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House of Dust: A Symphony

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By: (1889-1973)

The House of Dust is a poem written in the four-movement format of a classical symphony. Hauntingly beautiful despite its bleak post-World War I depictions of human mortality and loss, the poem develops its movements around central images such as Japanese ukiyo-e ("floating world") woodblock prints, touching the reader's senses with endlessly evocative allusions to wind, sea, and weather. In this underlying Japanese sensibility and dependence on central perceptual images, Aiken's poem is similar to poetry of Imagists of the time such as Amy Lowell. Also deeply influenced by the concepts of modern psychology, Aiken delved deeply into individual human identity and emotion.

First Page:


A Symphony

By Conrad Aiken

To Jessie


. . . Parts of this poem have been printed in "The North American Review, Others, Poetry, Youth, Coterie, The Yale Review". . . . I am indebted to Lafcadio Hearn for the episode called "The Screen Maiden" in Part II.




The sun goes down in a cold pale flare of light. The trees grow dark: the shadows lean to the east: And lights wink out through the windows, one by one. A clamor of frosty sirens mourns at the night. Pale slate grey clouds whirl up from the sunken sun.

And the wandering one, the inquisitive dreamer of dreams, The eternal asker of answers, stands in the street, And lifts his palms for the first cold ghost of rain. The purple lights leap down the hill before him. The gorgeous night has begun again.

'I will ask them all, I will ask them all their dreams, I will hold my light above them and seek their faces. I will hear them whisper, invisible in their veins ... Continue reading book >>

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