Conrad Aiken

Conrad Potter Aiken (August 5, 1889 – August 17, 1973) was an American writer, whose work includes poetry, short stories, novels, a play, and an autobiography.[1]

Conrad Aiken
Conrad Aiken poet
BornConrad Potter Aiken
August 5, 1889
Savannah, Georgia, United States
DiedAugust 17, 1973 (aged 84)
Savannah, Georgia, US
OccupationPoet, playwright, essayist, novelist, critic
SpouseJessie McDonald (1912–1929)
Clarissa Lorenz (1930)
Mary Hoover (1937)
Children3, including Jane and Joan


Early years

Aiken was the son of wealthy, socially prominent New Englanders, William Ford and Anna (Potter) Aiken, who had moved to Savannah, Georgia, where his father became a respected physician and brain surgeon. Then something happened for which, as Aiken later said, no one could ever find a reason. Without warning or apparent cause, his father became increasingly irascible, unpredictable, and violent. Finally, early in the morning of February 27, 1901, he murdered his wife and shot himself. According to his own writings, Aiken (who was eleven years old) heard the gunshots and discovered the bodies. He was then raised by his great aunt in Massachusetts and was educated at private schools and at Middlesex School in Concord, Massachusetts, then at Harvard University where he edited the Advocate with T. S. Eliot, who became a lifelong friend and associate.[2]

Aiken's earliest poetry was written partly under the influence of a beloved teacher, the philosopher George Santayana. This relationship shaped Aiken as a poet, 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 years

Aiken was strongly 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 (1914), 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.

Other influences were Aiken's grandfather, Potter, who had been a church preacher, as well as Whitman's poetry which was 'free' style. This helped Aiken shape his poetry more freely while his recognition of a God grounded his more visually rich explorations into the universe. Some of his best known poetry, such as "Morning Song of Senlin", uses these influences to great effect.

Aiken wrote or edited more than 51 books, the first of which was published in 1914, two years after his graduation from Harvard. His work includes novels, short stories (The Collected Short Stories appeared in 1961), criticism, autobiography, and poetry. He was awarded the National Medal for Literature, the Gold Medal for Poetry from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the Pulitzer Prize, the Bollingen Prize, and the National Book Award.[3] 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 lived at 323 Second Street SE, in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.[4] He was also largely responsible for establishing Emily Dickinson's reputation as a major American poet.

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

Aiken's writing was largely influenced by Freud (he was also an admirer of Rank, Ferenczi, Adler, and somewhat less Jung); however, Freud never replied to a letter Aiken sent him. Although Aiken was encouraged by H.D to go to Vienna to meet Freud, the dream was never realized. As he later wrote, "Freud had read Great Circle, and I’m told kept a copy on his office table. But I didn’t go, though I started to. Misgivings set in, and so did poverty."[5][6]

Personal life

Conrad married Canadian Jessie McDonald in 1912, and the couple moved to England in 1921 with their first two children; John (born 1913) and Jane (born 1917), and settled in Rye, East Sussex (where the American novelist Henry James had once lived).[7] Joan was born in 1924 and the marriage was dissolved in 1929. After returning to America, up until the outbreak of World War II, he served in loco parentis as well as mentor to the budding English author Malcolm Lowry.[8] In 1923 he acted as a witness at the marriage of his friend the poet W. H. Davies. In 1950, he became Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, more commonly known as Poet Laureate of the United States. In 1960 he visited Grasmere in the English Lake District (once the home of William Wordsworth) with his friend from Rye, the painter Edward Burra.[9]

Bench at grave of Conrad Aiken in Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia

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."

He was married three times: first to Jessie McDonald (1912–1929); second to Clarissa Lorenz (1930) (author of a biography, Lorelei Two); and third to Mary Hoover (1937). He was the father, by Jessie McDonald, of the writers John Aiken, Jane Aiken Hodge and Joan Aiken.

Aiken had three younger siblings, Kempton, Robert and Elizabeth. After their parents' deaths, 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.

