Richard A. Kellaway
Minister Emeritus, First Unitarian Church
in New Bedford, Massachusetts
clearly thought of himself as Unitarian. A reason
for not joining any church is that he was painfully
shy of any public activity. He resigned from Harvard
College rather than accept the honor of being the
Senior Class Poet. He never gave public readings.
He refused an honorary Harvard degree because he had
refused the graduation appearance and, again, was
fearful of appearing in public. Much of his adult
life was spent in Jeakes House in Rye, UK. When it
much later became a B & B, I had the good fortune
to stay in the tower room where he did much of his
writing. I met him once (martinis at 11AM at his home
in Brewster, MA). He was warm, friendly and engaging.
He was eager to hear about New Bedford and his grandfather
William J. Potter. In his magnificent autobiography
Ushant, he states that his entire lifework
was to carry on the ideas and work of Mr. Potter.
-From "Unitarian Universalist
Historical Society Chat" June 26, 2002
Aiken was born in Savannah, Georgia. In his childhood
Aiken experienced a considerable trauma when he found
the bodies of his parents after his physician father
had killed his mother and committed suicide. He was
brought up in Massachusetts from the age of eleven
by a great-great-aunt.
Before entering Harvard, Aiken was educated at private
schools and at Middlesex School, Concord. AtHarvard
he shared a class and developed a close friendship
with T. S. Eliot, with whom he edited the Advocate.
Aiken was a member of the class of 1912, in the same
era as Eliot, Walter Lippman, Van Wyck Brooks, and
E. E. Cummings. After working as a reporter, Aiken
devoted himself entirely to writing, having also a
small private income. Of the many influences Aiken
acknowledged, the writings of Freud, Havelock Ellis,
William James, Edgar Allan Poe, and the French Symbolists
are evident in his work. Freud considered Aiken's
Great Circle a masterpiece of analytical introspection.
Aiken's first collection of verse, Earth Triumphant,
appeared in 1914, and it made him known as a poet.
He was a contributing editor to Dial, which
led to a friendship with Ezra Pound. Aiken's essays,
collected in Scepticisms (1919) and A Reviewer's
ABC (1958), dealt with the questions provoked
by his commitment to literature as a mode of self-understanding.
Aiken's adult life was marked by trans-Atlantic journeys.
In 1921 he moved from Massachusetts to England, settling
in Rye, Sussex. In 1927-28 he was a tutor in English
at Harvard. He married Jessie MacDonald, a Canadian,
in 1912; the three children of that marriageJohn,
Jane Aiken Hodge, and Joanall became published
authors. Joan Aiken has a major reputation in her
own right. Conrad Aiken later married Clarissa M.
Lorenz in 1930 (divorced in 1937). In 1933 he sailed
again for Boston, and then spent two years in Rye
(1934-36), writing 'London Letters' to The New
Yorker. He returned to New York and Boston, and
traveled in Mexico, where he married the artist Mary
Hoover. They returned to Rye in 1937, but moved to
the United States after the outbreak of World War
with me world, upon my right hand walk,
speak to me Babel, that I may strive to assemble
of all these syllables a single word
before the purpose of speech is gone.
Aiken received the Pulitzer Prize for his collection
Selected Poems. Aiken wrote most of his fiction
between the 1920s and 1930s, including novels Blue
Voyage (1927), in which he used interior monologue
and King Coffin (1934). He also wrote short
story collections Bring! Bring!(1925) and Among
the Lost People (1934).
After staying two years in Rye, Aiken settled in 1947
in Brewster, Massachusetts. He was a consultant in
poetry at the Library of Congress from 1950 to 1952.
In 1953 he published Collected Poems, which
included the masterwork "Preludes to Definition"
and "Morning Song of Senlin." Aiken's 'autobiographical
narrative, Ushant (1952) depicted his friendships
with Malcolm Lowry, Eliot, and other figures he knew.
It dramatized the attempt of its protagonist, the
author's persona, to read the palimpsest of hieroglyphs
that constitutes the landscape of his soul, and mingled
sketches of the literary generation between the wars
with psychoanalytic free association.
From 1962 to 1973 Aiken wintered in a Savannah house
adjacent to that of his childhood. He died in Savannah
on August 17, 1973. Aiken received a Pulizer Prize,
National Book Award, and Bollinger Prize in 1956,
a Gold Medal in Poetry from the American Academy of
Arts and Letters in 1958, and a National Medal for
Literature in 1969.
