The Book of Sonnet Sequences

By Houston Peterson | Go to book overview

XXI -- CONRAD AIKEN
1889- ]

SINCE 1914 Aiken has published nine volumes of poetry which have shown a constant advance both in substance and technique, but aside from occasional and often grudging praises, his work has been little noticed and less appreciated. A partial exception to this general neglect is the criticism of Louis Untermeyer who sums up his views of the new era in American poetry in the latest edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. "Among the more resonant singers, Conrad Aiken fashioned a curiously crepuscular music, which later, in Punch: The Immortal Liar ( 1921) and Priapus and the Pool ( 1925), developed into a dark lyricism of extraordinary plangency."

Of old New England stock on both sides, Aiken was born in Savannah, Georgia, where his father practised medicine. At the age of eleven, after the sudden death of his parents, he went to live with relatives in New Bedford, Massachusetts; attended boarding school for several years; and at length went through Harvard, graduating with the class of 1912. He had been a frequent contributor to the Harvard Advocate and the Harvard Monthly, at one time an editor of the Advocate, class poet, and a close friend of T. S. Eliot who wrote some of his most characteristic verse while still an undergraduate. In June 1912 Aiken married, travelled in Europe for a year, and then settled down to the writing of poetry in Cambridge. After six years in Boston and on Cape Cod, he lived in England from 1922 to 1926, finished his novel, Blue Voyage, and again returned to reside in Cambridge.

At the outset Aiken proved himself a facile enough versifier, although far too suggestible, falling successively under the influence of Masefield, Masters, John Gould

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