The essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” sheds light on the necessity of past precedents while judging the works of new poets. Any form of evaluation and commentary must interlink beauty and impact with an apt historical investigation.
Grading a poem
Eliot asserts the need to examine the classics when observing the poetry of the new age. He posits that mere aesthetics do not constitute a fit analysis of a work until it is juxtaposed with a rich heritage of earlier poets and writers.
Eliot defends the role of traditional texts on the grooming and shaping of the individual talents of aspiring poets. He discourages the gross valorization of the notions of unconventional and unaffected talents of the new age poetry.
He proffers an inherently paradoxical sense of poetry which confluences the quality of being timeless with the concept of symbiosis between tradition with contemporaneity.
Personality vs Tradition
Such lasting imprint of the old and sense of ancestry provide a thorough and informed evaluation of any poet’s works. The process of juxtaposing works of distinct epochs and poets from different places gives a greater canvass to make any comparison between the two.
It helps in avoiding the errors of isolation. Every new creation and performance disturbs and impacts the already established lineage or order of earlier works.
He argues that every contemporary artist perpetually surrenders to the old tradition, of his path of progress and thus offers a sacrifice of original creation and sense of individuality, a willful waiver off authorial independence.
However, he asserts a continual tradeoff between two distinct processes: the past influencing the present and the present altering the past. Thus instead of passive inheritance, it requires a process of concentrated absorption of the classical texts.
He claims that history is constantly remoulded by the present by association and is both timeless and re-imagined continually. Thus, every modern poet is inextricably and unquestionably needs to understand the temporal interrelation with the entire lineage of poets.
The Relationship Between the Poet & the Poem
Depersonalization according to Eliot requires a discernible and scientific explanation. He goes on to equate a poet’s mind to a chemical agent which constantly transmutes a library of sentiments, knowledge, ideas and imagery and mould them together into a new piece of artwork.
Such agent helps in the formation of a new compound when two already table compounds are mixed together, but itself remains unaffected. Similarly, a poet’s mind uses his own preferences and knowledge (the two compounds) to mix them to produce a new poem.
Eliot feels that the true impact of art remains independent as literary reactions ensure that the uniqueness of the writer remains distilled from the work of art produced.
This is what he calls as the means of the work i.e. the text, which over-rides the caprices of the writer. In other words, the poet’s own dispositions and biases become untethered from those of his words.
Thus, every good poem abdicates the seal of its maker. An individual’s feelings must be translated into the poet’s feelings. Thus, the text of the poem assumes a more objective image and loses the singular identity of its creator, which he calls as ‘depersonalization’. Much like a work of science.
It is more of an escape from the poet’s personality than his caprices. It necessitates a level of rigour and order than wanton chaos and inspiration. Therefore, any grading of the poems needs to be objective as well.
However, Eliot did not explicate how the subjective sentiments are to be morphed into an unbiased and universal canvass.