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, and Other Poems, The House of Dust, and The Pilgrimage of Festus...
(The entire section is 780 words.)