Conrad Aiken poet

Conrad Aiken (1889-1973). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Conrad Potter Aiken
Born Conrad Potter Aiken
August 5, 1889(1889-Template:MONTHNUMBER-05)
Savannah, Georgia, USA
Died August 17, 1973(1973-Template:MONTHNUMBER-17) (aged 84)
Savannah, Georgia, USA
Occupation Poet, playwright, essayist, novelist, critic

Conrad Potter Aiken (August 5, 1889 - August 17, 1973) was an American poet and novelist, whose work includes poetry, short stories, novels, and an autobiography.[1]

Life Edit


Aiken was the son of wealthy, socially prominent New Englanders who had moved to Savannah, Georgia, where his father became a highly respected physician and surgeon. But then something happened for which, as Aiken later said, a reason could not be found. Without warning or apparent cause, his father became increasingly irascible, unpredictable, and violent. Then, early in the morning of February 27, 1901, he murdered his wife and shot himself. According to his own writings, Aiken (who was 11 years old) heard the gunshots and discovered the bodies.

Aiken was raised by his aunt in Massachusetts. He was educated at private schools and at Middlesex School in Concord, Massachusetts. He then attended Harvard University where he edited the Advocate with T.S. Eliot, who became a lifelong friend and associate.

Aiken's earliest poetry was written partly under the influence of a beloved teacher, the philosopher George Santayana. This relation shaped Aiken as a poet who was deeply musical in his approach and, at the same time, philosophical in seeking answers to his own problems and the problems of the modern world.

Adult yearsEdit

Aiken wrote or edited more than 51 books, beginning in 1914, 2 years after his graduation from Harvard. His work includes novels, short stories (his Collected Short Stories appeared in 1961), criticism, autobiography, and, most important of all, poetry. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, taught briefly at Harvard, and served as Consultant in Poetry for the Library of Congress from 1950 to 1952. He was also largely responsible for establishing Emily Dickinson's reputation as a major American poet.

Aiken was deeply influenced by symbolism, especially in his earlier works. In 1930 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his Selected Poems. Many of his writings had psychological themes. He wrote the widely anthologized short story Silent Snow, Secret Snow (1934). His collections of verse include Earth Triumphant (1911), The Charnel Rose (1918) and And In the Hanging Gardens (1933). His poem Music I Heard has been set to music by a number of composers, including Leonard Bernstein and Henry Cowell.

After 1960, when his work was rediscovered by readers and critics, a new view of Aiken emerged, that emphasized his psychological problems, along with his continuing study of Sigmund Freud, Carl G. Jung, and other depth psychologists. 2 of his 5 novels deal with depth psychology.

Aiken's interest in Freud was reciprocated by the great psychoanalyst, who was equally interested in how Aiken used Freudian concepts in his fiction. Freud went so far as to call Aiken's Great Circle a favorite novel. Freud once expressed interest in meeting Aiken face-to-face to discuss psychoanalysis. Aiken agreed and set off to Europe, but by chance on the boat over met Erich Fromm, a Freud disciple, who convinced Aiken that it would be a bad idea for the writer to have sessions with Freud. Because of this, the 2 never met.[2]

Private lifeEdit

Aiken had 3 younger siblings, Kempton, Robert and Elizabeth. They were adopted by Frederick Winslow Taylor and his wife Louise, a distant relative, and took Taylor's last name. Kempton was known as K.P.A. Taylor (Kempton Potter Aiken Taylor) and Robert was known as Robert P. A. Taylor (Robert Potter Aiken Taylor). Kempton helped establish the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry.

In 1911 Conrad Aiken married Canadian Jessie McDonald who bore him 3 children.[3] From 1921 the family lived in England, where his 3rd child was born.

Aiken and MacDonald divorced in 1929.[3] He later married Clarissa Lorenz (1930) (author of a biography, Lorelei Two) and then Mary Hoover (1937). He was the father, by MacDonald, of writers Jane Aiken Hodge and Joan Aiken.

Aiken resided in England until the beginning of World War II. During his time in England, he served in loco parentis as well as mentor to budding English author Malcolm Lowry.[4] In 1923 he acted as a witness at the marriage of his friend, poet W.H. Davies.

Aiken returned to Savannah for the last 11 years of his life.

Aiken's tomb, located in Bonaventure Cemetery on the banks of the Wilmington River, was made famous by its mention in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the bestselling book by John Berendt. According to local legend, Aiken wished to have his tombstone fashioned in the shape of a bench as an invitation to visitors to stop and enjoy a martini at his grave. Its inscriptions read "Give my love to the world," and "Cosmos Mariner - Destination Unknown."

The best source for information on Aiken's life is his autobiographical novel Ushant (1952). In this book he speaks candidly about his various affairs and marriages, his attempted suicide and fear of insanity, and his friendships with T.S. Eliot (who appears in the book as The Tsetse), Ezra Pound (Rabbi Ben Ezra), and other literary men.



Conrad Aiken bench, Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah. Photo by Mark Coggin. Licensed under Creative Commons, Courtesy Flickr.

Named Poetry Consultant of the Library of Congress Library of Congress from 1950 to 1952, Conrad Aiken has also earned numerous prestigious national writing awards, including a National Book Award, the Bollingen Prize for Poetry, the National Institute of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for poetry, and the National Medal for Literature.

