Conrad Aiken’s early years in Savannah, Georgia, were full of fear based on beatings by his father, a physician who became so paranoid that he shot his wife and then himself to death. Conrad, their twelve year-old son, heard the shots and discovered their bodies.
His uncle, a Harvard librarian, cared for him when he went to school in Concord, where he edited the school magazine and then attended Harvard College, where he and T.S. Eliot began a lifelong friendship. Aiken was so shy that he left college early rather than accept the honor of being the Class Poet.
His life was devoted to writing and living on a small inheritance in the United Kingdom and the United States. Along with his legacy of poetry, prose, and fiction, he wrote a fictionalized autobiography, Ushant. Sigmund Freud spoke of his Great Circle as a masterpiece of analytical interpretation. Among his many honors were a National Medal for Literature and a National Book Award. All three children of his marriage in 1812 to Jessie MacDonald, a Canadian, became writers.
The selection chosen for inclusion here is Part One of his poem “Discordants.”
Music I heard with you was more than music,
And bread I broke with you was more than bread
Now that I am without you, all is desolate;
All that was once so beautiful is dead.
Your hands once touched this table and this silver,
And I have seen your fingers hold this glass.
These things do not remember you, beloved,-
And yet your touch upon them will not pass.
For it was in my heart you moved among them,
And blessed them with your hands and with your eyes;
And in my heart they will remember always,-
They knew you once, O beautiful and wise.
Click here to view supplemental reading to Conrad Aiken on Amazon.