In "Tradition and the Individual Talent," T.S. Eliot takes issue with the received wisdom (which he sees as a characteristic fallacy of Romanticism) that the originality of a great poet lies in his departure from his predecessors. Eliot believes that great poetic talent combines a thorough immersion od European literature and culture since ancient Greece. There is a forceful and characteristic way of applying this erudition to modern subjects.
Eliot himself is clearly the type of traditional poet he is describing here. Few writers in any genre have been more learned or have incorporated more influences. In this sense, Eliot is thoroughly traditional. However, he is also thoroughly original in the way he uses this knowledge. The sheer breadth of Eliot's influences serves to ensure that he never imitates any particular source.
Eliot is somewhat scathing about the Romantics, but even he would have to admit that Samuel Taylor Coleridge—a erudite cultural critic as well as a poet like Eliot—combined individual talent with tradition, including the long tradition of the ballad in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." It is no surprise to find that the supreme example of tradition combined with individual talent, however, is Shakespeare, who, as Eliot remarks, "acquired more essential history from Plutarch than most men could from the whole British Museum."