Interpersonal Theory of Poetry – TS Eliot

Nancy B. Alston

Eliot’s claims of himself to be a classicist raised a noisy reaction among his critics and in his emphasis on the ‘generalizing power’ and ‘the critics’ need to objectify’ in his essay ‘The Perfect Critic’ gives a clue to his special type of classicism. The concern for the poem as an objective thing is a special highlight of Eliot’s classicism and this view of Eliot finds its proper illustration in his essay, ‘Tradition and Individual Talent’.

Eliot begins his essay with an attempt to establish poetic objectivity and impersonality on a living tradition. The poet or the artist must surrender his quotidian self or personality to infinity more important than the order of tradition. This sense of impersonality is at the heart of Eliot’s advocacy of poetic personality and objectivity through adherence to tradition. Although Eliot has been advocating the elimination of the personal factor as much as possible not only in creative literature but in criticism also, and to him, this progress of the artist is a process of continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality. It is a process of depersonalization, so that he can serve as a neutral, nondistortive medium for sundry things to be accurately and perfectly recorded. This sort of impersonality is also the basic principle of Eliot’s objective theory of criticism. According to him, the critic’s personality should be suppressed in such a way that he must not have any other emotions except those immediately evoked by a work of art.

Eliot’s conception seems to be that the poetry is located somewhere between the poet and the reader. The poem, in some sense, has its own life. According to Eliot, “Impressions and experiences which are important for the man may take no place in poetry.” In his preface to the 1928 edition of ‘The Sacred Wood’, Eliot has further observed, “We can only say that a poem, in some sense, has its own life”. He continues in the same paragraph, “the feeling or emotion or vision, resulting from the poem is something different from the feeling or emotion in the mind of the poet.” Such a view of poetry is, “belligerently anti-romantic”. It forces attention not on the poet, but upon the poetry. However one can recognize the basic truth behind this. If the emotion is too intense or personal in a poet, he will be too confused to give it a shape of a work of art. One may view it as a return to Aristotelian theory as some critics’ things that, since the 17th century, hardly any English critic writing so resolutely transported poetic theory from the aim of pleasure versus pain, to unity versus multiplicity. To make it simpler we can say that, there is no more about the soul of the object and the imagination of the artist is of lesser importance. Eliot asserts that, there is always a difference between the man who suffers and the mind which creates. Tracing a poem to its origin is discouraged by Eliot and therefore he dismisses the biographical and psychological criticism of poetry. It may also be observed that Keats also had anticipated this artistic impersonality in his famous concept of ‘negative capability’, about the poetic character he wrote about the poetic character “It has no self, it is everything and nothing”.

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