The most regarded source for information on Aiken's life is his autobiographical novel Ushant (1952), one of his major works. 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), Malcolm Lowry (Hambo), and others.

Awards and recognition

Named poetry consultant of the Library of Congress from 1950–1952, Conrad Aiken earned numerous prestigious national writing awards, including a National Book Award,[3] the Bollingen Prize in Poetry, the National Institute of Arts and Letters Gold Medal and the National Medal for Literature. He was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 1934, Academy of American Poets fellowship in 1957, Huntington Hartford Foundation Award in 1960, and Brandeis University Creative Arts Award in 1967.[10] Honored by his native state in 1973 with the title of Poet Laureate, Aiken is remembered there as the first Georgia-born author to win a Pulitzer Prize (in 1930, for his Selected Poems).

Aiken was the first winner of the Poetry Society of America (PSA) Shelley Memorial Award, in 1929.

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

Selected works

Poetry collections

  • Earth Triumphant (Aiken, 1914) (available online at
  • Turns and Movies and other Tales in Verse (Aiken, 1916, Houghton Mifflin) (available online at
  • The Jig of Forslin: A Symphony, 1916
  • Nocturne of Remembered Spring: And Other Poems (Aiken, 1917) (available online at
  • Charnel Rose (Aiken, 1918) (available online at
  • The House of Dust: A Symphony, 1920
  • Punch: The Immortal Liar, Documents in His History, 1921
  • Priapus and the Pool, 1922
  • The Pilgrimage of Festus, 1923
  • Priapus and Other Pool, and Other Poems, 1925
  • Selected Poems, 1929
  • John Deth, A Metaphysical Legacy, and Other Poems, 1930
  • The Coming Forth by Day of Osiris Jones, 1931
  • Preludes for Memnon, 1931
  • Landscape West of Eden, 1934
  • Time in the Rock; Preludes to Definition, 1936
  • And in the Human Heart, 1940
  • Brownstone Eclogues, and Other Poems, 1942
  • The Soldier: A Poem, 1944
  • The Kid, 1947
  • The Divine Pilgrim, 1949
  • Skylight One: Fifteen Poems, 1949
  • Collected Poems, 1953
  • A Letter from Li Po and Other Poems, 1955
  • Sheepfold Hill: Fifteen Poems, 1958
  • The Morning Song of Lord Zero, Poems Old and New, 1963
  • Thee: A Poem, 1967

Short Stories

  • "Bring! Bring!"
  • "The Last Visit"
  • "Mr. Arcularis"
  • "The Bachelor Supper"
  • "Bow Down, Isaac!"
  • "A Pair of Vikings"
  • "Hey, Taxi!"
  • "Field of Flowers"
  • "Gehenna"
  • "The Disciple"
  • "Impulse"
  • "The Anniversary"
  • "Hello, Tib"
  • "Smith and Jones"
  • "By My Troth, Nerisa!"
  • "Silent Snow, Secret Snow"
  • "Round by Round"
  • "Thistledown"
  • "State of Mind"
  • "Strange Moonlight"
  • "The Fish Supper"
  • "I Love You Very Dearly"
  • "The Dark City"
  • "Life Isn't a Short Story"
  • "The Night Before Prohibition"
  • "Spider, Spider"
  • "A Man Alone at Lunch"
  • "Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!"
  • "Your Obituary, Well Written"
  • "A Conversation"
  • "No, No, Go Not to Lethe"
  • "Pure as the Driven Snow"
  • "All, All Wasted"
  • "The Moment"
  • "The Woman-Hater"
  • "The Professor's Escape"
  • "The Orange Moth"
  • "The Necktie"
  • "O How She Laughed!"
  • "West End"
  • "Fly Away Ladybird"

Other books

  • Scepticisms: Notes on Contemporary Poetry (1919)
  • Blue Voyage (1927)
  • Great Circle (1933)
  • King Coffin (1935)
  • A Heart for the Gods of Mexico (1939)
  • The Conversation (1940)
  • Ushant (1952)
  • Collected Short Stories (1960)
  • A Reviewer's ABC: Collected Criticism of Conrad Aiken from 1916 to the Present (1961)
  • Collected Short Stories of Conrad Aiken (1965)