Aiken's psychological penetrations and verbal richness
never received the wide recognition they deserve in
spite of the several awards the author received. There
were reasons. His trans-Atlantic life mode made it
difficult for the public to decide whether he was
an American or an English author. Unlike Eliot, who
became a British subject, Aiken always considered
himself an American. Because as a critic, he always
tried to tell the truth as he saw it, he did not always
endear himself to literary colleagues. His shyness
prevented him from doing public readings, which are
part of the path to popularity.
House, Aiken's residence in the UK, with an
undated photograph of the poet inset.
Potter Aiken and T. S. (Thomas Stearns) Eliot
met at Harvard College in 1907. They became renowned
poets and lifelong friends. Both were the true
progeny of one of their grandfathers. The historic
connection is the Unitarian ministry. Aiken's
maternal grandfather, William James Potter, was
the minister of the First Congregational Society
(Unitarian), of New Bedford from 1859 to 1892.
Eliot's paternal grandfather, William Greenleaf
Eliot, Jr., ministered to the First Unitarian
Church in St. Louis from 1834 to 1887.
William Greenleaf Eliot, Jr., after graduating
from Harvard, was ordained to the Unitarian ministry.
At the age of 23, he set out for St. Louis to
help establish a new liberal congregation. Establish
one he did. And much more besides. He helped develop
a public school system, was "the Father of
Washington University," and pioneered in
many other civic and charitable enterprises. Without
doubt he was the leading public citizen of St.
William James Potter, to the undiscerning observer,
had a relatively uneventful life and ministry.
Born a birthright Quaker in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts,
in 1830, his entire ministry (1859-1892) was spent
with the First Congregational Society in adjacent
New Bedford. He graduated from the Friends' school
at Providence, Rhode Island, prepared as a teacher
at the Normal School at Bridgewater, Massachusetts,
and after a brief teaching career, entered Harvard
College in 1850. Graduating with honors in 1854,
he taught at Cambridge High School until he entered
the Harvard Divinity School in 1856. He never
graduated. After one year, he sailed for Germany
to study philosophy at the University of Berlin
and to travel. He returned to Cambridge in 1858
and began seeking a church. He preached at the
Unitarian Church in New Bedford (First Congregational
Society) several times in July 1859. A call came
in the Fall. He was ordained and installed on
December 28, 1859, and preached his first sermon
as the Society's minister on January 1, 1860.
He retired from the same pulpit in 1892.
41 Doors, Aiken's home on Cape
Cod in Brewster, Massachusetts.
1866 the idea of a spiritual antislavery society
occurred to William James Potter...."The
new society would dedicate itself to the emancipation
of religion from the thralldom of irrational and
traditional authorities." The result was
the Free Religious Association, organized in Boston
in l867. It was radical in its openness to new
ideas. Potter drafted the Constitution and throughout
its effective history, he was its mainstay, first
as Secretary and later as President. He also edited
its journal, The Index.
Potter's daughter, Anna, married a physician,
Dr. William Ford Aiken. They moved to Savannah
where they quickly established themselves in society.
They had four children; Conrad, the oldest, was
born in l889, followed by Elizabeth, Kempton and
Robert. In l901 Dr. Aiken murdered his wife and
then committed suicide. The younger three were
adopted by Frederick Winslow Taylor and his wife,
Louise Spooner Taylor, cousin of Anna Potter Aiken.
A wealthy Pennsylvania electrical engineering
and pioneering efficiency expert, he insisted
that the children to be adopted take his name.
In order to preserve the Aiken name, Conrad was
not included in the arrangement. Conrad was raised
by a succession of relatives, many of them in
New Bedford, and attended Middlesex School in
Concord, Massachusetts, but "never felt that
he had a home."
His second wife, Clarissa Lorenz,
reports on one of their first meetings. "In
a warm account of his grandfather, William James
Potter, a Unitarian minister in New Bedford for
thirty years, Conrad expressed his own idealism.
"He was a hero to his congregation. They
followed him when he broke away from orthodoxy
to form the Free Religious Association, a doctrine
embracing scientific discoveries like Darwin's
l971, Aiken wrote: "What could have been
more natural, as I grew older, that in my preoccupations
as to the content of the poetry I should turn
to the teachingsfor they were more teachings
than preachingsof my Grandfather. I regard
all my work, both verse and prose, as in a way
a continuation of his workthe finding of
the truth about man, and man's mind, and of man's
place in the universe, and the telling of it as
accurately and beautifully as such themes deserved.
