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Eliot's theory of poetry

T.S. Eliot is the most influential poet and critic in the Modern Age. He has explained the process of poetic creativity in his essay, "Tradition and Individual Talent" . He ventures to give his own theory of poetry while criticising the poetic theory of Wordsworth. He considers Wordsworth's definition of poetry as an inexact formula. His rejection of this theory betrays his attitude as a classic critic. Eliot believes that the poet is a medium of expression. The poet must be objective in his poetic creation. So Eliot rejects the theory of poetry of Wordsworth. He declares that "emotions recollected in tranquility" is an inexact formula. He points out that in the process of poetic composition, there is neither emotion, nor recollection, nor tranquility. In the poetic process, there is only concentration of a number of experiences. 

New thing results from this concentration. This process of concentration is neither conscious nor deliberate. It is a passive one. There are elements which are conscious and deliberate in the poetic process. There is a difference between a good and a bad poet. A bad poet is conscious where he should be unconscious. Again he is unconscious where he should be conscious. It is this consciousness of the wrong kind which makes a poem personal. Whereas every mature art must be impersonal. 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 emotion of poetry is different from personal emotion 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 eccentricity in poetry. It is not the business od the poet to find new emotions. He may express only ordinary emotions. But he must impart to them a new significance and a new meaning. It is not necessary that they should be his personal emotions. Even emoe which he has never personally experienced can serve the purpose of poetry. Emotion can best be expressed through an objective correlative. Eliot next compares the poet's mind to a jar or container in which numberless feelings, emotions etc. are stored. These feelings and emotions remain there in an unorganised and chaotic from. They stay there till all the particles are present together. Thus poetry is an organisation rather than inspiration. The greatness of a poem does not depend upon the greatness or even the intensity of the emotions. This depends upon the intensity of the process of poetic composition. Eliot argues that a chemical reaction takes place under pressure. Similarly, the intensity is needed for the fusion of emotions. The more intense the poetic process, the greater the poem. 

There is always a difference between the artistic emotion and personal emotions of the poet. For example, the famous "Ode to a Nightingale" of Keats contains a number of emotions which have nothing to do with the Nightingale. The difference between art and the event is always absolute. The poet has no personality to express. He is merely a medium in which impressions and experiences combine in peculiar and expected ways. Impressions and experiences which are important for the man find no place in his poetry. Those which become important in the poetry may have no significance for the man. Eliot thus rejects romantic subjectivism. The personality of the poet does not find expression in his poetry. It acts as a catalyst in the process of poetic creativity. The experiences which enter the poetic process may be of two kinds. They are emotions and feelings. Poetry may be composed out of emotions only. It can be written out of feelings only. It may also be composed out of both emotions and feelings. However, Eliot believes that it is not the business of the poet to find new emotions. He may express only ordinary emotion but he must impart to them a new significance and a new meaning. It is not necessary that they should be his personal emotions. 

In this point, Eliot has criticised Wordsworth's theory of poetry. He rejects his theory of poetry, "emotion recollected in tranquility". His rejection of this theory betrays his attidude as a classic critic. He has talked about his theory of impersonality. But it is not wholly true. We feel the thrill that Wordsworth feels in "Tintern Abbey". Every man of inner sight may also enjoy it.
Eliot's theory of poetry


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