Critical theory and practice of T.S. Eliot

Dorothy Mayville


The combination of poet and critic in T.S. Eliot is so interpenetrating that the two aspects cannot be separated. The publication dates of his essays such as "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (1919) and "The Metaphysical Poets" (1921) are close to those of his early poems, "Prufrock and other Observations" (1917) and "The Waste Land" (1922); a fact that suggests a parallel development as critic and as poet. The critical views that Eliot expresses in his essays on major literary figures are generally reflected in his poetry and are meaningful toward understanding the critical attitude that he desires others to have toward his poetry. For example, Eliot's theory of the "dissociation of sensibility," that break in the literary tradition that came when poets were no longer able to express their thoughts and their feelings simultaneously, is a critical view of the late 17th century and establishes his poetry as poetry of unified sensibility in the tradition of Donne and Marvell.