Poetry Through the Ages

T.S. Elliot’s “From Tradition and the Individual Talent” beautifully sums up the meaning of poetry and what it comes from. In this post I look deeper into part II of the essay and hope to uncover the meaning.

The second part of the essay describes how a poet crafts a poem and what makes a poet remarkable. He starts out by claiming what is wrong with the analyzation of poetry. He claims that the “confused” newspapers and critics only consider the poets. He uses the words “confused” and “sussurus” to suggest that the two don’t know what they are doing; they only create a buzzing or murmuring rather than articulating their thoughts. Later he says that if we don’t follow the “guidelines” of reading poetry, but rather look for enjoyment in poetry, we won’t find it. He states these two things to point out that poetry is a homogenous thing. As Elliot says that poetry is “a living whole of all poetry that has ever been written.” In doing this he points out that to enjoy poetry one must understand the part, whole and the connection between the two. To truly understand a poem the reader must connect the poem to other poems and other authors. If that is achieved one can truly understand the poem’s significance based on its place in all of poetry.

He later tells of the significance of the author of the poetry. A good author is not good because he or she has experienced more. However, what makes one author better than another is the authors ability to present the poetry in a medium that makes the reader “feel”. He uses a metaphor to explain this better. He describes a chemical reaction using platinum as a catalyst. The platinum is unchanged through the reaction but instigates it’s beginning. He is stating that a great author is “separate” from the experience while he writes it. To write good poetry there should not be outside influence from other experiences the author has had. Also, after the “reaction” or writing has occurred the author is unaffected by the writing of the poem.

Later he describes how a good poet turns seemingly bland emotions into intricate ones. A good poet doesn’t describe complex emotions he has experienced. Instead, he turns ordinary ones into feeling that are not emotions at all. A great poet creates things that have never been seen before from everyday things, without changing the meaning. As a result, a poet creates a “tranquil” experience that isn’t just a recollection of events.

He finishes by telling of consciousness in poetry. A good poet is conscious at times and unconscious at times; bad poets do the opposite. Due to this, bad poets are often what he calls “personal”. He describes how this is bad because poetry is an escape from personality and emotions.

Now, this essay is important because it describes the essence of poetry. It encompasses all facets of literature and gives a guideline to decipher whether a poem or poet is good. It also gives an approach to writing poetry for people who are lost. Overall, the essay wonderfully describes how poetry is written and the significance of poetry.