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 Bedford, Massachusetts, Aiken entered Harvard University in 1907, but in protest at...
(The entire section is 633 words.)
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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.
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...
(The entire section is 562 words.)
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.
Aiken’s first book of poetry, Earth Triumphant, and Other Tales in Verse, appeared in 1914, and his criticism began to appear in 1915. Before 1925, Aiken published ten volumes of poetry and some one hundred critical essays. Aiken’s most important works prior to the early 1920’s were his five verse “symphonies”: The Charnel Rose, The Jig of Forslin, Senlin: A Biography,...
(The entire section is 782 words.)