  1. ^ Liukkonen, Petri. "Conrad Aiken". Books and Writers ( Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 2 May 2014.
  2. ^ "Academy of American Poets - Conrad Aiken".
  3. ^ a b "National Book Awards – 1954". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-02.
    (With acceptance speech by Aiken and essay by Evie Shockley from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  4. ^ "DC Writer's Homes - Conrad Aiken". Archived from the original on 2014-12-06. Retrieved 2019-01-13.
  5. ^ "Paris Review - The Art of Poetry No. 9, Conrad Aiken". The Paris Review.
  6. ^ Quinones, Peter. "conrad aiken's a heart for the gods of mexico". the bohemian aesthetic eZine. Archived from the original on 17 October 2014.
  7. ^ Paul Nash, Outline (2016), p. 220
  8. ^ David Markson’s Malcolm Lowry’s Volcano: Myth, Symbol, Meaning:

    A case in point involved Aiken, who had filled an in loco parentis role for [Lowry] in his youth… (Pg. 224).

  9. ^ Arts Council, Hayward Gallery Catalogue, 1985
  10. ^ Riggs, Thomas (1999). Reference Guide to Short Fiction (Second ed.). Michigan: St. James Press. p. 8. ISBN 1-55862-222-5.

External links

1930 Pulitzer Prize

The following are the Pulitzer Prizes for 1930.

A Swiftly Tilting Planet

A Swiftly Tilting Planet is a science fiction novel by Madeleine L'Engle, the third book in the Time Quintet. It was first published in 1978 with cover art by Diane Dillon.

The book's title is an allusion to the poem "Morning Song of Senlin" by Conrad Aiken.

Aiken (surname)

Aiken is a Scots-Irish surname, used as a variant to the original Scottish name Aitken. Notable people with the surname include:

Alastair Aiken (born 1993), British YouTuber known as Ali-A

Ann Aiken (born 1951), American judge and attorney

Blair Aiken (born 1956), American stock car racing driver

Brady Aiken (born 1996), American baseball player

Carl Aiken (born 1962), English-born reggae singer known as Shinehead

Caroline Aiken (born 1955), American musician

Charles Augustus Aiken (1827–1892), American clergyman and academic

Charles Avery Aiken (1872–1965), American painter

Clay Aiken (born 1978), American singer, actor, activist, and television personality

Conrad Aiken (1889–1973), American writer

Danny Aiken (born 1988), American football player

D. Wyatt Aiken (1828–1887), American army officer and politician

Frank Aiken (1898–1983), Irish politician

Frederick Aiken (1832–1878), American lawyer and journalist

George Aiken (1892–1984), American politician

Howard Aiken (1900–1973), American physicist

James Aiken (1888–1974), Scottish Canadian politician

Jesse B. Aiken (1808–1900), American musician

Joan Aiken (1924–2004), British novelist

John Macdonald Aiken (1880–1961), Scottish painter

John Aiken (RAF officer) (1921–2005), British Royal Air Force officer

John Aiken (ice hockey) (born 1932), American ice hockey goaltender

John Aiken (cricketer) (born 1970), New Zealand cricketer

Kimberly Clarice Aiken (born 1974), American winner of Miss America 1994

Liam Aiken (born 1990), American actor

Linda Aiken (born 1943), American nursing researcher

Loretta Mary Aiken (1894–1975), American comedian known as Moms Mabley

Miles Aiken (born 1941), American basketball player

Sam Aiken (born 1980), American football player

Thomas Aiken (born 1983), South African golfer

Tommy Aiken (born 1946), Northern Irish footballer

William Aiken (1779–1831), Irish American politician

William Aiken, Jr. (1806–1887), American politician

William Martin Aiken (1855–1908), American architect

Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry

The Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry is an annual prize, administered by the Sewanee Review and the University of the South, awarded to a writer who has had a substantial and distinguished career. It was established through a bequest by Dr. K.P.A. Taylor, a poet and younger brother of Conrad Aiken.