Honored by his native state in 1973 with the title of Poet Laureate, Aiken will always be remembered in his native state as the earliest Georgia-born author to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1930, for his Selected Poems.

Aiken was the inaugural winner of the Poetry Society of America's Shelley Memorial Award in 1929.

In 2009, the Library of America selected Aiken's 1931 story "Mr. Arcularis" for inclusion in its 2-century retrospective of American Fantastic Tales.


Main article: Conrad Aiken bibliography


  • Earth Triumphant, and other tales in verse. New York: Macmillan, 1914; New York: St. Martin's, 1975.
  • The Jig of Forslin: A symphony. Boston: Four Seas, 1916; International Pocket Library, 1965.
  • Turns and Movies, and other tales in verse. Houghton, 1916; R. West, 1976.
  • Nocturne of Remembered Spring, and other poems. Boston: Four Seas, 1917.
  • The Charnel Rose, Senlin: A Biography; and other poems. Boston: Four Seas, 1918; Haskell House, 1971.
  • The House of Dust: A symphony. Boston: Four Seas, 1920.
  • Punch: the Immortal Liar: Documents in his history. Knopf, 1921.
  • Priapus and the Pool. Dunster House, 1922.
  • The Pilgrimage of Festus. Knopf, 1923.
  • Senlin: A biography, and other poems. Hogarth Press , 1925.
  • Selected Poems. Scribner, 1929.
  • Gehenna. Random House, 1930; R. West, 1977.
  • John Deth: A metaphysical legend, and other poems. New York: Scribner, 1930.
  • Preludes for Memnon. New York: Scribner, 1931.
  • The Coming Forth by Day of Osiris Jones. New York: Scribner, 1931.
  • Prelude: A poem. Equinox, 1932.  Arden Library, 1978.
  • Landscape West of Eden. Dent, 1934, New York: Scribner, 1935.
  • Time in the Rock: Preludes to Definition. New York: Scribner, 1936.
  • And in the Human Heart. Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1940.
  • Brownstone Eclogues, and other poems. Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1942.
  • The Soldier: A poem. Norfolk, CT: New Directions, 1944.
  • The Kid. Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1947.
  • The Divine Pilgrim. University of Georgia Press, 1949.
  • Skylight One: Fifteen poems. Oxford University Press, 1949.
  • Collected Poems. Oxford University Press, 1953; 2nd edition, 1970.
  • A Letter from Li Po, and other poems. Oxford University Press, 1955.
  • The Fluteplayer. privately printed, 1956.
  • Sheepfold Hill: Fifteen Poems. Sagamore Press, 1958.
  • Selected Poems (new selection). Oxford University Press, 1961.
  • The Morning Song of Lord Zero: Poems old and new. Oxford University Press, 1963.
  • A Seizure of Limericks. Holt, 1964.
  • Preludes (contains Preludes for Memnon and Time in the Rock: Preludes to Definition). Oxford University Press, 1966.
  • Thee (illustrations by Leonard Baskin). Braziller, 1967
    • (illustrations by Gillian Ruff), limited edition, Inca Books, 1973.
  • The Clerk's Journal: Being the diary of a queer man: An undergraduate poem; Together with a Brief Memoir of Harvard, Dean Briggs, and T.S. Eliot. Eakins, 1971.
  • A Little Who's Zoo of Mild Animals. New York: Atheneum, 1977.


  • Blue Voyage. Scribner, 1927.
  • Great Circle. Scribner, 1933.
  • King Coffin. Scribner, 1935.
  • A Heart for the Gods of Mexico. Secker, 1939; R. West, 1977.
  • Conversation; or, Pilgrims' Progress. Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1940.
  • Collected Novels (introduction by R.P. Blackmur). Holt, 1964.
  • Three Novels: Blue Voyage / Great Circle / King Coffin (with preface by Aiken). McGraw, 1965.

Short fictionEdit

  • Bring! Bring!, and other stories. Boni & Liveright, 1925.
  • Costumes by Eros. Scribner, 1928.
  • Among the Lost People. Scribner, 1934.
  • The Short Stories of Conrad Aiken. Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1950.
  • Collected Short Stories. World Publishing, 1960.
  • The Collected Short Stories of Conrad Aiken (preface by Walter Allen). Heinemann, 1966.


  • Cats and Bats and Things with Wings (poems for children). Atheneum, 1965.


  • Tom, Sue, and the Clock (poem for children). Macmillan, 1965.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[5]

See alsoEdit

Morning Song. A poem by Conrad Aiken

Morning Song. A poem by Conrad Aiken.

Bread and Music by Conrad Aiken (poetry reading)

Bread and Music by Conrad Aiken (poetry reading)


  1. Conrad Aiken, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. Web, July 12, 2015.
  2. The Bohemian Aesthetic
  3. 3.0 3.1 Lizza Aiken, "A Family Education", The HornBook, 2009. The World of Joan Aiken, March 28, 2014, Wordpress, Web, July 12, 2015.
  4. "A case in point involved Aiken, who had filled an in loco parentis role for [Lowry] in his youth."David Markson's Malcolm Lowry's Volcano: Myth, Symbol, Meaning, 224.
  5. "Conrad Aiken 1889-1973," The Poetry Foundation, Web, June 29, 2011.

External links Edit

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