Tradition In F. E. Eliot: The Importance Of Poetry

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Eliot opens the essay by redefining the word “tradition” and arguing that criticism in his view “is as inevitable as breathing.” The first principle of criticism that he asserts is to focus not solely upon what is unique in a poet but upon what he shares with “the dead poets, his ancestors.” This sharing, when it is not the mere and unquestioning following of established poetic practice, involves the historical sense, a sense that the whole of literary Europe and of one’s own country “has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order.” A corresponding principle is that no poet or artist has his or her complete meaning in isolation but must be judged, for contrast and comparison, among the dead. As Eliot sees it, the order of art is complete …show more content…
If they examine the matter critically with an unprejudiced mind, they will realize that the best and the most individual part of a poet’s work is that which shows the maximum influence of the writers of the past. To quote his own words: “Whereas if we approach a poet without this prejudice, we shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual part of his work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously.”

Tradition in the sense of passive repetition is to be discouraged. For Eliot, tradition is a matter of much wider significance. Tradition in the true sense of the term cannot be inherited, it can only be obtained by hard labor. This labor is the labor of knowing the past writers. It is the critical labor of separating the good from the bad, and of knowing what is good and useful. Tradition can be obtained only by those who have the historical sense. The historical sense involves a perception, “not only of the pastness of the past, but also of its presence”. One who has the historic sense feels that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer down to his own day, including the literature of his own country, forms one

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