Tradition and the Individual Talent" (1919) is an essay written by a poet and literary theorist: T. S. Eliot.
The extract concerns Eliot's attitude to and conception of the impersonality of the artist.
The essay deals with the value of tradition, in particular with the relationship between the work of the individual poet and that of the poets who wrote before him.
At the beginning of the extract, Eliot draws the readr's attention on the differences that can be singled out between his immediate predecessors: he focuses on what makes them immortal.
Eliot expresses two important concepts of his literary criticism:
- The poet 's task is not to express his personality
- Modernism rejects the Romantic idea of art as a self expression of the artist.
Moreover tradition is necessary to be innovative; innovation is made by modifications of work of the past: no poet, no artist may create a complete meaning on his own but his sense and his understanding is connected to dead poet and artists.
The poet may relate to the historical sense considering the past.
The historical sense is important to consider the contemporary cultural field.
His sense of the past was cosmopolitan and capacious. He stated that each new poet altered the tradition slightly, but needed in turn to be learnt in the tradition.
As for what the new tradition might be Eliot made that clear. He looked back at the Victorian Age and the dissociation of sensibility that he said had followed the 17th century and was exemplified by Milton, to the Elizabethans, Jacobean and Metaphysical poets - Donne, Marvel, Herbert and their wit.