In "Tradition and Individual Talent", Eliot opposes the Romantic conception by advancing his theory of impersonality in art and opines that the artistic process is a process of depersonalization and that the artist will surrender himself totally to the creative work. Eliot particularly objected to the great Romantics as well as Victorians who exaggerated the need to express human personality and subjective feeling and he says, "The progress of am artist is a continual self sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality."
Eliot holds that the poet and the poem are two separate things and "that the feelings or the emotion, or vision, resulting from the poem is something different from the feeling or emotion or vision in the mind of the poet." Hence, he elucidates his theory of impersonality by examining, first, the relation of the poet to the part and secondly, the relation of the poem to its author. Eliot realizes that the past exists in the present. "No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His signification, his appreciation, is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You can value him alone. You must set him for contrast and comparison among the deads."
Eliot points out the relation of the poem to its author; and says that the poem has no relation to the poet. There is detached or alienation between the poet and his poem. The difference between the mind of a nature poet and that of am immature one is that the mind of a nature poet is "a more finely perfected medium in which special or varied feelings are at liberty to enter into new combinations". According to Eliot, the art emotion is different from personal emotion. A successful artist s he, who can generalize emotion in the reader's one while he himself seemed to be unaffected by any emotion. In the other hand he should be depersonalized in experience he describes in the poem.
Eliot brings the analogy of chemical reaction to explain the process of depersonalization. In this respect he has drawn a scientific analogy. He tells that a poet should serve the sold of platinum which makes sulphurus acid. He says, "When the two gases, previously mentioned (oxygen and Sulpher dioxide) are mixed in the presence of a filament of Platinum. They form Sulphurous acid. The combination takes place only he the Platinum is present; nevertheless, the newly formed acid contains no trace of Platinum, and the Platinum itself is apparently unaffected has remained inert, neutral, and unchanged. The mind of the poet is the shred of Platinum. It may partly or exclusively operate upon the experience of the man himself; but, the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in his will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates, the one perfectly will be the mind digest and transmute the passions which are its material."
Eliot next compares the poet's mind to a receptacle in which are stored numberless feelings, emotion, images, phases etc. , which remain there in an unorganized and chaotic form till, "all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together." Thus poetry is organization rather than inspiration. And the greatness of a poem does not depend upon the greatness or the intensity of the emotions, but upon the intensity of the process of poetic composition. The more intense the poetic process, the greater the poem.
He strongly believes that "the differences between art and the event are always absolute. Eliot illustrate his view by a few examples among which one is of Keats' One to a Nightingale, which contains a number of feelings which have nothing particular to do with the nightingale, but which the nightingale ,partly perhaps because it's attractive name, and partly because of it's reputation served to bring together. He illustrates his theory by a few examples. The artistic emotion evoked by Dante in his treatment of the episode of Paolo and Francesca is different from the actual emotion in the situation. The artistic emotion may approximate to the actual emotion as in Agamemnon the artistic emotion approximates to the emotion of am actual spectator; in Othello to the emotion of the protagonist himself.
Eliot believes that the main concern of the poet is not the expression of personality. He says, “the poet has, not a personality to express but a particular medium which is only a medium and a personality, in which impressions and experiences combine in peculiar and unexpected ways, impressions and experiences which are important for the 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”. Again, there is no need for poet to try to express new human emotions in poetry. The business of the poet. Eliot says, is not to find new emotions, but use of the ordinary ones and, in working them up in poetry, to express feelings which are not in actual emotions at all". Eliot's final definition of poetry is:"poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion: it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality."
It is not the expression of personality but an escape from personality. He emphasizes the same theory of impersonality in art. The emotion of art is impersonal. It has its life in the poem and not in the history of poets. So, honest criticism and sensitive appreciation is directed not upon the poet but upon the poetry. The poet's biography is not to be studied the structure of the poem and its evocative powers are important.
Eliot's theory of depersonalization has been criticized by critics like Ransom and Yvor Winters. Ransom regards Eliot's theory as “very neatly a doctrine of poetic automation".
To Fei Pai Lu, Eliot's theory of depersonalization is completely vague. He says, "in the name of impersonality", Eliot by turns commends and censures poets and artist.
From what we have said, above it follows that there as no connection between the poet's personality and the poem. The feelings of the poetry need not necessarily his own.