He observes : “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.” The general art is objective: “the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates.” As a matter of fact, the poet has no personality, he is merely a receptacle, a shred of platinum, a medium which fuses and combines feelings and impressions in a variety of ways.
Reacting against Wordsworth’s theory that poetry is “spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling,” or that poetry has its origin in “emotions recollected in tranquillity.” Eliot advances his theory of impersonality of poetry.
Thus Eliot rejects romantic subjectivism and emotionalism. Inspiration alone is not a safe guide. It often results in eccentricity and chaos. Moreover, the doctrine of human perfectibility and the faith in ‘inner voice’ received a rude shock as a result of the First World War. It was realised that man is not perfect, and hence perfect art cannot result from merely the artist’s following his inner voice. Some sort of guidance, some discipline, some outside authority was necessary to save art from incoherence and emptiness.
Eliot holds that the poet and the poem are two separate things and ‘that the feeling, or emotion, or vision, resulting from the poem is something different, from the feeling or emotion or vision in the mind of the poet.’ This he elucidates by examining, first, the relation of the poet to the past and, next, the relation of the poem to its author. The artist has to take something from the past, but at the same time he asserts his individuality, and while asserting his individuality he must be careful: he should remain objective. The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality. In a work of art the past and the present fuse into a new compound.
Since the artist has a mind full of varied feelings, his mind is no more I- an a medium to combine them into a new shape, itself remaining i naffected all the time. It may partly make use of the poet’s own experience, ‘but the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates……….Impressions and experiences which are important for the man may take no place in the poetry, and those which become important in the poetry may play quite a negligible part in the man, the personality.’ If this is also admitted, it will be found that ‘poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from personality….The emotion of art is impersonal”. It has ‘its life in the poem and not in the history of the poet.’ So ‘honest criticism and sensitive appreciation is directed not upon the poetry.’
Unlike Wordsworth, Eliot prefers objectivity and intellect. He rejects Wordsworth’s definition of poetry as ’emotion recollected in tranquillity.’ It is neither emotion, nor recollection, nor tranquillity. The poetic process is a process of concentration of a very great number of experiences and this concentration is not conscious or deliberate.
Some critics have interpreted Eliot’s observation that a poem possesses a life of its own and that a poet must extinguish his personality in the poem as an abdication of the poet’s proper responsibility. Such interpretations need not be put to it. As Allen Tate has stated the developing poem furnishes the poet with certain norms for its own nurturing.
We have seen how Eliot lays emphasis on ‘impersonality’ in art. The main points of his impersonal theory of poetry can be summed up as under:—
1. The poem and the poet are two different things.There is no connection between the poet’s personality and the poem. A poet is great not because he puts his personality into his work, but because he has a mind in which varied feelings enter into new combinations.
2. There are two kinds of emotions, of the poem, which are impure and crude, and of the poem, which are ‘significant’. The significant emotion has its life in the poem and not in the history of the poet. The emotion of art is impersonal.
3. The poetic process is not that of the recollection of emotions in tranquillity, but of concentration.
4. The poet cannot reach the impersonality without surrendering himself wholly to the work to be done. The progress of an artists is a continual extinction of personality.
5. Poetry is not a turning loose of emotions, but an escape from emotions, it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.
6. The poet is a medium, not a personality. T. S. Eliot compares the poet with the catalyst. The mind of the poet is the platinum. The emotions and feelings are the gases. The more perfect he is as a poet, the less his own personality is involved. As the Sulphur and Carbon dioxide form Sulphurous acid, and the platinum remains unchanged, so the poet remains separate from his creation, though his feelings and emotions form new sum whole.
7. The poet’s mind is a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.’ And it is not the “greatness”, the intensity, of the emotions, the components, but the intensity of the artistic process, the pressure, so to speak, under which the fusion takes place, that counts.”