In “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” Eliot tried to define what composition meant for him and insisted on the notion of tradition as a necessary constituent of the poet’s artistic awareness.
The “discourse” developed in most of his essays has led many readers to consider Eliot as a traditional modernist, attached to the past and to the monumental dimension of literature.
[…] what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it.
The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them.
Composition is not only a reunion between the poet, his feelings his thoughts and the object he wants to create; it also includes the deep awareness of the literary works of the past and the felt necessity to constantly interact with them.
But such an interaction does not require the use of the openly discursive mode; it takes place in poetic writing itself.
But why should the terms “theory” and “song” be antithetical?
If Eliot’s essays have largely contributed to his reputation as a critic, is it fair to separate “the man who [sings]” and “the mind which [thinks]”1, or to deny the existence of theory or aesthetic considerations as an undertone, or under-tune, of his poetry?
In “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” Eliot stresses the importance of the writer’s awareness of the past, of tradition and of the “historical sense,” “indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year”.
These remarks have contributed to build Eliot’s repute as a staunch defender of tradition: […] and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order.