Among contemporary critics, T.S. Eliot is the most influential and fruitful. He follows in the great lineage of poet-critics that begins with Dryden and Ben Jonson and continues through Matthew Arnold and Dr. Johnson. Eliot’s criticism serves as a smoke screen for his poetry since it is up to the next generation of poets to establish the standards by which their work is judged. Eliot also does this since he is a member of the Workshop School of Criticism. The two main ways that literary criticism has been moving in the 20th century are
(1) In the direction of a re-assessment of the greatness of the writers of the past and
(2) In the direction of the creation of new critical ideas. Eliot is chiefly concerned with this re-evaluation.
The writing of “The Sacred Wood” set in motion his process of reevaluation. It is predicated on some of his own novel analytical concepts. The concepts that make up this book’s first fully developed expression put its writers in the mainstream of poet-critics. Actually, the very thing that has made Eliot’s critique of the aforementioned writers the most persistent is also what has given his opinions on poetry a sense of authority.
Eliot is a member of the literary criticism Anglo-American tradition. In a century where classical impersonality is often preferred, he is an advocate for it. Eliot describes himself as “a classicist in literature, an Anglo-Catholic in religion, and a royalist in politics” in the Preface to ‘For Launcelot Andrewes. He opposes romantically sentimental writing and is an advocate of classicism. He opposes man in nature and is an advocate for man in civilization. In contrast to the noble, he advocates for complexity in the realization of the real world. Rather than synthesizing an order that transcends the human predicament, he advocates for a thorough understanding of the human experience. Hulme is essentially the source of Eliot’s critical thinking. He also harbors the same humanistic dislike for impressionistic criticism’s subjectivism. Hulme disagreed with the Rousseuistic theory of the fundamental goodness of man. He claimed that no great work of art could be created if original sin was not believed in. Hulme preferred a religious outlook on life above humanism. Hulme’s realization that poetry ought to be disciplined, impersonal, and have a harsh, dry imagery was one of the effects of using the theological concept of sin in the literary domain. When evaluating Eliot as a critic, it’s important to keep in mind how much Eliot was impacted by Hulme’s overall outlook.
Eliot’s critical philosophy has an unofficial manifesto called “Tradition and the Individual Talent”. This essay investigates the issue of order throughout. Right here. Eliot introduces his central thesis, the awareness of the past essential to both production and critique. Eliot conceals his fundamentally individualistic traits by using this idea of tradition. Eliot composes Tradition is a far more significant issue. It is not inheritable; you have to work very hard to get it if you want it. It incorporates, first and foremost, the historical sense—which we could say is almost necessary for anybody hoping to remain a poet past the age of twenty-five—which entails a feeling of both the past’s pastness and presence.”
Eliot is implying that the most distinctive sections of a poet’s work could be those in which his forefathers, the deceased poets, most vehemently proclaim their immortality. It goes without saying that every poet has to have an awareness of tradition and history. The coexistence of the past and present is this historical sense. The only thing that lends modern poetry merit is the persistence of a conventional literary hierarchy. No artist or poet can fully express himself on his own. His importance and admiration stem from his connection to the deceased poets and artists. He needs to be placed among the dead for comparison and contrast. No poet, or artist of any kind, has his own meaning by himself, thus any writer who proudly displays his individualism by denying affiliation with the established order would ultimately deprive his poetry of any true value.”
Both Eliot’s poetry and critical philosophy are predicated on the idea that human nature is “impure” and limited. Sincerity and clarity of expression cannot be used as a yardstick for evaluating literature if human nature is impure. Because of this, we need an outside standard of critique that we can use to evaluate anything that is presented to us as art. Eliot emphasizes the need of impersonality once more.
The poet expresses impressions and experiences in unique and surprising ways using a certain medium, which is just that—a media. The poet does not have a personality to convey. Experiences and impressions that are significant to the man may not be included in the poetry, and those that are significant to the poetry may have very little bearing on the guy and his personality.
It is virtually anti-romantic to see art in such an impersonal way. It directs attention toward the poetry rather than the poet. It highlights the artwork as such as a result. He places a high value on literary form. He informs us that the mentality of a poet ought to be “neutral” and “inert” with regard to the subject matter. “The man who suffers and the mind which creates” ought to be separated.Eliot states in this passage that poetry is “not the expression of personality, but an escape from the personality; it is not the letting go of emotion, but an escape from emotion.”
Here, Eliot informs us that poetry is not a means of self-expression for poets. however, they manage to escape via “a continual extinction of personality.”
