A Thanksgiving Poem – Conrad Aiken & William Blackstone

In his poem The Kid  Joan Aiken’s American father Conrad Aiken celebrated the optimistic and peaceful spirit of the early Americans, some of whom were the family’s own Pilgrim Ancestors. In particular he admired an early solitary English scholar, William Blackstone, whose story Aiken imagined, and whose life of reading, philosophising and growing fruit trees he emulated in a Massachusetts farmhouse of his own some centuries later.

From The Kid:

 

Morning and evening, Lord, I beseech Thee,

suffer my cry from this woode to reach Thee,

these are Thy presents, Thy heart I find

in the dark forest in sleet and winde.

As on the sea Thou sailedst before,

a cloud, that our shippe might see this shore,

so now Thou walkest, these trees Thy feet,

and in this brooke Thy heart doth beat.

Lorde, I am fearless, Thy mercy shown,

for where Thou art there is nought unknowns

what are these seemings save Thine own?

Audubon free site small

 

He moved to the north: by the harbor found

a sweet spring bubbling in open ground:

on a clear hill, by an oystred river,

and here, he thought, I shall dwell forever.

A plat of roses, a plot of trees,

apples, pears, and a skep of bees,

friends in the village, true Indian friends,

here Lord in joye my journey ends.

What should I want but bookes on shelf—

these few I have—and that dark selfe

that poures within me, a chartless sea,

where every landfall is named for Thee?

What other voyage could solace me?

Thou being pilot, Lord, I find

untrodden kingdoms in the minde:

freedom is all my coin: and these

humilities and simplicities,

Thy humblest creatures, birds and flowers,

instruct and ornament my hours.

ground squirrel small

 

The full poem can be found in Conrad Aiken’s Selected Poems

from Oxford University Press

 

The Aiken Family – living with Ghosts…

Writing has been the Aiken family trade for several generations, and provides a lasting framework for all our stories, real or fictional. So much of our history and family memories have been stored for posterity in books – in stories, novels, letters, lectures, poems, plays and papers of every kind, which happily means that it is always there to revisit…

Another kind of memory lingers on as well, the dreams,  which were always a family fascination and were often shared at the breakfast table; these became a  treasured souvenir that one always hoped would come again,  dream visitors returning in the night for a secret meeting, or in the case of long lost  family members, a re-meeting.

Ghosts have their story to tell too, and some of these are just as welcome; in one very special case I have in my home a lasting echo of a long lost furry friend who used to jump in through my bedroom window at night, and on this occasion picked his way through the wet white paint on the windowsill and so left his mark forever.

Cats have always been important members of our family, and yet another channel of communication. Joan wrote about visiting her father Conrad, aged about ten, after a gap of some years when her parents had divorced:

CA & JA & Cats

This piece and two others by Joan’s older brother John, and sister Jane, both published novelists, can be found in a little book they produced called Conrad Aiken Remembered  – published in 1989 to mark the centenary of his birth. The siblings met in Rye, in the house where Joan had been born in 1924, Jeake’s House on Mermaid Street,  to unveil a blue plaque which now commemorates the former Aiken family home, and that of Squidge, January and other unforgettable cats…

CA Remembered

Find the book and more about the life of Joan Aiken, and some of her special cats at Joan Aiken.com

The cover picture of the book is taken from a painting by another Rye resident and friend, Ed Burra.

The current whereabouts of the painting itself is unknown.

Jeake's House

Mortimer’s Cross – and you would be too!

Mortimer's Bath

 When Great Aunt Olwen comes to stay, it means just one thing… Spring Cleaning!

Mortimer's Cross 1

Mortimer has other ideas and makes a determined break for freedom…much chaos ensues, but Great Aunt Olwen has never yet been defeated …

Mortimer's Cross

“If there had been a prize going for the most miserable bird in Rumbury Town, Mortimer would certainly have won it.”

But Mortimer ends up on top of the world – quite literally! – broadcasting for help to outer space, and of course Arabel comes to his rescue, in one of Joan Aiken’s last stories about the small girl and her enormously difficult raven – Mortimer’s Cross – a book sadly outof print at the moment,but fingers crossed the pair may soon be back!

Read more about the Arabel and Mortimer stories on the website

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Read this story and many more in this new Puffin Collection

Find Joan Aiken’s Mortimer books here

Hope, Joan Aiken’s greatest gift to us?

Mouse 3

What Joan Aiken brought to her stories was her own voice; she seems to be speaking directly to us, saying these stories are written for you. By reading them, and so, taking part in them – just like the  beleaguered protagonists she so often portrays as her heroes – struggling doctors, impatient teachers, or lonely unhappy children whose lives she transforms – she shows that we too can learn to take charge of our own experience.

It is possible, she seems to say, that just around the corner is an alternative version of the day-to-day, and by choosing to release our imagination and share some of her leaps into fantasy we may find – as the titles of some of her early story collections put it – More than You Bargained For and almost certainly Not What You Expected…

One of the most poignant, hopeful and uplifting stories in a recent collection – and hope, she believed was the most transforming force – is Watkyn, Comma – a very unusual ghost story.

Joan Aiken takes the idea of a comma – in itself almost a metaphor for a short story – to express: “a pause, a break between two thoughts, when you take breath, reconsider…” and encourages you, her reader, to take part in something hitherto unimaginable… learning from a ghost?

In the course of this one short story our expectations are confounded by the surprising ability with which Aiken generously endows her central character – to see something we would not have expected. Her heroine is trapped in a haunted house, in what we foresee will be frightening and unpromising circumstances, but she refuses to be cast down, and Joan Aiken offers her, through the power of her imagination, a wonderful release. By gently offering the possibility of previously unknown forces – the ability to develop new capacities, the will for empathy between the many creatures of our universe, and finally the real desire to learn to communicate – Joan Aiken leaves us feeling like the characters in the story “brought forward.”

Watkyn2

We are magically drawn in – given an example of how a story works its charm – an invitation to join in the process of creative sharing, making us ask with the heroine:

“Could I do this?”

And hearing the answer:

“Oh never doubt it.”

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This story can be found in The People in The Castle

out now from Small Beer Press

People paperback

It also includes an introduction with more from Joan Aiken

on the magical power of storytelling 

You can read some excerpts  here