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Countdown to Savannah: Conrad Aiken

Written by teaberry

In early 2007, we started our official Countdown to Savannah. Each Sunday, we posted a different topic about this special city where we met for our first Great Slow Travel Gathering in Spring 2008.

With 63 posts over 14+ months, we learned a lot about the many facets of this historic, hospitable and intriguing American city. Our weekly posts touched on Savannah's history, famous people, architecture, food, culture, surrounding area and much more. We hope this information acquaints you with Savannah, entices you to visit this historic city, and prepares you for a very memorable trip.

Personal Tragedy Impacts His Life

Poet, short story writer, critic, and novelist, Conrad Aiken was born on August 5, 1889 in Savannah, Georgia. He had the misfortune of the ultimate tragedy befall him at a tender age, and this profoundly impacted his life and view of the world.

At the age of 11, Conrad Aiken’s father killed his mother, and then committed suicide. It was Conrad who found their bodies. Traumatized, young Aiken was sent to Massachusetts to live with an aunt. He was well taken care of there - educated in private schools, and then attended Harvard, where he was classmates and friends with T.S. Eliot. He graduated in 1912, and published his first poetry in 1914, called Earth Triumphant. He wrote and edited more than 50 books during his life, and in 1930 was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his Selected Poems (1929).

He had an intense interest in psychoanalysis, and this is clearly reflected in his works. Throughout his poetry and fiction, he tried to explore the messages of his subconscious – he believed that understanding one’s own motivations was key to self-awareness. Deep, reflective, sensitive, and ponderous, the sound of his poetry has been likened to the music of Debussy, or the artwork of Whistler. He claimed that his greatest influences included Freud, Edgar Allen Poe, and William James.

Conrad Aiken led an illustrious life – he was married three times, and in his autobiographical novel, Ushant (1952), he speaks of his various affairs, marriages, attempted suicide and fear of insanity, like his father. He struggled with these issues throughout his life, and they informed all that he wrote. Silent Snow, Secret Snow is his short story about a young boy’s descent into madness. He was named Poetry Consultant (today’s equivalent to Poet Laureate) from 1950-1952. He enjoyed a longstanding friendship with poet Ezra Pound, and even his daughter, Joan Aiken, went into writing, becoming a children’s book author.

From 1962 onward, he moved back to Savannah, living right next door to the house of his childhood. He and his wife were active in literary and academic life in the community. Six months before his death, Governor Jimmy Carter made him Poet Laureate for the state of Georgia. Aiken had a marble bench erected next to his parents’ graves in Bonaventure Cemetery, engraved with two epitaphs: “Give my love to the world” and “Cosmos Mariner Destination Unknown.”

Conrad Aiken died in 1973, and he is buried in Bonaventure Cemetery. There is an historical marker in front of his house on 223 E. Oglethorpe Ave.

If you are interested in reading a fascinating 1963 interview with Aiken by the Paris Review, check out this pdf link: http://www.parisreview.com/media/4283_AIKEN.pdf.

All Lovely Things, by Conrad Aiken

All lovely things will have an ending,
All lovely things will fade and die,
And youth, that’s now so bravely spending,
Will beg a penny by and by.

Fine ladies soon are all forgotten,
And goldenrod is dust when dead,
The sweetest flesh and flowers are rotten
And cobwebs tent the brightest head.

Come back, true love! Sweet youth, return!-
But time goes on, and will, unheeding,
Though hands will reach, and eyes will yearn,
And the wild days set true hearts bleeding.

Come back, true love! Sweet youth, remain!-
But goldenrod and daisies wither,
And over them blows autumn rain,
They pass, they pass, and know not whither.


All About Savannah: Links to many information pages about Savannah (where to eat, where to stay, places of interest, getting around town, and more)

Author: teaberry is a nurse anesthetist who enjoys hiking, gardening, family, traveling, reading, playing piano, art, cooking, and anthropology - not necessarily in that order.

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