Bollingen Prize

The Bollingen Prize for Poetry is a literary honor bestowed on an American poet in recognition of the best book of new verse within the last two years, or for lifetime achievement. It is awarded every two years by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University.

Duell, Sloan and Pearce

Duell, Sloan and Pearce was a publishing company located in New York City. It was founded in 1939 by C. Halliwell Duell, Samuel Sloan and Charles A. Pearce. It initially published general fiction and non-fiction, but not westerns, light romances or children's books. It published works by many prominent authors, including Archibald MacLeish, John O'Hara, Erskine Caldwell (including his American Folkways series) Anaïs Nin, Conrad Aiken, Wallace Stegner, E. E. Cummings, Howard Fast, Benjamin Spock and Joseph Jay Deiss. In addition to their literary list, the firm published many works of military history with a focus on aviation in the war years.

Duell, Sloan and Pearce soon became sales agent for Musette Publishers, which had a line of children's books. The firm also published photographic essays, including the U.S. Camera annuals. U.S. Camera 1941 was banned in Boston because it contained photographs of nudes. In 1942 the firm agreed to handle all advertising, promotion, selling and distribution of Eagle Books titles. The firm later added the Essential Books and Bloodhound Mysteries divisions. In 1947 they introduced the New American Naturalist series, which was intended to provide a comprehensive survey of American flora and fauna for the general reader. Arrowhead Books was later added as an independent subsidiary of Duell, Sloan and Pearce.

In 1951 Duell, Sloan and Pearce entered into an agreement with Little, Brown and Company for Little, Brown to handle the manufacturing, warehousing, promotion and selling of all Duell, Sloan and Pearce titles. The two firms remained independent, but the books carried both imprints. In 1956, Duell, Sloan and Pearce terminated the arrangement with Little, Brown, and joined the McKay Group, a cooperative selling and manufacturing association in New York. In March 1961 Duell, Sloan and Pearce became an affiliate of Meredith Publishing Company. In 1967 Meredith announced that all affiliated imprints, including Duell, Sloan and Pearce, would no longer be used. The rights to Duell, Sloan and Pearce books were sold by Meredith to the independent publisher Hawthorn Books in 1969. After Hawthorn closed in 1977, the rights to its titles were acquired by E. P. Dutton.

Eliot Rosewater

Eliot Rosewater is a recurring character in the novels of American author Kurt Vonnegut. He appears throughout various novels as an alcoholic, and a philanthropist who claims to be a volunteer fireman. He runs the Rosewater Foundation, an organization created to keep the family's money in the family. He is among the few fans of the novels of Kilgore Trout (another of Vonnegut's creations).

Grolier Poetry Bookshop

The Grolier Poetry Book Shop ("the Grolier") is an independent bookstore on Plympton Street near Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States. Although founded as a "first edition" bookstore, its focus today is solely poetry. A small (404 sq ft (37.5 m2)), one-room store with towering bookcases, it lays claim to being the "oldest continuous bookshop" devoted solely to the sale of poetry and poetry criticism.

Over the years, the Grolier became a focus of poetic activity in the Cambridge area, which itself had, because of the influence of Harvard University, become a magnet for American poets. It became a point of call for visiting poets as well as a nexus of gossip, rumor and networking in the poetry community. Male poets such as John Ashbery, Robert Bly, Robert Creeley, Donald Hall, and Frank O'Hara were regulars at the store during their time as undergraduates at Harvard; the poet Conrad Aiken lived upstairs from the store in its early days. Numerous other poets and writers, including Russell Banks, Frank Bidart, William Corbett, E. E. Cummings, T. S. Eliot, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, David Ferry, Allen Ginsberg, Denise Levertov, Marianne Moore, Charles Olson, Robert Pinsky, Adrienne Rich, Ruth Stone, James Tate and Franz Wright, have been noted as "friends of the Grolier."

