Thomas Stearns Eliot is the most influential poet-critic of the modern era. In his famous essay Tradition and the Individual Talent, Eliot propounds his anti-Romantic conception of the theory of poetry which makes him a classicist. According to the Romantics, poetry is an expression of the emotions and the personality of the poet. Wordsworth says,
Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.According to Wordsworth, there are four stages through which poetic composition takes place:
4. Imaginative excitement of the emotions which were experienced earlier.
But in Tradition and the Individual Talent, Eliot opposes the Romantic conception by advancing his theory of the impersonality in art and opines that the artistic process is a process of depersonalization and that the artist will surrender himself totally to the creative work. Eliot says,
The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.Eliot holds that the poet and the poem are two separate things and that the feelings or the emotion, or vision, resulting from the is something different from the feeling or emotion or vision in the poem the mind of the poet. Hence, T.S Eliot elucidates his theory of impersonality by examining, Firstly the relation of the poet to the past and Secondly the relation of the poem to its author.
Eliot realises that the past exists in the present. So, he points out that no writer has his value and significance in isolation. To judge the work of a poet, we must compare and contrast his work with the works of the poets of the past. Such comparison and contrast is essential for forming an idea of the real worth and significance of a new writer and his work.
Eliot points out the relation of the poem to its author and says that relation to the poet. There is detachment or alienation the poet and his poem. The poem once created is no longer his. The poet uses ordinary emotions to create new poetry.
According to T.S Eliot, the poet is a medium, not a personality. T.S Eliot compares the mind of the poet to a catalyst and the process of poetic creation to the process of a chemical reaction. Eliot has cited example by saying that when oxygen and sulphur-di-oxide are mixed in the presence of a filament of platinum, they form sulphurous acid.
Platinum is the catalyst that helps the process of chemical reaction, bet the metal does not undergo any change. The mind of the poet is like the catalytic agent. It is necessary for the new combination of emotions and experiences to take place, but it itself does not undergo any change during the process of poetic creation.
The personality of the poet does not find expression in his poetry; it acts as a catalytic agent. Here, the mind of the poet is the platinum; and the emotions and feelings are the gases- oxygen and sulphur-di- oxide. Just as the platinum remains unchanged, in the chemical reaction, the poet remains separate from his creation, though his feelings and emotions form something new.
Eliot next compares the poet's mind to a receptacle in which are stored numberless feelings, images, phrases, emotion etc., which remain there in an unorganised and chaotic form till all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.
Thus, poetry is an organisation rather than an inspiration. And the greatness of a poem does not depend upon the greatness or the intensity of the emotions, but upon the intensity of the process of poetic composition. The more intense the poetic process, the greater the poem.
According to T.S Eliot, the emotion of poetry is different from personal emotion of the poet. T.S Eliot personal emotions may be simple or crude, but the emotion of his poetry may be complex and refined. Eliot says that there is no need for the poet to try to express new human emotions in poetry. It's not the business of 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. And 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.
That is why, Eliot rejects Wordsworth's theory of poetry, having its origin in emotion recollected in tranquillity and points out that within the method of poetic composition there's the only concentration of a number of experiences, and a new thing results from this concentration. According to Eliot,
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.Being an anti-Romantic, Eliot has no faith in subjectivity which he rejects and tries to route out to finality. In reaction to Wordsworth's romantic creed, Eliot as a youth with post-Romantic inheritance engages himself with no delay to formulate his new poetics of depersonalization which was revolutionary in that sense that he introduces new thinking regarding the conception of poetry and its creation.