In The Forest Of The Mind

Conrad Aiken (1889 – 1973)

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.

Conrad Aiken

The Ego 

by Conrad Aiken

Ego! Ego! Burning Blind
in the forest of the mind
what immortal alchemy
or what immortal chemistry
dared shape they fearful symmetry
dared dream they fearful liberty
and in the eye
conceived the I
and in the “Aye”
a Me!


I am enough years into this project that I can no longer remember exactly what poems I have shared from each poet. My process has evolved and I tend to stockpile poems in drafts as I stumble across them in my regular reading of poetry and then depending on my whimsy, use an old draft to start a new post. If its a poet that I have shared before, I go back and re-read those posts and make sure I am not regurgitating the same poems or same thoughts. In going through that process on this post, I laughed, because there must be something in my sub-conscious that draws me to Conrad Aiken in December.

Conrad Aiken’s life was turned upside down when he was 11 and his Father and Mother died as a result of domestic violence, his father murdering his Mother and then dying by suicide. He went on to live with a great, great Aunt in Massachusetts, who would change his life by giving him access to elite private schools and entry into Harvard. He was classmates and friends with T. S. Elliot and e. e. cummings. After Harvard he spent equal time in London and the U.S. for the next 30 years working for various journals as a correspondent and writing poetry, short stories, novels and literary criticism. Aiken’s writing influenced the trajectory of theories of consciousness and psychoanalysis. His greatest contribution, beyond his own writing, was possibly his work to anthologize and promote Emily Dickinson’s poetry, particularly outside the United States, helping to introduce her to readers around the world.

Aiken wrote poetry in a myriad of styles, so to only present his lyric poetry is a bit misleading. He wrote early in his career a series of what he called “symphonies”, poetry that he felt could be appreciated at multiple levels, like a bass clef and treble clef on a sheet of music. Aiken is one of those poets I tend to forget about and then when I stumble across him again I am amazed how fresh and interesting I find his work. Wouldn’t it have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall at a Harvard dining hall listening to Elliot, cummings and Aiken forge their way into the world as brash young men talking smart? It suggests that genius often needs other great minds to find their voice in pursuit of unique ideas. Friendship and fellowship with other creative and disruptive forces gives artists confidence that as a creative spirit we are not on an island by ourselves, and that creativity is limitless in its acceptance of eccentric minds because that very eccentricity often mirrors the commonness of our human condition while the artist ventures off into new territory, making all of us marching to our own tune feel less alone.


Six Sonnets

by Conrad Aiken

III

Think, love, how when a starry night of frost
Is ended, and the small pale winter sun
Shines on the garden trellis, ice-embossed,
And the stiff frozen flower-stalks, every one;
And turns their fine embroideries of ice
Into a loosening silver, skein by skein,
Warming cold leaves and stones, till, in a trice,
The garden smiles, and breathes, and lives again;
And further think, how the poor frozen snail
Creeps out with trembling horns to feel that heat,
And thaws the snowy mildew from his mail,
And stretches with all his length from his retreat:
Will he not praise, with his whole heart, the sun?
Then think, at last, I too am such an one?