And, success or not, I like to think he would
have approved of the endeavor, at least. And that's
all I can say."
At Harvard Aiken and Eliot spent much time together.
Both aspiring poets at different times served
as editor of the Advocate. Eliot frequently
accompanied Aiken to the home of "Beloved
Uncle" Alfred Claghorn Potter for Sunday
night supper. In the same early conversation with
Clarissa, Conrad: "...described meeting Eliot
in his freshman year, dining at the same table
in Memorial Hall. Actually, he said, they weren't
in the same classTom Eliot was ahead of
him. What was he like? 'A Wonderful fellow. Marvelous
sense of humor. We were both addicts of the comic
strips, made the rounds of bars and burlesque
shows, talked about everything from free verse
to love and human folly. After I moved to England
we met less often.'"
spent much of their adult lives in England. Eliot
in London quickly established himself in important
literary circles. Aiken, painfully shy, settled
in West Surrey in remote Rye. The work of each
exemplifies and extends attitudes and values at
the center of the religious commitments of their
Aiken married three times and produced three children.
He spent many of his years in three placesRye,
Savannah, and Brewster, Massachusetts. It has
been suggested that he loved his houses more than
his first two wivesJeakes House in Rye,
a townhouse near his childhood home in Savannah,
and 41 Doors, an old farmhouse on the Cape. In
temperament he was frequently irascible and outspoken.
Often he seemed to enjoy shocking others.
Among his works are 35 volumes of poetry, 5 novels,
an autobiographical essay, Ushant, short
stories and criticism. In the 20's and 30's he
wrote the "Letter From London" for The
New Yorker. He received numerous awards, including
a Pulitzer Prize, and was the Poetry Consultant
at the Library of Congress. But his shyness led
him to reject all offers of honorary degreesincluding
one from Harvard. Indeed, he resigned from the
College as an undergraduate, partially because
his election as Class Poet would have required
him to speak in public.
In spite of all honors, Aiken has never been a
popular poet. Perhaps one reason is that many
poets become known through their public readings.
Contemporary poets who are unavailable rarely
develop large followings. While he was fascinated
by the literary world, he did not much participate
in it. As a person, author, and critic, he was
deeply committed to candor. He believed his real
business was "to give the lowdown on himself,
and through himself on humanity." A poem
posted in the Henry A. Murray Memorial Bathroom
at 41 Doors (made possible by a gift from this
friend) states the poet's mission:
. . Was this the poet? It is man.
The poet is but man made plain,
A glass-cased watch, through which you scan
The multitudinous beat-and-pain,
The feverish fine small mechanism,
And hear it ticking while it sings.
Behold, this delicate paroxysm
mission was in large measure a response to avid
reading of Freud, Jung, Adler, and Ferenczi. He
was enthralled by the notion that the unconscious
could be explored to reveal realities not only
about the individual self, but also about the
essential character of the human species. In the
early thirties, the poet H D (Hilda Doolittle)
returned to Rye from Vienna after experiencing
analysis with Freud. She reported that he had
read Great Circle and kept a copy of it
in his waiting room. She then suggested that Aiken
take her place as one of the analyst's five patients.
He was greatly tempted, although there would be
great difficulty in raising the funds to afford
the trip and process. Perhaps even more daunting
than poverty was the fear that analysis might
him to Doctor Wundt the psycho-analyst
Whose sex-ray eyes will separate him out
Into a handful of blank syllables,
Like a grammarian, whose beak can parse
A sentence till its gaudy words mean nothing
to rebellious springs! His candor extended to
his bluntly expressing his views about the work
of other authors. This honesty helped make him
an outstanding literary critic; it hardly enhanced
his popularity within the literary world. His
isolation was increased by his prolonged sojourns
in England which led to confusion about his identity.
Unlike Eliot, he never chose to assimilate and
become a British subject. Yet his absences made
it more difficult to be accepted within the American
literary scene. Clarissa's reflections on Conrad's
lack of recognition suggest several factors:
. .Conrad's obscurity has puzzled many. There were, in
my view, a number of factors that contributed to the paradox.
He was a writer's writer, "a hellish highbrow,"
too difficult and serious for the average reader. There's
too much analysis for his own good and the reader's. ".
. .Even a book of critical essays frightened off a yea-loving
public by calling itself 'Scepticisms.'"
. . . His poetry wasn't difficult to understand, he said.
