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Tradition and the Individual Talent: T. S. Eliot’s concept of the Impersonal theory of poetry

Tradition and the Individual Talent: T. S. Eliot’s concept of the Impersonal theory of poetry

Tradition and the Individual Talent: T. S. Eliot’s concept of the Impersonal theory of poetry

Q. Show how T. S. Eliot systematically develops the concept of the Impersonal theory of poetry in ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’.

Answer: T.S. Eliot's essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent," published in 1919, is a seminal work in literary criticism that outlines his concept of the Impersonal Theory of Poetry. In this essay, Eliot argues that poetry is not the expression of the poet's personality or emotions but rather the result of a process in which the poet's individuality is fused with the whole of literary tradition. Here's how Eliot systematically develops this concept in his essay:

Introduction and Background:

   Eliot begins by acknowledging the existing ideas about poetry and the role of the poet. He notes that poetry has traditionally been viewed as a medium for the poet to express his or her emotions and experiences. He also introduces the concept of "tradition" in literature, which he believes is crucial to understanding poetry's true nature.

The Dissociation of Sensibility:

   Eliot argues that there has been a "dissociation of sensibility" in modern poetry, where the poet's emotions and thoughts have become disconnected from the poetic form. He laments that this has led to a decline in the quality of poetry.

The Objective Correlative:

   Eliot introduces the idea of the "objective correlative" as a way to bridge the gap between the poet's emotions and the reader's response. He suggests that emotions in poetry should be conveyed through a set of objective images or symbols rather than direct emotional outpouring.

The Historical Sense:

   Eliot emphasizes the importance of the "historical sense" in the poet. He argues that a poet must have a deep understanding of literary tradition and must be able to place themselves within that tradition. This historical sense allows the poet to see their work as part of a larger whole.

The Impersonal Theory of Poetry:

   Eliot's central idea is the Impersonal Theory of Poetry. He asserts that the poet's personality should not dominate the poem but rather should be submerged into the tradition and language of poetry. The poet's emotions are transformed and filtered through tradition, making the poem an autonomous, self-contained work of art.

The Poet as Catalyst:

   Eliot sees the poet as a catalyst, someone who takes existing literary material and transforms it through their unique perspective. The poet's individuality is important in the creative process, but it should not overshadow the impersonal quality of the poem itself.


   Eliot concludes by suggesting that this impersonal theory allows for the continuous renewal and rejuvenation of poetry. Each poet contributes to the ongoing tradition, and the quality of poetry is judged not by the poet's emotional sincerity but by the effectiveness of the objective correlative in conveying meaning and emotion.

In "Tradition and the Individual Talent," T.S. Eliot argues for a fundamentally new way of thinking about poetry, one that emphasizes the continuity of literary tradition and the importance of the objective correlative. He contends that great poetry is the result of a poet's ability to synthesize their individuality with the collective wisdom of the past, creating a work that transcends the personal and becomes a lasting part of the literary tradition. This essay had a profound influence on modernist poetry and has continued to be a cornerstone of literary criticism.


Read also:

👉 Aristotle's Poetics | views on the plot of tragedy and its relative importance  

👉 Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings | William Wordsworth 

👉 Received Pronunciation (RP) | Distinctive features, criteria and major problems  

👉 Speech mechanism | the functions of the various organs of speech  

👉 Development of the English language | from the Anglo-Saxon to the Modern period  

👉 Anglo-Saxon Christian Poetry | or Religious Poetry  

👉 Anglo-Saxon Elegy |or Old English Lyric Poetry 

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