Eliot''s Concept of Poetry and the importance he lays on tradition, with reference to his essay "Tradition and Individual Talent"
In 1919 T. S. Eliot wrote the world famous essay ‘Tradition and Individual Talent’, a very potent essay pregnant with many concepts, among them poetry and tradition being the major one. His concept of poetry was primarily an attack on the romantic concept of poetry especially Eliot attacked Wordsworth’s famous concept “Poetry is spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotions recollected in tranquillity”. Eliot was completely against this romantic concept of poetry because for him poetry is not recollection of feeling but poetry is a new thing resulting from the concentration of a very great number of experiences and for Eliot this concentration does not happen consciously or deliberately. For Eliot “poetry is not a turning loose of emotions, but an escape from emotions, it is not the expression of the personality but an escape from personality. For romantics poetry was expression of personality of the poet but Eliot believed that the personal experiences important for a man may not have any place in his poems. He firmly believed that the personal life and personal emotions however important may not be important for the poet, as a poet. For Eliot what matters is emotions transmuted in the poem feelings expressed in the poetry. For Eliot the emotion of art is impersonal and dispassionate and the artist can achieve this impersonality only by cultivating the historical sense and by being conscious of the traditions.
For Eliot the poet must merge his personality with tradition, in this essay he says that “the progress of the artist is the continual self sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality”. For Eliot mind of a poet is a medium in which experiences can enter into new combinations that is why he says that poet is a catalyst and poet’s mind is a ‘receptacle’ which holds numberless feelings images, phrases and emotions.
The combination of that in a particular form is art or poetry. Thus, the poetic process is a process of depersonalization, impersonalization or extinction of personality not what the romantics’ propagated expression of personality.
For Eliot, tradition is one of the main concept and necessity for the poet or artist to be a creator. Tradition for Eliot means an awareness of the history of Europe, not as a dead facts and dates but as “as an ever changing yet changeless presence.” The constantly interacting subconscious element of the point. The poet must not forget the ‘mind of Europe’, he is not only a mind but a part of greater continent. Eliot’s idea of tradition can be understood on two levels, first, the simple meaning of poetic tradition in which the socio-political and historical presence of poetry in the oral and written forms of poetry is included. Second, tradition for him as a non-poetic element in which the social and economical formulations affect the ideological frame work in which it takes place. For Eliot, tradition includes culture, history and literature, religion, polity and morality are also included, he firmly believed that tradition is more larger and expansive than culture.
To conclude, this essay pioneers the new understandings of poetry, talent, tradition and even criticism. This essay heralded ‘The New Criticism’, The Chicago School of Criticism’, and ‘The Practical Criticism’. At the base of The Modern aesthetic and critical practises is Eliot’s concept of poetry and tradition in this essay ‘Tradition and Individual Talent’.