In fact, it was quite easy. Young people had begun to
discover him. "These young people, I think, are interested
in my free-wheeling attitude to life, my skepticism, my
belief that there are no final solutions, that things
may have no meaning and that we've got to face that possibility
all the time. Everything is in a sense reversible."
Including his lifestyle, and this is reflected in his
work. New England serves as one spiritual pole, the South
the other, forcing a life of uneasy perpetual motion on
. . .He pined for America when in England and for England
when in America, delighted by the British flair for conversation
and other attractions. He couldn't resist the pretty girl
who described herself as a "piece de non-resistance."
An undoubted Anglophile, Conrad, but "the history
and landscape of Puritan America in his bones created
distinguished poetry,". . .
. . .Aiken shrank from promoting himself. His whole life
was devoted to his own genius, as one critic noted. He
made no effort to polish his image; he forbade the reprinting
of one of his most popular early poems because he detested
it. He has been known to pay a price for sticking to writing,
and writing only what he believed in. His only profession
of being a poet was a rarity.
. . .Lest his father's insanity doom him, too, he lived
his life off stage, behind the scenes, remote whether
in Savannah, Boston, Cambridge, Rye, Cape Cod or Manhattan.
He never lifted a finger (except at the typewriter) to
advance his own reputation. . . .He let his books speak
for themselves; no autograph parties, TV appearances,
lecture tours, or readings (only on tape), no plugging
his name. . . .
for religion, he never joined a church. However,
when his wife, Mary Hoover Aiken, jokingly listed
him as Episcopalian on a hospital admission slip,
he was furious and insisted that he was a Unitarian.
She reports that the two volumes of Grandfather
Potter's sermons accompanied them on all their
journeys and that they were once lent to Eliot.
Shortly after Eliot's death on January 4, 1965,
Aiken did a reminiscence for Life magazine.
In it he refers to his own religious identity.
In it reports on youthful discussions:
preferred France and I was the one who felt inclined
to Englandoddly, because it was he who became
so entrenched in London that he became a British
subject and, in time, a convert to the Anglican
Church (from which I, a Unitarian). . .
had much to say about Eliot. In a 1922 letter
to G. B. Wilbur, he commented: "Tom Eliot
is starting a mag., The Criterion, which
ought to be good. He, poor devil, cries out for
analysis more than anyone I've ever seen. He's
in a perfect Gordian knothe thinks he's
God. A passion for perfection - etc." In
1937 in a letter to Henry A. Murray, he reported:
"Tom Eliot came for the weekend, last week,
played ping pong, went to church, drank his beer
like a man, was in fact very good company, and
promised to come down again to sit for Marywas
much impressed." It took until 1952, but
an excellent portrait emerged.
Waste Land" is one of Eliot's most renowned poems:
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers . . .
response was in a 1925 letter to Robert N. Linscott,
the cruellest poet, breeding
lyrics under the driest dustpan, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
verb roots with spring brain...
summarized his feelings about Eliot's poetry in a 1932 letter
to Theodore Spencer: "I don't think Tom's poetry is
unintelligible because it's complex or, overconceptual,
or abstruse, but because it's so increasingly empty of everything
but pure affect! and more and more idiosyncratic affect,
at that. But the skill in the use of time and sound increasingly
impresses me, in the later thingsAsh Wednesday, for
examplethere was never a more beautiful gibberish
of language, surely? the whole, or detailed, meaning almost
nil, but the effect lovely. Pure skill has never gone farther."
Aiken's judgment was tinged by jealousy. While Eliot was
renowned, Aiken found little acclaim and constantly struggled
to survive economically. He often felt unappreciated and
As for Aiken's opinion of Eliot's "conversion,"
this limerick (never shown to Eliot) is evidence enough:
left us in the lurch
been gone and joined the Church
he's been drinking holy water
when he knows he hadn't oughter
and it's made him awful sick
turning into Catholic
Better be a Unitarian
or a plain humanitarian.
Truer mind and heart had he
before he took the Trinitee
for now he's put himself a-Cross
his great pain is our great loss
and Pure Thought's no longer pure
since he took the Sinai Cure.
a 1965 article in the Lugano Review, Aiken
commented: "It was my own private joke to
call the portrait (which was very true of him
at that time) Mr. Eliot's Fallen Arches, or Murder
in the Cathedral. The reference being to the fact
that we both came of generations of Unitarians
and liberals, with preachers in both families,
and that his joining of the Church put a wall
of dogma between us, which, thereafter, only our
deep affection, and a sense of humor shared for
a lifetime could surmount." In an early 30s
conversation in Rye, he asserted: "When Eliot
joined the Anglican church four years ago, he
regressed two thousand years, becoming one of
the herd, making himself null and void as an explorer
of human awareness."
