T. S. Eliot's Theory and Practice in his Poetry

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      Introduction: Perhaps the greatest contribution both to English poetry and criticism has been made by those poets who have been critics as well. Dryden, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Arnold and Eliot belong to this category. Their contribution to the theory of poetry and to the actual achievement in poetic outlook has been really significant. Eliot, the poet-critic, has not only added to the wealth of critical theories but also made the sizable contribution to the 20th century poetry.

Perhaps the greatest contribution both to English poetry and criticism has been made by those poets who have been critics as well. Dryden, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Arnold and Eliot belong to this category. Their contribution to the theory of poetry and to the actual achievement in poetic outlook has been really significant.
Eliot Poetry on Drama

      Realism and complexity: It is necessary that contemporary poetry - if it is to have any significance must bring out the complexities and variety of modern life. T. S. Eliot desires to bring poetry out of the land of rainbows and daffodils to the world of factory chimneys, pubs, and harlots and all the things to which we are surrounded today. His poetry is urban and belongs to the industrial and scientific world and as such it is both complex and difficult. In his essay on The Metaphysical Poets he writes: "Poets in our civilisation must be difficult. Our civilisation's complexity, playing upon a refined sensibility, must produce various and complex results. The poet must become more comprehensive, more allusive, more indirect, in order to force, to dislocate devices, cultivate all the possibilities of words in order to express entirely new conditions."

      Impersonality of poetry: Departing from the romantic tradition, which regarded poetry as continuous outburst of personal feelings, Eliot emphasised the impersonal nature of poetry. He regards subjectivity as the source of eccentricity and chaos. He, the poet, as an actor playing the role, must be reliable and well informed spectator of modern life. According to him, poetry is "not turning loose of emotion but an escape from emotion, not an expression of personality but as escape from personality." He regards poems as a medium of expression and not as a device of revelation of personality.

      Objective co-relative: However, the poet cannot conceal his personality in writing a poem. Even while offering ideas and images, he indirectly reveals his likes and dislikes. So he has to find an objective co-relative "a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion." The objective co-relative implies three important things - (i) a medium like tragedy or dramatic monologue or sonnet to express his basic ideas; (ii) the creation of certain factors as for example The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and Gerontion for expression of certain points of view which echo the poet's beliefs, (iii) the expression of emotion to certain objects which are precise and realistic. For example, 'thunder', 'game of chess', leopard', are mentioned by Eliot to express certain feelings. It is necessary to depersonalize the personal emotions so that they outlive the personal beliefs of the poet and become universally acceptable on account of great intensity and significance in them.

      The shaping spirit of imagination: Eliot regards imagination and not inspiration as the core of the poem. He believes in disciplining both matter and form so that the discordances are removed for the reconciliation of opposites or the general with the concrete, idea with the image, the tradition with modernity has to be achieved through the shaping spirit of imagination. The main function of imagination is to imply sensibility and to produce some order out of the heterogeneous elements which go into making of the poem. T. S. Eliot writes in this connection: "When a poet's mind is perfectly equiped for its work, it is constantly amalgamating disparate experience; the ordinary man's experience is chaotic, irregular, fragmentary. The latter falls in love, or reads Spinoza, and these two experiences have nothing to do with each other; in the mind of poet these experiences are always forming new wholes".

      It is not necessary that the poet must offer absolutely new and original thoughts. Even the greatest poets have largely relied on the common fund of ideas available in their times. Their achievements lay in charging them with a new life and giving them a new significance. Therefore, the poetic composition is a process of a great labour and requires the utmost use of man's inner faculty.

      Importance of classicism: Eliot is pre-eminently a classicist. He believes in tradition because it stood the test of the time. While writing, he keeps certain ideals before himself. These ideals are objectivity, discipline, impersonality, constant revision, reference to tradition and reader's response. Moreover, his literary tradition covers the whole of European literature. He does not want English literature to be insular or isolated from the main streams of youthful literature.

      Values of literary tradition: Eliot attaches great importance to tradition. His conception of tradition is essentially dynamic. He observes all care and caution in the adoption of a tradition. He declares that we should not adhere to tradition blindly or timidly. In this respect novelty is better than repetition. As he remarks: "Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour. It involves, in the first place the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his own contemporaneity."

      There should be conformity between the old and the new. The past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past. A poet who is aware of this, will be aware of great difficulties and responsibilities. An adequate Knowledge of the past is absolutely essential. The future cannot be built up in the absence of the past. Thus, a tradition is a connecting ink between the past and the future. Keeping in view the intrinsic value of literary tradition Eliot remarks: "What is to be insisted upon is that the poet must develop or procure the consciousness of the past and that he should continue to develop this consciousness throughout his career."

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