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Home » , » What does Eliot mean by "Tradition"? What is its importance to the poet and the artist?

Importance to the poet and the artist

T.S. Eliot is the most influential poet and critic in the Modern Age. He tries to define 'tradition' in his revolutionary essay, " Tradition and Individual Talent". He thinks that tradition depends on the complete realisation of historical sense. Tradition involves a historical sense which enables a poet to perceive the importance of past and present. It cannot be achieved easily. It is obtained through hard labour. It is very important to the poet and the artist. Historical sense makes a writer traditional. A man of historical sense feels that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer down to his own day including the literature of his own country forms one continuous literary tradition. Eliot says that in English literature and criticism, the word, 'tradition' is scarcely is used. We often apply the word for its absence in order to express our grief. In this respect, Eliot says-- "In English writing, we seldom speak of tradition, though we occasionally apply its name in deploying its absence ."We cannot make a reference to 'the tradition' or to 'a tradition'. We often employ the adjective from of the word. We say that the poetry of so-and-so is 'traditional' or even 'too traditional ". Tradition is generally used as a word of censure. If the contrary happens, it is used in an approbative sense. It applies to the word approved in the same sense as we approve some archeological reconstruction in a pleasing and curious way. Tradition is not considered in a pleasing manner to the Englishman. An English man does not study a creative work in the context of a wider literary tradition. He does not give due weight and consideration to tradition. If tradition is used in a negative way, the present poets are regarded in a worthy manner rather than the past poets. It is not likely to appear in appreciating and evaluating the living and deas poets. Eliot thinks that the prejudice of 'individual talent' proves negligence and indifference to tradition. But the individually talent and tradition go together hand in hand. They are not isolated from each other.

Tradition does not follow the ways of the immediate generations blindly. Such currents soon die. Novelty is better than repetition. Tradition is of greater significance and importance. It cannot be inherited. It can be obtained with great labour. In this respect, Eliot defines 'tradition' in the following way--"Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour. "He believes that tradition involves a historical sense. So it becomes a matter of much wider significance. It is not a matter to inherit from our predecessors. Nor it can be easily acquired. If anyone wants to have it, he must have to labour hard. To obtain it, one have the historical sense. It means that a poet or a writer must know the past writers. The historical sense involves a perception not only of the pastness of the past but also of its presence. A poet or a writer has to have a conception about the literature beginning from Homer down to his own time. Therefore, to acquire such a wide consciousness of history, one requires great labour. Thus tradition can only be attained with a painstaking and hard labour. Eliot does not define 'tradition' as a mere adherence to the past or as the slavish imitation of the great poets of the past. A poet is not necessary to frieghten in this respect. Of course, he must have vast knowledge to be a great poet. But it often seems to be impossible. Many critics might have opposed this theory. They think that such great labour will ultimately deaden the sensibility of the artists or poets. 

But T.S. Eliot wants to say that the poet should continually develop his awareness of the past undergoing this labour. Historical sense inspires a writer to develop the sense of tradition. This does not also mean that the poet should know only a few poets whom he admires. This is a sign of immaturity and inexperience. A poet should not be content merely to know some particular age or period which he likes. This may be pleasant and delightful. But it will not constitute a sense of tradition. A sense of tradition in the real sense means consciousness of the main current which does not all flow invariably through the most distinguished reputations. The poet must possess the critical gift in ample measure. He must also realise that the main literary trends are not determined by the poets alone. Smaller poets are also significant. They are not to be ignored. However, we know that tradition is a historical scheme made up of formal, stylistic and ideological attributes common to a large number of works over long time. It generally implies a casual connection linking individual works. But Eliot considers tradition as a gift of historical sense. Tradition in the widest sense signifies consciousness of the past. It implies a recognition of the continuity of literature. It has greater significance and importance to the poet and the artist who want to exercise aesthetic arts.


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