T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) writes about “historical sense” in “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” Eliot’s conception of tradition is complex and unusual, involving what he describes as “historical sense” which is a perception of “the past” but of its “presence”.
The historical sense is the sense of the timeless and the temporal, as well as a combination of both. This sense makes a writer traditional. One, who has a historical sense, feels the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer down to his own day. It includes the literature of one’s own country which forms one continuous literary tradition.
More Notes: Tradition and Individual Talent
In this regard, he says, “Tradition is not anything fixed and static. It is constantly changing and becoming different from what it is.” The function of tradition is, the work of a poet in the present is to be compared and contrasted with the work of the past and judged by the standard of the past. Because the past helps us to understand the present and the present throws light on the past. Thus we can shift tradition from the individual elements in a given work of art.
To conclude, like the chemical reaction that Eliot uses as an analogy of the poet’s depersonalized mind, each element (poem) in this historical tradition of poetry affects every other element (poem). The past informs the present poetry. And if the present poetry was created in this historical sense, then the present poetry will also inform the past.