How does T.S. Eliot conceptualize tradition and how can it be acquired?
T. S. Eliotemphasizes on the importance of tradition in his essay “Tradition and Individual Talent”. He is of the view that we should neither ignore past nor shouldforget it. He has some emotional attachment with dead poets and says that modern poets must remember their work. He establishes a close connection between tradition and the writing of successful poetry. To compare a poet with the traditional writers, says Eliot, is a good way to make difference between generations. He wants that a poet must have knowledge about the history of literature. He is of the view that a poet cannot be judged alone. If someone is going to judge the poet (poet means his poetry), then he should compare him with those, who had done poetry before him, however, he clears the meaning of comparison. The comparison, in the eyes of T.S. Eliot, means to clarify what has been altered by the new poets; which ingredient is present in todays poetry that was not available in the past. A poet cannot be compared to see whether he is good or bad; nor he is compared to see that he is talented or not. Comparison is to see that what was followed in the past and what is being followed nowadays by the modern poets. T. S. Eliot says that literature cannot be developed, however, it can be polished and refined. A true poet, according to him, is one who follows the tradition and presents the ordinary feelings and emotions in a new way. Undoubtedly, emotions are same since the creation of mankind; what has been changed is the representation of those feelings and emotions by the poets and writers. T.S. Eliot stresses that a writer must continue learning traditional literature in his whole life.
In order to clear his meanings with respect to the word “tradition”, T. S. Eliot writes that tradition never means repetition of former work nor does it means that a writer should blindly follow ideas of previous writers. Tradition means to write, while keeping an eye on the past. A poet should understand that there was a present in the past. To illustrate past in a new way is the best type of poetry in the eyes of T.S. Eliot. A poet does not feel only for his era but for every centaury. He also clears that getting knowledge about every single event of past is not necessary but a poet should increase his historical knowledge throughout his career.
T. S. Eliot has been criticized because of his ideas related to tradition. Firstly, his essay is ambiguous. The main objection, which has been raised is; T. S. Eliot, in his essay, says that entire knowledge of the past is not necessary but at the same time he asserts that a poet should learn how to write from former poets. He says that increasing knowledge about the historical literature is a continuous process, which a poet should follow throughout his career. Many of the creative minds are not agree with T.S. Eliot in this regard. An artist is not bound what was portrayed in the past by the poets and writers. His concern is with the present only. No one can bound a writer’s style of writing nor can a poet write while following every traditional concept. T. S. Eliot has been criticized because his essay is considered as propaganda against the creative writers. He is bounding writers to follow the traditional ways of writing while ignoring their artistic talent. He says that the only way to judge a poet is to compare him with the writers, who were successful in the past. It is not entirely true. Every poet has uniqueness in his writings. His style is unique, his representation is distinctive from others and his thematic concept can also be different from the norms. Of course, there may be conformity in it but it does not mean that he is following the conventional style of writing.
It is matter of fact that all above said objections are not true at all.Eliot has talked about the possibility. He has cleared that following tradition does not mean that a poet starts blindly copying and imitating the work of past. Let’s have an example, Homer, for instance, is the poet of past as well as for future and his influence can be found on a lot of poets. It does not mean they are blindly following him. Keeping an eye on the past is a good way to refine a literal work. A poet can learn from past writers and then can write as per his own desires. Change is the law of nature but it cannot be denied that human nature has not been changed so far. Thus, a poet’s work is not for a specific time period. Shakespeare, for example, is being read even today. If today’s writer have influence of Shakespeare on them then it does not mean they are copying him. Hence, the objections raised on the views of T.S. Eliot have no force at all as they are baseless and can be denied.
At last but not the least, T. S. Eliot’s concept about tradition is unique and it must be followed. He is right when he says that no poet can be judged in isolation. How can anyone say that this poet is best without reading any other poet. The difference between former and recent work is the best way to compare a piece of literature. T.S. Eliot says that getting historical knowledge is a time consuming activity as it cannot be inherited but learnt, therefore, a poet can acquire it in pieces with the passage of time. It must be clarified that historical knowledge is not only the knowledge of dead poets but social, religious and political knowledge.Tradition has unique meanings in the eyes of T.S. Eliot and it can be acquired by feelings about the past, reading about the dead poets, considered that there was a present in the past and by obtaining social, religious and political knowledge.