In T. S. Eliot’s essay ” Tradition and the Individual Talent,” the renowned author discusses how he perceives tradition, as well as how it relates to poetry and the poet itself. To his mind, many people shy away from change in favor of tradition. As this relates to the poet, Eliot believes that the English tradition often only rewards those poets who remain traditional. While there are many who believe that outright change is a good thing, Eliot thinks that tradition should be considered in positive terms when evaluating new works. He wishes for a consideration of tradition, but warns against lacking innovation; ” Yet if the only form of tradition, of handing down, consisted in following the ways of the immediate generation before us in a blind or timid adherence to its successes, “ tradition” should positively be discouraged” (Eliot, p. 952).
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Tradition, to Eliot, is a ” simultaneous order,” a timeless sense of history that also ties itself in closely with the present. When making poetry, poets have to represent all eras of literature, and provide some sort of connection with the traditional in order to create true change. At the same time, contemporary environments have to be considered; the poet who departs too radically from his contemporaries or predecessors is doomed to failure. By holding to tradition to a certain extent, the poet can connect themselves to history and the timeline of poetry on the whole.
Eliot’s essay, in conclusion, seems to separate the ideas of talent and inherent skill; for a talented poet to thrive, they must have a working knowledge of poetry tradition and the motivation to make their own work. I responded very passionately to this; to completely remove the individual from the poem was an alien concept to me, but I found myself agreeing that tradition helps to add context to the poem, and link it to the past and present. By gaining more knowledge, a poet can become better at being a poet; there is little to no true focus on ‘genius.’ Concentration is the key to truly good poetry – ” concentrationof a very great number of experiences” (Eliot p. 960). In essence, the personal must be removed from the poet, and they must simply write to escape from their emotions, instead of turning them loose. With these things in mind, according to Eliot, good poetry can be made.
Eliot, T. S. ” Tradition and the Individual Talent.” in Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism,
2011, pp. 951-961. Print.