Eliot’s impersonal theory of poetry

The theory of impersonality is given by T.S Eliot (1888-1965) in his well-known essay “Tradition and Individual Talent”(1919) . It was first published in the Periodical named “The Egoist” and later published in his work of criticism “The Sacred Wood” (1920). In this essay, Eliot develops his poetic theory of impersonality. In this theory, Eliot means that the poet should not bring his powerful emotions, feelings, and personality while writing poetry. He should remain as far as impersonal.

More Notes: Tradition and Individual Talent

 In the theory of impersonality, poetic development is the continuous subtraction and diminishing of poets’ personalities and emotions. The artist’s personality is not important; the important thing is his sense of tradition. A good poem is a living whole of all the poetry ever written. He must forget his personal joys and sorrows, and he absorbed in acquiring a sense of tradition and expressing it in his poetry. Thus, the poet’s personality is merely a medium, having the same significance as a catalytic agent, or a receptacle in which chemical reactions take place. That is why Eliot holds that “Honest criticism and sensitive appreciation is directed not upon the poet but upon the poetry.”

T.S. Eliot uses the theory of impersonality in his poetry. According to him “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.” Thus Eliot does not deny personality or emotion to the poet. Only, he must depersonalize his emotions. There should be an extinction of his personality. This impersonality can be achieved only when the poet surrenders himself completely to the work that is to be done. And the poet can know what is to be done, only if he acquires a sense of tradition, the historic sense, which makes him conscious, not only of the present but also of the present moment of the past, not only of what is dead but of what is already living.

We can evaluate this theory with some examples. T. S Eliot’s, “The Waste Land” begins, with a description of a cruel spring, cruel to disturb, dull, dry land content to sleep, to die. Life and, surely, personality is the moisture missing in this wasteland. But why, then, am I haunted from the first line with personality? There are several reasons, but one of them is that the base of personal pronouns awakens a sense of emotional engagement. First, the reader seems to be involved in “you,” “us,” and “we.” The reader needs not apply himself; the personal pronouns refer to others instead. It doesn’t matter. The sense of participation persists. Besides, a personal aside:

“Corne in under the shadow of this red rock”

This line justifies the reader in his presumption.

To elucidate his theory, Eliot put forward the analogy of chemical reaction. Eliot says that when sulfur dioxide and oxygen are put together in the presence of filament platinum, then sulfurous acid is produced. This combination occurs when platinum is there, but, there is no trace of platin in the new acid. So platinum is the catalyst that assists in the procedure of a chemical reaction, but platinum itself stays unaltered, static, and irreversible. In the same way, Eliot says that if a poet composes a poem, it should not have the emotions and experiences of that poet, just like sulfurous acid does not contain platinum.

Finally, we can say that Eliot’s concept of impersonality is essential in the literary process to reveal that the writer’s mind is like a receptacle in which several varied feelings, emotions, and experiences are stored.

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

Hi, This is Rashedul. Researcher and lecturer of English literature and Linguistics.

Articles: 230

Leave a Reply

error: Sorry !!