Tradition and the Individual Talent by T. S. Eliot

The essay Tradition and the Individual Talent is an attack on certain critical views in Romanticism particularly up on the idea that a poem is primarily an expression of the personality of the poet.

Eliot argues that a great poem always asserts and that the poet must develop a sense of the pastness of the past. There is great importance of tradition in the present poem. Tradition should not be inherited but should be obtained by great labor. Past should be altered by present as much as the present is directed by past.

In fact tradition acquires a wider significance in Eliot’s writing. It involves a historical sense that is really essential for any work of art. This historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of past but also its present ness. This sense compels a poet to write not only being near to his generation, but to the whole of literary tradition starting from Homer. Thus to write poetry is to write with a consciousness of the timeless and temporal and of the interrelation between the two. In any work the past should be altered by the present just as the preset is directed by the past.

In this way, present affects the past as past effects the present because present poet adopts the tradition of past with hard labor. A good writer or poet identifies his position in present with the comparison to past writers. Therefore, the combination of temporal and timeless is, as whole tradition.

The meaning of the poem is not possible in isolation. Not poet, no any artist has his complete meaning unless we link him/ her to a chain of all poets. Impotence and value of any poet can’t be judged in isolation. So there must be the tradition to compare are with another.

To create a good poem, one should surrender the self. This self sacrifice of personality gives birth to a good poem. One should negate his mind. In doing so one loses his individuality and his personality. All the personal emotions, feelings and experience should be sacrificed. There should not be the personal image of poet in his poetry. Poetry should be impersonal. But it does not mean that the poet should not write his personal feelings, but there personal feelings should be converted in to art’s feelings. Therefore, we as a critic should not look for personality of poet in his poem because the text is objective. The theory that the poet should surrender his personality is depersonalization. The poet’s personal feelings and emotions should be depersonalized. He must be an impersonal and objective like a scientist.

The progress of the artist is a continual self-sacrifice a continual extinction of personality is the individual talent.

To make the concept of depersonalization clear, Eliot brings analogy of creating sulphuroic acid.

Sulpher dioxide (Feeling) + oxygen (Emotion) + platinum (Mind of Poet) = Sulphurous Acid (Poem) (No trace of Poet’s Personality)

As the platinum itself remains unaffected, the mind of the poet remains unaffected also. Poet's personality is just an agent or medium to active the relation between emotion and feelings. So, the poet is never a creator, but like catalyst.

Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion but an escape from emotion. Eliot point is more like what Keats uses his term ‘negative capability’.

Eliot stands against Romantic poets who think that poetry is spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings and personal emotions. Romantic writer says poetry is expression of personality and inspiration. But Eliot says poetry is not so but an escape from personality. Poetry is organization rather than inspiration. So, the critic should be objective while treating the poems. The belief that there is a poet speaking in a poem should be checked.

Hamlet and His problem Objective Correlative

In the essay “Hamlet and his problem" Eliot argues that the play Hamlet and the Character Hamlet both are problematic. He says that Hamlet is an artistic failure, because it has not any objective correlative. Here in this play, Shakespeare could not balance between fact and feelings. External situation is needed to express the feelings of character. But in Hamlet, there is no relation between external situation and the feeling of Hamlet.

The madness of Hamlet has not proper relation with his mother's guilt. There are no clear events that are matching with expressed emotion. Matching of events with expressed emotion is what Eliot calls objective correlative.

But, in Hamlet, Hamlet goes mad due to his mother’s elopement. This elopement is very minor issue to go mad. So here is not objective correlative. Hamlet lacks objective correlative. Objective refers to situation, events, condition and objective correlative means the proper relationship between situation and expression of feelings. Thus Hamlet is an artistic failure.