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'Tradition' and the Solitary Singer: Taking Exception to T.S. Eliot's Literary Legacy

  • Author(s): Klonowski, Kate
  • et al.

T.S. Eliot and Walt Whitman, two of the most monumental figures and divergent thinkers in American poetic history, are quite radically opposed to one another in terms of conceptual bent. Whitman, the poet of the body and buoyant personality, and Eliot, champion of cerebral and hermetic verse, do not seem, therefore, to offer anything in the way of theoretical permeability. Nonetheless, in this essay I attempt to re-evaluate Eliot’s most elemental essay upon “Tradition and the Individual Talent” in order to assess just how accommodating this text is toward the “individual” and the most “solitary” of singers, Whitman himself. My method is informed by a close analysis of Eliot’s discursive technique, and how this past-immersed perspective often leaves off a more “lively” vital and aesthetic envisioning proffered by his poetic predecessor. In short, I work toward the ultimate aim of demonstrating the broader applicability of Eliot’s treatise toward Whitman, and how the earlier poet, although less identifiable with any theory of “fixed” tradition, masterfully inaugurates a precipatory paradigm of poetic creation.

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