TS Eliot – Tradition and the Individual Talent Essay

Poets of the present not only have an advantage, but are much smarter than those of the past because they’re still alive.

Main Points:

— You can work hard for tradition, but you can’t inherit it.

— A poet finds significance today by comparing and contrasting it to yesterday.

— Poets give of selves and lose personality, to conform to those of old.

— The present is an extension of the past.

— Emotion and feeling aid in the forming of talents.

— No one has a personality, everyone is essentially alike; it is the unexpected and expected experiences and impressions that lead to our differences.


Today is related to the past. This literary criticism explains how necessary the past is to the present. For without the present, we can have no present. Without past poetry, would there really be literary poetry today?

My Answer:

After first reading Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent” it appeared to be very outdated. But now I realize I just didn’t fully understand it. There are many of her points I do not agree with. I agree that to know where you are going, you have to know where you have been, but I think you lose yourself in the quest for figuring out who you are. If anything, you gain/find yourself.

I also do not agree with Elito’s idea that you cannot inherit tradition, you have to work for it. I think the main way a person gets tradition, is by inheritance. Christmas, and holidays of the such are around children from the time they are born. A baby cannot speak up and say, “I do not want to celebrate Christmas”. Rather it slowly becomes the child’s tradition without him/her ever doing any type of work for it.

I agree that the past is extension of the present. I do not think that anything that is happening today didn’t happen in the past. I think maybe the level of its “shock factor” has changed. The “shock factor” is how much something shocks the majority of the people. That is getting into ethical issues and things of that sort.

Eliot’s idea of everyone having a medium and only being different because of experiences and impressions is an idea in which I am not sure where I stand. I think this is because of my own experiences and impressions. Eliot is saying we are all alike underneath. I can see that as true, but for some reason I just wont allow myself to believe it. Maybe because I have always believed that different cultures are different not only on the outside, but in an unseen way on the inside as well. My own bias makes it difficult for me to choose a stable stance on this idea.