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Eliot's view of poetry as an "escape from emotion"

Thomas Stearns Eliot is an intellectual giant of English criticism. He has given a very remarkable theory of impersonality in poetry in his revolutionary critical essay, " Tradition and Individual Talent ". Discuss about  escape from emotion. Impersonality means a writer's own escape from emotion should not be reflected into his own poetry. It is not the expression of his personality but an escape from the personality. Just to achieve this quality, the poet must achieve historical sense or the sense of tradition. This historical sense should be achieved through hardship. A poet should not only know about his own tradition but also he should be acquainted with outer tradition. Then he will be able to sacrifice his personality in his poetry. A good poet is always conscious where he ought to be. He is not conscious where he ought not to be. Personality is the feelings or emotions of a poet. Eliot believes that concentration, not emotion is essential in writing poetry. According to Eliot, the personality of a poet should not be expressed through his poetry. He will write poetry on the basis of historical sense or the sense of tradition. But his feelings or his personality must be untouched. Just to clarify this point, Eliot has drawn an analogy. In the reaction between sulphur dioxide and oxygen, platinum filament does the function of a catalyst. After the reaction, we get sulphurous acid. But the shreds of platinum remain unchanged. Besides, sulphurous acid does not get any traits of the catalyst. Eliot wants to say that the poet plays the role of a catalyst in writing poetry. Like the shreds of platinum, the personality of a poet should not be expressed into his poem. In analysing his theory of depersonalisation, Eliot severely attacks Wordsworth's theory of poetry. Wordsworth defines poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it lakes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity".  

Eliot says that the emotion of a poet must be guarded because the unguarded emotion may produce chaotic literature. Moreover, he says that not emotion but concentration of mind is a must in writing good poetry. In this respect, he says-"In fact, the bad poet is usually unconscious where he ought to be conscious, and conscious where he ought to be unconscious." Thus we find that Eliot has given emphasis on impersonality in writing good poetry. So he rejects Wordsworth's theory of poetry. He regards "emotion recollected in tranquility" as an inexact formula. It seems that in the theory of poetic process, emotion is given place inferior to thought and feelings. This is clearly opposite to Wordsworth's definition of poetry. In this respect, Eliot says--"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. "The emotions 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.  

It is the mistaken notion that the poet must express new emotions resulting in much--19eccentricity in poetry. It is not the business of the poet to find new emotions. He may express only ordinary emotions. But he must impart to then a new significance and a new meaning. It is not necessary that they should be his personal emotions. Even emotions which he has never personally experienced can serve the purpose of poetry. Emotion can best be expressed through an objective correlative When Eliot deals with a universal appeal, he turns into a classicist. He declares that a poet should have a standard. He argues that a citizen has to give his allegiance to his country. Similarly, an officer should give his allegiance to his authority. So a poet has to give his allegiance to a specific standard. Without a model, no one can produce good literature. Chaotic literature is always produced by the uncontrolled thoughts. Besides, Eliot further says that no poet or no artist has any real value unless we set him among the past poets or artists. So a poet should have a model before him. But Eliot further forbids a poet imitate his predecessor blindly. In this respect, blind imitation can always echo the inner personality of a poet. Eliot says that personality of the poet should not come in his poems. It may seem to us very much contradictory because a poet is never devoid of personality. According to Eliot, personality means the poet's own particular feeling or personal prejudice. He means to say that the feeling which will be reflected in the poems of a poet should be of every man. It should have universal appeal. 

For example, when we study Shakespeare's dramas, we feel that they are not of the particular age or the particular society. They are of every society and every man. They have got universal appeal. Thus we may say that Shakespeare has sacrificed his own personality in the guillotine of the universal appeal. Thus Eliot tries to prove that the emotion of art is impersonal in "Tradition and Individual Talent". He disagrees with the poetic theory of Wordsworth. He does not believe that poetry is a turning loose of emotion. But he considers poetry as an escape from emotion. He discourages the personality of a poet to express. He thinks that the role of a poet is like a catalyst in writing poetry. But we find that Eliot's theory of impersonality is limited to a certain extent. His criticism of Wordsworth's theory of poetry is not wholly true. In this respect, we may feel the thrill that Wordsworth feels in " Tintern Abbey". Every man of inner sight may also enjoy it. But we cannot deny that Eliot's theory of impersonality is of immense value too.
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