Verse (1916)
Wake II (1952)

Prose

A Reviewer's ABC (1958)
Collected Criticism (1968)
Melody of Chaos (1931)
Scepticism, Notes on Contemporary Poetry (1919)
Ushant: An Essay (1952)

Fiction

A Heart for the Gods of Mexico (1939)
Among the Lost People (1934)
Blue Voyage (1927)
Bring! Bring! and Other Stories (1925)
Conversation: or a Pilgrim's Progress (1940)
Great Circle (1933)
King Coffin (1934)
The Collected Novels of Conrad Aiken (1964)
The Collected Short Stories of Conrad Aiken (1960)
The Short Stories of Conrad Aiken (1950)

For Children

A Little Who's Zoo of Mild Animals (1977)
Cats and Bats and Things with Wings (1965)

Letters

The Selected Letters of Conrad Aiken (1978)

Plays

Mr. Arcularis (1953)

Twilights, V

Conrad Aiken, 1899 - 1973

Now the great wheel of darkness and low clouds
Whirs and whirls in the heavens with dipping rim;
Against the ice-white wall of light in the west
Skeleton trees bow down in a stream of air.
Leaves, black leaves and smoke, are blown on the wind;
Mount upward past my window; swoop again;
In a sharp silence, loudly, loudly falls
The first cold drop, striking a shriveled leaf . . .
Doom and dusk for the earth! Upward I reach
To draw chill curtains and shut out the dark,
Pausing an instant, with uplifted hand,
To watch, between black ruined portals of cloud,
One star,—the tottering portals fall and crush it.
Here are a thousand books! here is the wisdom
Alembicked out of dust, or out of nothing;
Choose now the weightiest word, most golden page,
Most somberly musicked line; hold up these lanterns,—
These paltry lanterns, wisdoms, philosophies,—
Above your eyes, against this wall of darkness;
And you'll see—what? One hanging strand of cobweb,
A window-sill a half-inch deep in dust . . .
Speak out, old wise-men! Now, if ever, we need you.
Cry loudly, lift shrill voices like magicians
Against this baleful dusk, this wail of rain . . .
But you are nothing! Your pages turn to water
Under my fingers: cold, cold and gleaming,
Arrowy in the darkness, rippling, dripping—
All things are rain . . . Myself, this lighted room,
What are we but a murmurous pool of rain? . . .
The slow arpeggios of it, liquid, sibilant,
Thrill and thrill in the dark. World-deep I lie
Under a sky of rain. Thus lies the sea-shell
Under the rustling twilight of the sea;
No gods remember it, no understanding
Cleaves the long darkness with a sword of light.

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Conrad Aiken

Conrad Aiken

Conrad Potter Aiken was born in Savannah, Georgia, on August 5, 1889.

by this poet

poem

IV

Dead Cleopatra lies in a crystal casket,	
Wrapped and spiced by the cunningest of hands.	
Around her neck they have put a golden necklace,	
Her tatbebs, it is said, are worn with sands.	
 
Dead Cleopatra was once revered in Egypt—	        
Warm-eyed she was, this princess of the south.	
Now she
poem
She rose among us where we lay.
She wept, we put our work away.
She chilled our laughter, stilled our play;
And spread a silence there.
And darkness shot across the sky,
And once, and twice, we heard her cry;
And saw her lift white hands on high
And toss her troubled hair.

What shape was this who came to us,
poem

Behold me, in my chiffon, gauze, and tinsel,
Flitting out of the shadow into the spotlight,
And into the shadow again, without a whisper!—
Firefly’s my name, I am evanescent.

Firefly’s your name. You are evanescent.
But I follow you  as remorselessly as darkness,
And shut you in and