Tradition and the individual talent-Jameel Al-Ghaberi
University of Hyderabad
School of Humanities
Centre for Comparative
“Tradition and the Individual Talent”
Jameel Ahmed Al-Ghaberi
T. S. Eliot
“Tradition And The Individual Talent”
“Tradition and the Individual Talent” is one of
the more well-known works that Eliot produced
in his critic capacity.
The essay is divided into three parts:
Part I:Eliot’s Concept of Tradition
Part II:Eliot’s Theory of Impersonality of Poetry
Part I:Eliot’s Concept of Tradition
The significance of tradition
1. Tradition doesn’t mean a blind adherence to the
ways of the previous generation.
2. Tradition cannot be inherited; it can only be
obtained by hard labor.
3. Tradition can only obtained by those who have
The sense of tradition implies
Recognition of the continuity of literature
A critical judgment as to which of the writers of
the past continue to be significant in the
A knowledge of the significant writers obtained
through painstaking effort.
A dynamic conception of tradition
Tradition isn't anything fixed and static; it is constantly
changing, growing and becoming different from what it
When a new work is created, the whole literary
tradition is modified.
The relationship between the past and the
present is not one-sided; it is reciprocal.
The past directs the present, and is itself
modified and altered by the present.
The Function of Tradition
The work of art of a poet in the present is to be
compared and contrasted with works of the past…
This judgment doesn’t mean “good” or “bad”.
The comparison is for knowing the facts about
the new works of art.
The comparison is for the purpose of analysis
and forming better understanding of the new.
The sense of tradition
It doesn’t mean to know the past as a whole without
The sense of tradition doesn’t mean that the poet
should know only a few poets whom he admires, a
particular age, or period which he likes. This is a sign
of immaturity and inexperience.
Part II: Impersonality of poetry
(The Extinction of Personality)
“Honest Criticism and sensitive appreciation is directed not upon the poet but
upon the poetry.”
The artist must surrender himself to tradition.
He must allow his poetic sensibility to be shaped and
modified by the past.
His emotions and feeling must be depersonalized; he
must be as impersonal and objective as a scientist.
The poet’s personality is merely a medium; as a
catalytic agent, or a receptacle in which chemical
reactions take place.
A)The poetic process
“it is not the “greatness", the intensity of the emotions, the
components, but the intensity of the artistic process, the pressure,
under which the fusion takes place, that accounts.”
The more intense the artistic process, the greater the
The mind of the poet is like the catalytic agent.
It is merely a medium of combination.
Rejecting Wordsworth’s Theory of poetry
Eliot denounces the Romantic criticism saying….
In the process of poetic composition, there's neither emotion,
nor recollection, nor tranquility.
In the poetic process, there's only concentration of a number
of experiences, and a new thing results from this
Part III: Summary
– “poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an
escape from emotion; it is not the expression of
personality, but an escape from personality.”
– Eliot doesn’t deny personality or emotion to the
poet. Only he must depersonalize his emotions.
– The poet can know what is to be done if he acquires
a sense of tradition; the historic sense which makes
him conscious not only of the present but also of the
present moment of the past.
Criticism of Eliot
Eliot’s theory of tradition has been criticized
1. Its limited definition of what constitutes
the canon of tradition.
2. The “mind of Europe” reeks of Euro-centriism.