Joan Aiken

Joan Delano Aiken (4 September 1924 – 4 January 2004) was an English writer specialising in supernatural fiction and children's alternative history novels. In 1999 she was awarded an MBE for her services to children's literature. For The Whispering Mountain, published by Jonathan Cape in 1968, she won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, a once-in-a-lifetime book award judged by a panel of British children's writers, and she was a commended runner-up for the Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year's best children's book by a British writer. She won an Edgar Allan Poe Award (1972) for Night Fall.

José García Villa

Jose Garcia Villa (August 5, 1908 – February 7, 1997) was a Filipino poet, literary critic, short story writer, and painter. He was awarded the National Artist of the Philippines title for literature in 1973, as well as the Guggenheim Fellowship in creative writing by Conrad Aiken. He is known to have introduced the "reversed consonance rhyme scheme" in writing poetry, as well as the extensive use of punctuation marks—especially commas, which made him known as the Comma Poet. He used the penname Doveglion (derived from "Dove, Eagle, Lion"), based on the characters he derived from himself. These animals were also explored by another poet E. E. Cummings in Doveglion, Adventures in Value, a poem dedicated to Villa.

London Mercury

The London Mercury was the name of several periodicals published in London from the 17th to the 20th centuries. The earliest was a newspaper that appeared during the Exclusion Bill crisis; it lasted only 56 issues (1682). (Earlier periodicals had employed similar names: Mercurius Politicus, 1659; The Impartial Protestant Mercury, 1681.) Successor periodicals published as The London Mercury during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Martin Armstrong (writer)

Martin Donisthorpe Armstrong (2 October 1882 – 24 February 1974) was an English writer and poet, known for his stories.Armstrong was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and educated at Charterhouse and Pembroke College, Cambridge.

During World War I he volunteered with the British Army and served in France as a Private in the Artists' Rifles. He was commissioned into the 8th Battalion Middlesex Regiment, T.F. in 1915 and promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in 1916. He was included in the final Georgian Poetry anthology.

He married in 1929 Canadian writer Jessie McDonald after she had divorced Conrad Aiken, making Armstrong the stepfather of the young Joan Aiken. He appears in disguised form as a character in Conrad Aiken's Ushant.

Samuel Jeake

Samuel Jeake (1623–1690), dubbed the Elder to distinguish him from his son, was an English merchant, nonconformist, antiquary and astrologer from Rye, East Sussex, England.

Selected Poems

Among the numerous literary works titled Selected Poems are the following:

Selected Poems (Conrad Aiken) by Conrad Aiken

Selected Poems (Robert Frost) by Robert Frost

Selected Poems (Galway Kinnell) by Galway Kinnell

Selected Poems (MacDiarmid) by Hugh MacDiarmid

Selected Poems (Howard Moss) by Howard Moss

Selected Poems (Robert Nathan) by Robert Nathan

Selected Poems (Sylvia Plath) by Sylvia Plath

Selected Poems (Robert Pinsky) by Robert Pinsky

Selected Poems (J. C. Ransom) by John Crowe Ransom

Selected Poems (C. A. Smith) by Clark Ashton Smith

Selected Poems (James Tate) by James Tate

Selected Poems (Vern Rutsala) by Vern Rutsala

Shelley Memorial Award

The Shelley Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America, was established by the will of Mary P. Sears, and named after the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. The prize is given to a living American poet selected with reference to genius and need, and is currently worth (2014) between $6,000 and $9,000. The selection is made by a jury of three poets: one each appointed by the presidents of Radcliffe and Berkeley, and the third by the Board of Governors of the Society.

Silent Snow, Secret Snow

"Silent Snow, Secret Snow" (1934) is Conrad Aiken's best-known short story, often included in anthologies of classic American horror and fantasy short fiction. It appeared in The Collected Stories of Conrad Aiken in 1934, and since then has been widely anthologized.

The Dial

The Dial was an American magazine published intermittently from 1840 to 1929. In its first form, from 1840 to 1844, it served as the chief publication of the Transcendentalists. From the 1880s to 1919 it was revived as a political review and literary criticism magazine. From 1920 to 1929 it was an influential outlet for modernist literature in English.

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