But there is no doubt of his admiration. In the
Life piece he commented: "I can only
think of two other poets who can have had the
immense satisfaction of seeing a poetic age named
for them while they were still alive. One is Tennyson,
an unfortunate comparison, and the other Dryden,
a more flattering one. In any case, our age beyond
any doubt has been and will continue to be, the
Age of Eliot."
opinion of Aiken is not easily discovered.
As an editor for Faber and Faber, he selected
nothing of Aiken's work for publication, and in
the more than two decades when he edited The
Criterion and The New Criterion he
published only one poem, one story and eight reviews
by Aiken. Clarissa Lorenz commented: "Margaret
(Nash) told me that T. S. Eliot, then editor of
the Criterion, ordered a copy of Great
Circle after hearing that it was magnificent,
then delivered a double entendre to Paul: "Each
book Aiken writes is better than the last one."
When Margaret chided the editor of New Verse
for rejecting Conrad's poems, he said he had taken
Eliot's word that they were unsuitable. She suspected
Eliot of being at the bottom of the resistance
movement. Regarding his old friend as subversive,
a rival who must remain crushed, he staged a cabal,
feeling it his duty as a Catholic to stamp out
atheism and nihilismor so her thinking went.
It might also be part revenge, since Conrad once
said that Eliot didn't put anything down because
he thought he was God and was afraid of falling
short of perfection. That crack, Conrad claimed,
so incensed Eliot that he produced The Waste
Land as a tour de force."
personal circumstances kept them distant, but I suspect
that, also, Eliot may have found Aiken too blunt and bawdy
for comfortable companionship. There were occasional cordial
meetings through the years, but it is doubtful that their
early intimacy was ever re-established.
In 1952 Eliot responded to a gift from Aiken of his autobiography:
I am writing to thank you for Ushant which has
just reached me, and the inscription which I shall value.
certainly a very remarkable book. After the first few
pages, I said to myself, this is all very well for a short
distance, but can he keep it up through 365 pages without
the style becoming oppressive? Anyway, you have done it,
and I have read the book through with unflagging interest
and I hope that it will have a great success.
I was, as a matter of fact, somewhat shocked to find myself
described as having a streak of sadism in my nature! I
haven't the faintest recollection of the two incidents
on which you base this diagnosis, but if it was like that,
then it seems to me I must have behaved very badly. I
hope in that case that I have been forgiven.
was infused with a great restlessness. His life
was spent seeking, exploring, questioning, doubting,
and, occasionally, celebrating. As a literary
disciple of Sigmund Freud, he was deeply concerned
for exploring the depths of human consciousness.
He experienced therapy himself. In his poetry,
he was much concerned for catching the contrapuntal
rhythms of music. Beyond the rhythms there was
a fascination in exploring the burlesque or vaudeville
of the seemingly ordinarythe amazing everyday,
the exotic commonplace, the explosively casual.
About his religious views, he once said: "Yes,
I suppose I'm a naturalistic humanist if I'm anythingthat
and an evolutionist. I am against all forms of
supernaturalism, dogma, myth, churchprimarily,
I believe in the evolution of consciousness as
something we're embarked on willy-nilly, the evolution
of mind, and that devotion to this is all the
devotion we need."
universe is chaos, a tumultuous maelstrom of fragments
of bouncing bits and pieces. As humans we create
experiences of meaning and unity out of the formless
chaosif we are sensitive enough to observe
and experience. We can never find assured order,
not a creating, caring and sustaining God. The
nearest we can come to a god is in the process
of discovering and creating a self.
At the age of 77, Aiken (to the admiration of
Eliot) produced his last great poem. He found
his own Thee and expressed it in 250 lines, published
in a handsome volume illustrated by Leonard Baskin.
As with Eliot, he flowed with the spirit of New
England transcendentalism. Thee is not benevolent;
it is the essential energy, the life force which
like Kali creates, nourishes, destroys and creates
again. And yet Thee also can evolve out of its
interchange with the human spirit:
is that splendid THEE
who makes a symphony
of the one word
admitting us to see
all things but THEE...
as if perhaps in our slow growing and the beginnings of
as if perhaps
o could this be
THEE still learning
or first learning
Self-praise were then our praise of THEE
unless we say divinity
cries in us both as we draw breath
cry death cry death
and all our hate
we must abate
and THEE must with us meet and mate
give birth give suck be sick and die
and close the All-God-Giving-Eye
for the last time to sky.