Eliot’s subsequent belief that the collective human order is more significant than any one person’s understanding has its origins in his mistrust of ego. Art does not have a personal touch. Furthermore, the poet cannot achieve this impersonality by fully giving oneself over to the task at hand.
Eliot’s dealing with “essentials and not with accidentals” in his finest works sets him apart from his contemporaries as a critic. He is essentially the only critic of his generation who has added something positive to the criticism literature. Against the “Inner light of the impressionist critics,” he asserts the necessity of a rigorous critical approach. He is capable of nuanced observation. His written style, which is highly regarded for its clarity and harshness, sets him apart from other contemporary critics.
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ELIOT’S POETRY THEORY:
The best critic of the workshop school, which begins with Dryden and moves through Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Arnold before arriving at Eliot. His critique is an extension of his ideas while they were being formed into his poetry. It is also possible to think of it as an outcome of his personal poetry workshop. According to Eliot, modern poetry ought to highlight the complexity and diversity of current existence. Eliot wants to take poetry from the land of sunshine and daffodils and bring it into the realm of factory chimneys, harlots, taverns, and everything else that surrounds us in the modern world. His poetry is sophisticated and challenging since it is urban and a product of the industrial and scientific domains. departing from the romantic tradition, which saw poetry as an ongoing expression of the poet’s emotions. Eliot emphasized poetry’s impersonal quality. He believes that eccentricity and disorder stem from subjectivity. He thinks that a poet should be an actor-like, trustworthy, and knowledgeable observer of contemporary life. He says that poetry is “not a turning loose of emotion but an escape from emotion, it is not an expression of personality but an escape from personality.”He sees poetry as a means of communication rather than as a means of revealing one’s identity.
Eliot is without a doubt a classicist. In a century where classical impersonality is often preferred, he is an advocate for it. Because tradition has endured over time, he believes in it. He puts certain values ahead of himself when writing. These principles are discipline and objectivity. impersonality, ongoing editing, adherence to custom, and reader feedback. Furthermore, the entirety of European literature is included in his literary tradition. He is not in favor of English literature becoming secluded or divorced from the major currents of contemporary writing. ‘Tradition’ is very important to Eliot. Tradition, in his view, is fundamentally dynamic. He notices that a custom is adopted with consideration and prudence. He says we shouldn’t follow tradition timidly or mindlessly. Novelty is preferable than repetition in this regard. He points out that tradition is a far more significant issue. It is not inheritable; you have to work very hard to get it if you want it. It involves, first and foremost, the historical sense, which we might term indispensable to anyone who would remain a poet past the age of twenty-five. The historical sense entails a perception of the past as present as well as past. It forces a writer to write not only with the spirit of his own generation in his bones, but also with the conviction that all of Europe’s literature, starting with Homer, and all of his own nation’s literature within it, exist simultaneously and are ordered simultaneously. What distinguishes a writer as traditional is this historical sensibility, which is a feeling of the timeless as well as the temporal and of the timeless and the temporal combined.
Eliot makes a case for the consistency of the new and the ancient. In the same way that the present is shaped by the past, the past should also influence the present. Knowing this will make a poet conscious of enormous challenges and obligations. Having a sufficient understanding of the history is vital. Without the past, the future cannot be constructed. Considering the fundamental importance of literary tradition, a tradition is therefore a means of bridging the gap between the past and the future. Eliot says: It is imperative that the poet acquire or grow the consciousness of the past, and that he maintain this consciousness throughout his lifetime.
There are inconsistencies and ambiguities in Eliot’s critical thought. He persistently supports the idea that personality will always disappear, but he refuses to acknowledge that no critical analysis or creative process can ever reach this level of complete self-transcendence. The idea of absolute objectivity is speculative. It’s not a fully realized reality. Eliot’s writing style adheres to his critical approach. It has a neutral, basic tone. It lacks an expressive phrase and metaphor. However, it makes use of tonal inflexion resources. His tone is not combative, but explanatory. Eliot’s style is best known for its epigrammatic density of expression, which frequently condenses a great deal of information into a small number of words.
Eliot’s classicism: As an unwaveringly honest classicist. Eliot never misses a chance to refute criticism that is impressionistic. He says that the option is “between the complete and the fragmentary, the adult and the immature, the orderly and chaotic,” between being and nothingness, conventional authority and indiscriminate individualism. Eliot’s ‘obeisance’ to a higher authority in contrast to the subjective diversity of Protestantism may have resulted from his conversion to Anglo-Catholicism.