Study Guide

T.S. Eliot Tradition and The Waste Land

Tradition and The Waste Land

In 1917, the literary journal Egoist (where Eliot served as an assistant editor) published an essay of his entitled "Tradition and the Individual Talent." Eliot's manifesto railed against the modern tendency to praise a poet's attempts to be different for the sake of being different. Only by recognizing the poetic traditions he drew upon and suppressing his personal desires, Eliot argued, could a poet truly achieve greatness. (And, yes, Eliot assumed that any great poet would be male.) He elaborated:

We shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of [a poet's] work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously. What happens is a continual surrender of himself as he is at the moment to something which is more valuable. The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality. […] The more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates.

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