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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)

The Vampire

Conrad Aiken, 1899 - 1973
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,
With basilisk eyes so ominous,
With mouth so sweet, so poisonous,
And tortured hands so pale?
We saw her wavering to and fro,
Through dark and wind we saw her go;
Yet what her name was did not know;
And felt our spirits fail.

We tried to turn away; but still
Above we heard her sorrow thrill;
And those that slept, they dreamed of ill
And dreadful things:
Of skies grown red with rending flames
And shuddering hills that cracked their frames;
Of twilights foul with wings;

And skeletons dancing to a tune;
And cries of children stifled soon;
And over all a blood-red moon
A dull and nightmare size.
They woke, and sought to go their ways,
Yet everywhere they met her gaze,
Her fixed and burning eyes.

Who are you now, —we cried to her—
Spirit so strange, so sinister?
We felt dead winds above us stir;
And in the darkness heard
A voice fall, singing, cloying sweet,
Heavily dropping, though that heat,
Heavy as honeyed pulses beat,
Slow word by anguished word.

And through the night strange music went
With voice and cry so darkly blent
We could not fathom what they meant;
Save only that they seemed
To thin the blood along our veins,
Foretelling vile, delirious pains,
And clouds divulging blood-red rains
Upon a hill undreamed.

And this we heard:  "Who dies for me,
He shall possess me secretly,
My terrible beauty he shall see,
And slake my body's flame.
But who denies me cursed shall be,
And slain, and buried loathsomely,
And slimed upon with shame."

And darkness fell.  And like a sea
Of stumbling deaths we followed, we
Who dared not stay behind.
There all night long beneath a cloud
We rose and fell, we struck and bowed,
We were the ploughman and the ploughed,
Our eyes were red and blind.

And some, they said, had touched her side,
Before she fled us there;
And some had taken her to bride;
And some lain down for her and died;
Who had not touched her hair,
Ran to and fro and cursed and cried
And sought her everywhere.

"Her eyes have feasted on the dead,
And small and shapely is her head,
And dark and small her mouth," they said,
"And beautiful to kiss;
Her mouth is sinister and red
As blood in moonlight is."

Then poets forgot their jeweled words
And cut the sky with glittering swords;
And innocent souls turned carrion birds
To perch upon the dead.
Sweet daisy fields were drenched with death,
The air became a charnel breath,
Pale stones were splashed with red.

Green leaves were dappled bright with blood
And fruit trees murdered in the bud;
And when at length the dawn
Came green as twilight from the east,
And all that heaving horror ceased,
Silent was every bird and beast,
And that dark voice was gone.

No word was there, no song, no bell,
No furious tongue that dream to tell;
Only the dead, who rose and fell
Above the wounded men;
And whisperings and wails of pain
Blown slowly from the wounded grain,
Blown slowly from the smoking plain;
And silence fallen again.

Until at dusk, from God knows where,
Beneath dark birds that filled the air,    
Like one who did not hear or care,
Under a blood-red cloud,
An aged ploughman came alone      
And drove his share through flesh and bone,
And turned them under to mould and stone;
All night long he ploughed.

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

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

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

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;