In the essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent" by T. S. Eliot, the author's contention is that individual talent must be integrally related to tradition, or the vast body of works of poets and artists that have gone before. He begins by noting that tradition is denigrated and individuality praised by contemporary critics, whereas the truth is that poets derive strength from the efforts of the past.
This tradition that Eliot speaks of is obtained by the "great labor" of study so that the artist obtains "a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence." In other words, the artist must realize that the works of the past should not be forgotten. Instead, they remain in the present as a sort of foundation upon which contemporary artists can build. A poet needs to "write not merely with his own generation in his bones," but with a sense of all the poets who have written before. This makes a writer both traditional and contemporary, and the appreciation of contemporary work is founded upon the appreciation of "dead poets and artists."
Individualism takes into account the whole body of work that has gone before it, and "the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past." New artists will "inevitably be judged by the standards of the past." Eliot makes the point that although art changes, it never really improves. Instead, the contemporary poet develops the consciousness of the past. In this sense of adherence to the past, individualism is eliminated in the mature poet.
Eliot goes on to explain the blending of tradition and individualism as a sort of chemical reaction. In poetry, the artist creates a "fusion of elements" that blends various aspects of the past to present something new. In this way, poets express not individual personality but a combination of impressions and experiences, creating not personal emotions or new emotions but "a new thing resulting from the concentration of a great number of experiences." Eliot concludes the second part of his essay by stating that "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."
In his conclusion, Eliot states that "the emotion of art is impersonal." We see, then, that in this essay Eliot affirms that the mature poet foregoes individualism and instead finds unique expression in carrying on the artistic tradition of the poets and artists of the past.