Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
Conrad Potter Aiken was the oldest of three sons and one daughter. His father was a surgeon, and the Aikens were well off, but the family was fractured by strife. In “Obiturary in Bitcherel,” the last of his Collected Poems (1970), and in Ushant: An Essay (1952), Aiken records the crescendo of violence that tore his family apart. In “Obituary in Bitcherel,” Aiken gives himself a very good beginning, with a distinguished father who was not only a physician and surgeon but also a writer and painter and with a mother, a New England beauty, whose father, William James Potter, a Congregational minister, was a friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Two Mayflower passengers and six generations of the Delanos ran in Aiken’s veins. His parents reared him to appreciate literature and writing, and he had happy hours of play besides. Then the parents seemed to turn against each other. The atmosphere of the house became strained. Aiken was beaten, barebacked, for reasons unknown. In Ushant, he tells of the argument flaring up between his parents early one morning, of his mother’s half-smothered cry, of his father’s voice counting to three, of the handgun exploding twice, and of the two still bodies lying separately in the dim daylight of the room. Aiken was only eleven years old, and ever after the murder-suicide, he was in search of a literary consciousness that would do his parents credit.
Sent to live with a great-great aunt in New...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
When Conrad Aiken was eleven, his father killed his mother and then committed suicide. This incident could very well have influenced the subject matter of a great number of his stories, where one step more may take a character to an immense abyss of madness or death. Graduating from Harvard University in 1911, Aiken became a member of the famous Harvard group which included T. S. Eliot, Robert Benchley, and Van Wyck Brooks. He published his first volume of poems in 1914. A contributing editor of The Dial from 1917 to 1919, Aiken later worked as London correspondent for The New Yorker. Through the course of his career he was the recipient of many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1930 for Selected Poems (1929), the National Book Award in 1954 for Collected Poems (1953), and the Bollingen Prize in Poetry in 1956. He died in 1973 at the age of eighty-four.
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Conrad Potter Aiken was born in Savannah, Georgia, on August 5, 1889. Both of his parents were New Englanders. His mother, Anna Potter Aiken, was the daughter of William James Potter, minister of the Unitarian First Congregational Society of New Bedford, Massachusetts, and a friend of the essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. His father, William Ford Aiken, was a physician educated at Harvard. The central event of his childhood—and in fact of his whole life—took place in 1900, when, at the age of eleven, he discovered the dead bodies of his parents. Aiken’s father had killed his mother with a revolver and then shot himself. This event remained forever embedded in his psyche. As Aiken writes in Ushant, “He had tiptoed into the dark room, where the two bodies lay motionless, and apart, and, finding them dead, found himself possessed of them forever.”
Following this crucial event, Aiken’s two brothers were separated from him, and he spent the remainder of his childhood living with a great-great-aunt in New Bedford. He attended the Middlesex School in Concord and, in 1907, entered Harvard University during the same period as T. S. Eliot, John Reed, Walter Lippmann, E. E. Cummings, and Robert Benchley. At college, Aiken was president of the Harvard Advocate literary magazine, a frequent contributor to the Harvard Monthly, and a leader among his classmates in literary discussions, but he also established a pattern that...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Conrad Potter Aiken (AY-kuhn) was a central figure in the American poetry renaissance of the early twentieth century. He was born in Savannah, Georgia, on August 5, 1889, the son of parents of distinguished New England ancestry. His father, William Ford Aiken, studied medicine at Harvard University and in Europe. His mother, Anna Potter Aiken, was the daughter of William James Potter, a prominent minister in New Bedford, Massachusetts, who left the Unitarian church to cofound the less sectarian Free Religious Association. For his freethinking and rationalism, Potter assumed heroic stature in many of Aiken’s works. The key event of Aiken’s life occurred when his father shot to death himself and his wife in February, 1901. The tragedy’s effects on the development of Aiken’s personality are analyzed, often through elaborate dream sequences, in much of his writing. Following the deaths of his parents, Aiken was separated from his two younger brothers and sister to be reared by relatives in New Bedford and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Aiken entered Harvard University in 1907, where he became a close and lifelong friend of T. S. Eliot. As a student, Aiken was deeply influenced by the naturalistic rationalism of George Santayana, who argued that the greatest poetry was philosophical, capable of expressing a coherent worldview based upon a knowledge of contemporary scientific and humanistic thought.
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In 1889 Conrad Aiken was born to parents of Scottish descent in Savannah, Georgia. In 1901, when he was eleven years old, Aiken’s father, killed his wife and then committed suicide. Aiken lived with an aunt in New Bedford, Massachusetts, until he entered Harvard University in 1907. There, he studied with George Santayana, a renowned philosopher and poet. Santayana’s philosophy emphasized the utility of human sensory perception and reason. This aesthetic reaction to the world also emerges in Aiken’s own poetry and fiction.
Aiken wrote steadily in many genres, but preferred writing poetry and short stories. He also wrote several novels, including The Blue Voyage (1927), Great Circle (1933), King Coffin (1935), and A Heart of the Gods for Mexico (1939).
Aiken’s poetry ranges from short lyrics to extended ‘‘symphonies,’’ as he called them, to more straightforward verse narratives. He received the Pulitzer Prize for his Selected Poems (1929) and a National Book Award for his Collected Poems (1953). As a poet, Aiken belonged to the modernist school, yet his verse was different from the work of Ezra Pound or Wallace Stevens. As a prose writer, Aiken tended to be more conventional, though such modernistic devices as stream-of-consciousness can be found in his work.
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Biography (Poetry for Students)
Conrad Aiken was born in Savannah, Georgia, on August 5, 1889, the eldest of four children. When Aiken was eleven, his father, a physician and a poet, murdered his wife and then turned the pistol on himself. Seeing the blood-soaked bodies, Aiken went to the police station for help. After their parents' burial, the children were separated. Aiken was sent to Massachusetts to live with his father's sister's family.
When Aiken entered Harvard in 1907, he had already begun writing poetry; in 1911 he was named Class Poet. At Harvard he met T. S. Eliot (1885–1965). Together they edited the Advocate, a magazine of poetry and criticism. The friendship begun at Harvard, despite a period of estrangement when Eliot embraced Anglicanism and distanced himself from those who did not, lasted throughout their lives. Aiken was a contributing editor to Eliot's magazine the Dial between 1917 and 1919.
In 1912, Aiken married Jessie McDonald; the couple had three children. In 1917, his first book of poems, Nocturne of Remembered Spring, was published. The Charnel Rose followed in 1918. In 1919, the Aikens left Cambridge, Massachusetts, and moved to South Yarmouth, England. In 1920, Aiken published House of Dust: A Symphony. In 1921, the family moved to London. There Aiken became...
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