Conrad Potter Aiken was born in Savannah, Georgia, on August 5, 1889. When he was a small boy, his father killed his mother and committed suicide himself, a tragedy that had a profound impact on Aiken’s development. He was raised by a great-great-aunt in Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard in 1912, the same period as T. S. Eliot and E. E. Cummings. During this time, he was also a contributing editor to Dial magazine, where he befriended Ezra Pound. His first collection of poetry, Earth Triumphant, was published in 1914, establishing his reputation as a poet. He avoided military service during World War I by claiming that, as a poet, he was part of an “essential industry”. During the 1920s and 1930s Aiken travelled extensively between England and North America and married three times, once to Jessie McDonald, then to Clarissa M. Lorenz and later the artist Mary Hoover. (Joan Aiken, the children’s book writer, is Aiken and McDonald’s daughter.)
by Conrad Aiken
One, where the pale sea foamed at the yellow sand,
With wave upon slowly shattering wave,
Turned to the city of towers as evening fell;
And slowly walked by the darkening road toward it;
And saw how the towers darkened against the sky;
And across the distance heard the toll of a bell.
Along the darkening road he hurried alone,
With his eyes cast down,
And thought how the streets were hoarse with a tide of people,
With clamor of voices, and numberless faces . . .
And it seemed to him, of a sudden, that he would drown
Here in the quiet of evening air, These empty and voiceless places . . .
And he hurried towards the city, to enter there.
Along the darkening road, between tall trees
That made a sinister whisper, loudly he walked.
Behind him, sea-gulls dipped over long grey seas.
Before him, numberless lovers smiled and talked.
And death was observed with sudden cries,
And birth with laughter and pain.
And the trees grew taller and blacker against the skies
And night came down again.