Selected Letters of Conrad Aiken (Magill's Literary Annual 1979)
During his lifetime, Conrad Aiken was a very private person, for excellent reasons. He feared that the mental illness which had afflicted his father could too easily become a visitation upon the son. As a small boy Aiken had been in an adjoining room when his father murdered his wife and then turned the gun upon himself. For all the ensuing years of his life, Aiken feared that public appearances might trigger a similar mental problem, a fear that led him to forsake public appearances of all kinds. He fled from Harvard in 1911 so that he would not have to perform as the class poet for his graduating class, and throughout his life, he continued to shun becoming a public figure. Even being introduced to groups of staff members at the Library of Congress in later years, when he became Poetry Consultant, was excruciating for him. In an age when writers, especially poets, fleshed out their otherwise meager incomes by teaching, lecturing, and giving public readings, Aiken was unable to meet the public. His only academic service was to be a tutor at Harvard for a year.
Aiken also stayed away from literary movements, for he believed the poet always needs to be independent of literary fads. He believed strongly that the poet has to tend to the business of poetry, to write truthfully about himself and, through himself, about humanity. Because of this belief in where...
(The entire section is 1430 words.)
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