T. S. Eliot’s influence upon Modern Literary Criticism: Impersonality of Poetry

"No poet, no artist of any sort, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists."-
T. S. Eliot (1888 - 1965)
The poet must continually surrender himself to something which is more valuable than himself that is tradition. In the beginning, his self, his individuality may assert itself, but as his powers mature there will be a greater extinction of personality. His emotions and passions must be depersonalized, and he must be as objective as a scientist, and understand that his personality is merely a medium. He must forget personal joys and sorrows and devote himself completely in acquiring a sense of tradition. That is why, Eliot says that honest criticism is not directed at the poet but upon the poetry.
In the second part of the essay, Eliot develops the theory of impersonality of poetry. He compares the mind of the poet to a catalytic agent. It is necessary for combination of emotions and experiences to take place, but it itself does not undergo any change during the process. In case of a young and immature poet, his personal emotions and experiences may find some expression in his composition, but the more perfect the poet, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates.
T. S. Eliot (1888 - 1965)

Eliot rejects romantic subjectivity. He compares the poet’s mind to a receptacle in which there are stored numberless emotions, feelings etc, which remain there in an unorganized and chaotic form till “all such particles unite to form a new compound together.” Poetry is thus organization rather than inspiration. Next, he says the greatness of a poem does not depend upon the intensity of the emotions but upon the intensity of the process of poetic composition.

The emotion of poetry is different from personal emotions of the poet. His personal emotions may be simple or crude but the emotion of his poetry may be complex and refined. He further says that a poet may express emotions which he has never personally experienced.

Consequently, we must believe that "emotion recollected in tranquility" is an inexact formula. For it is neither emotion, nor recollection, nor, tranquility. It is a concentration, and a new thing resulting from the concentration. There is a great deal, in the writing of poetry, which must be conscious and deliberate. In fact, the bad poet is usually unconscious where he ought to be conscious and conscious where he ought to be unconscious. Both errors tend to make him "personal.” 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. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.

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