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Conrad Aiken (Conrad Potter Aiken) Biography

(1889–1973), (Conrad Potter Aiken), London Mercury, Athenaeum, Earth Triumphant, The Jig Forslin: A Symphony

American poet and critic, born at Savannah, Georgia, educated at Harvard, where he began a long friendship with T. S. Eliot. During the 1920s he supplied ‘Letters from America’ for the London Mercury and the Athenaeum. The narrative poems of Earth Triumphant (1914), which reflect the influence of John Masefield, began his prolific career as a poet; succeeding collections include The Jig Forslin: A Symphony (1916), initiating his interest in psychological parable; The Charnel Rose, Senlin (1918), a fictionalized verse-autobiography; and The House of Dust (1920), a symbolic treatment of the individuals's quest for identity in the city, a theme to which he returned in Brownstone Eclogues (1944). John Deth (1930) revealed the explicitly metaphysical dimensions of his imagination which were most fully realized in the powerful symbolic landscapes of Preludes for Memnon (1931) and the dramatic spiritual allegory of The Coming Forth by Day of Osiris Jones (1931). Among his later collections of poetry, which expressed his idiosyncratic existential philosophy, were Skylight One (1949) and Letter from Li Po (1995). Although Aiken was closely associated with the development of poetic Modernism, his experimental tendencies co-existed with a firm allegiance to the rhetorical effects of Romanticism. His Collected Poems of 1953 was revised in 1973. His work as a novelist shares his poetry's preoccupations with psychological and spiritual dimensions of experience. He described Blue Voyage (1927) and The Great Circle (1933) as ‘profoundly autobiographical’ in their respective accounts of a writer taking stock of his achievement in mid-career. The leitmotif of journeying as an allegory of psychic development is strongly present in A Heart for the Gods of Mexico (1939) and Conversation, or Pilgrim's Progress (1940). Scepticisms (1919), a collection of his early literary journalism, displays the confidence of judgement and directness of tone that remained characteristic of his criticism. His influential commentaries on the work of a wide range of poets were collected as A Reviewer's ABC (1966). The autobiographical Ushant (1952, revised edition 1972) is often regarded as the finest of his prose works. A biography by Edward Butscher was published in 1988.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: 110A Piccadilly to Nelson Algren Biography