Who was right,
Aiken or Eliot? Of course, there is no right answer to
that question. Which one had the better religion or non-religion?
No answer there either. Our religious experiences, attitudes,
and commitments are very much a matter of temperament
and taste. And our heritage.
Both men were profoundly influenced by the convictions
of their Unitarian grandfathers. In Eliot I sense an urgency
for answers, for assurance, for structure. He believed
in institutions and was persuaded that the church could
and should do good in the world. Not just good deeds,
but to shape a good society.
Aiken was a rebel. He distrusted symbols, traditions,
institutions. They attempt to encapsulate what should
always be open. The chaos of the universe provides no
answers, only the elements from which we can choose to
create our own.
Religion is the discovering, creating, celebrating, and
sustaining of transforming relationships. Eliot was committed
to discovering essential relationships and believed that
he had. Aiken struggled to create relationships and knew
that, if only for a moment, he could. Why poetry? Because
it moves beyond mind and rationality to plumb our wonderings,
our fears, our struggles, our hopes, our spirits. Poetry
can infuse us all with grace. Even the poet.
"Preludes for Memnon," published in
1935, is a long meditative poem in which the narrator
explores the metaphysical and psychological consequences
of his belief that we inhabit a universe subject
to ceaseless change. The greatest challenge to
reading this poem is the unstated but nonetheless
indispensable philosophy which underlies the narrator's
dramatic monologue. Therefore, examine the narrator's
Aiken completely accepted the Heraclitean view
that everything in this universe is endlessly
and relentlessly subject to change. 'Everything'
is not being used rhetorically here but literally.
Each natural object, living creature and above
all, each memory, identity, thought, feeling,
opinion and discovery is constantly changing into
something else. Heraclitus said that no one may
step twice into the same river because by the
time of the second step, both the river and the
person have changed. Aiken radicalizes this statement:
No man or woman may have the same identity twice,
think the same thought or have the same feeling
twice; no man or woman may kiss the same person
twice, nor may anyone see, feel, love, appreciate,
hate, hear, touch, taste, imagine or dream anything
This radicalization of Heraclitus' dictum leads
to consequences which are accepted by Aiken's
narrator in "Preludes for Memnon."
Because we live in a universe of ceaseless change
all things, including human beings, are continually
dying and being reborn at every moment. The narrator
accepts this as a metaphysical truth and not as
a mere poetic sentiment. Death is a necessary
and wonderful thing.
can be no rest. Because there is no final stopping
place, no heaven, every rest is only a pause before
a new beginning. This will go on forever both
for the body and the mind.
A transvaluation of values is needed. We must
reinterpret old values and beliefs in light of
this fact or invent new moralities. The narrator
of "Preludes for Memnon" does both.
He rereads certain Bible passages in radically
new ways and tries to invent a morality in which
his infidelity is not only justified but perfectly
all thingsincluding humanityare in
process, they all share the same essential nature
or essence: processes and, in particular, processes
in evolutionary development. This fact becomes
the basis for the narrator's use of the doctrine
of microcosm and macrocosm: human beings are a
smaller, 'micro' version of the process at work
in the vast macrocosm. Humanity is a natural child
of the universe.
only enduring identity human beings have is their
essential identity as parts of the cosmic process.
Aiken served as Poet Laureate of the United States from
1950 to 1952. His poetry is deliberately built on the
foundation of the philosophy of Heraclitus expressed
in such presocratic fragments as these:
world, which is the same for all, no one of the gods
or men has made, but it ever was, is now, and ever
shall be an everliving Fire, with measures of its
kindling, and measure going out.
-Fire lives the death of air, and air lives the death
of fire; water lives the death of earth, earth that
cannot step twice into the same river, for fresh waters
are ever flowing in upon you.
-All things come into being and pass away through
-God is Day and Night, Winter and Summer, War and
Peace, Surfeit and Hunger; but God takes various shapes,
just as fire, when it is mingled with spices, is named
according to the savour of each.
Aiken affirms the all too often hidden Heraclitean heritage
of the American Unitarian faith: faith in the everliving
cosmos which is our home, faith in reason as a way to
reliable knowlege, and faith symbolized by sacred fire,
such as that dancing in a flaming chalice.
Aikens' gravesite in Savannah, Georgia. Engravings
on a stone bench are their epitaphs, hers on the
left, his on the right.