By TYLER MALONE
I first encountered Conrad Aiken in the 1920s literary magazine the Dial, hunched over a machine reading microfilm in the New York Public Library. At the same time, I was reading about him in the memoirs and biographies of the modernists. I read items — some undoubtedly exaggerated, others perhaps apocryphal — about how he introduced Ezra Pound to T.S. Eliot (so without him, the world would be sans “The Waste Land”); about how he’d written a book that Freud kept on his desk, which some were claiming was Freud’s favorite novel (Aiken’s second novel, “Great Circle”); about how H.D., the modernist poet, had actually attempted to get him psychoanalyzed by Freud (though this, unfortunately, never came to fruition); about how he had played a major part in solidifying Emily Dickinson’s place in the canon (as the editor of one of the early posthumous collections of her poems); about how he recognized the genius of William Faulkner as early as 1927 (seeing through the flaws of “Mosquitoes” and predicting the future prominence of the man of Yoknapatawpha County); about how, on James Joyce’s deathbed, the author of “Ulysses” was reading his poetry (specifically, “The Coming Forth by Day of Osiris Jones”); about how he not only mentored Malcolm Lowry, but served in loco parentis for the young writer who would go on to pen “Under the Volcano” (and whose first novel, “Ultramarine,” was an admitted imitation of Aiken’s own “Blue Voyage” — so much so that Aiken had joked that Lowry should just call it “Purple Passage”).
Yet, for all the interesting tidbits I discovered about his life, it was his work that really wowed me, leaving me breathless in a way few authors ever have. I devoured the poems, the stories, the novels, and “Ushant,” his “naughtybiography” (a pun on “autobiography”). The sentences were like music, spiraling symphonies; the form seemed meticulously designed and, simultaneously, tossed off in the most natural way; the exploration of consciousness always felt both intimate and universal. To me, he belonged with Joyce, Woolf and Eliot, yet I never saw him among their ranks.
The centenary of the first volume by Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Jesuit Victorian experimentalist was posthumously published among the Modernists.
Listen to the podcast from the Poetry Foundation: 100 Years of Hopkins
Filed under History, Study
Change and chancefulness in my flowering youthtime,
Set me sun by sun near to one unchosen;
Wrought us fellowly, and despite divergence,
Friends interblent us.
“Cherish him can I while the true one forthcome–
Come the rich fulfiller of my prevision;
Life is roomy yet, and the odds unbounded.”
So self-communed I.
Thwart my wistful way did a damsel saunter,
Fair not fairest, good not best of her feather;
“Maiden meet,” held I, “till arise my forefelt
Wonder of women.”
Long a visioned hermitage deep desiring,
Tenements uncouth I was fain to house in;
“Let such lodging be for a breath-while,” thought I,
“Soon a more seemly.
“Then, high handiwork will I make my life-deed,
Truth and Light outshow; but the ripe time pending,
Intermissive aim at the thing sufficeth.”
Thus I … But lo, me!
Mistress, friend, place, aims to be bettered straightway,
Bettered not has Fate or my hand’s achieving;
Sole the showance those of my onward earth-track–
In his book, THOMAS HARDY HALF A LONDONER, Mark Ford writes, “The Temporary the All,” […] is composed in Sapphics, a complex, even outlandish metre for anyone writing in English. Nevertheless, this was the poem chosen by Hardy to initiate his thirty-year campaign to persuade his followers that, the popularity of recent novels such as Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure notwithstanding, his true gift was for verse. The bracketed subheading ‘Sapphics’ was added only when the poem was reprinted in Hardy’s Selected Poems of 1916. Hardy’s interest in the metre was no doubt sparked by Swinburne’s poem, simply entitled ‘Sapphics’, published in 1866 in Poems and Ballads.
For more analysis of “The Temporary the All,” see Great Poetry Explained.
Read “Sapphics” by Algernon Charles Swinburne, the poem that inspired “The Temporary the All.”
Filed under History, Poem, Study