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How Eliot Refutes Wordsworth’s Concept of “emotion recollected in Tranquility”

Eliot expresses his anti romantic view of creative process in “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” He disapproves of the romantic view of poetry as a sentimental expression of subjective feelings. Accordingly he rejects the emotive statement of Wordsworth-“emotion recollected in tranquility.” Wordsworth’s formula involves three components for poetic composition- emotion, recollection and tranquility.

Regarding the first component, Eliot puts forward his own theory of emotion and feelings. He distinguishes between emotion and feeling. He says hat emotion arises out of personal incident or situation of a poet’s life. It is closely associated with a poet’s private life.

Feelings, on the contrary are only remotely or thinly associated with personal situation. Feelings can be aroused by an image, a word or a phrase. For example, the Ode of Keats contains a cluster of feelings which have nothing particular to do with the Nightingale, but which the Nightingale partly perhaps because of its evocative name and partly because of its reputation, served to brig together.

On the contrary, Coleridge’s ‘Dejection’ is composed with the direct use of emotion rooted in personal incident. The emotion of gloomy despair conveyed in Coleridge’s poem is a working up of the poet’s similar emotion evident in a phase of his personal life. Eliot asserts that a poem can be composed either with emotion or with feelings. It is not always necessary that poetry must originate from emotion. In this way Eliot rejects the subjective emotionalism of Wordsworth’s theory.

He further states that it is not for the emotions generated by particular events of a poet’s life that a poet earns distinction. Rather personal emotions are distilled, processed and transmuted into what Eliot calls structural or art emotion, for which a poet deserves consideration. And emotion achieves some degree of impersonality. Thus Eliot depersonalizes the romantic magnification of personal emotion in poetry. Poetry is not a medium to unleash raw emotion in an artless, uncontrolled and undisciplined way. Hence Eliot maintains that poetry is not a turning loose of emotion. Rather it is a controlled, selective, pattered expression of emotion. It demands some kind of some kind of masking and distancing of personal emotion- a kind of artistic detachment, a sort of decorum, some sort of veiling. This is what Eliot means by “an escape from emotion.”

Eliot does not accept that poetry has always something to do with “recollection”. In other words recollection is not an indispensable material for poetry. Earlier Eliot observes that “the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates.” This statement implies that poetry is not completely candid (frank) expression of the total personality of a poet. Rather it is an expression of a significant aspect of life. And in creative process, there is a great deal which is conscious and deliberate. Thus Eliot attaches importance to intellect and rational faculty in addition to emotion and feelings.

In one of his influential essays The Metaphysical Poets – Eliot praises the metaphysical poets for their unified sensibility, which results from a fusion of emotion and intellect. Here too he recommends a unified sensibility- a synthesis of emotion and intellect.

Then he refuses Wordsworth’s requirement of tranquility in creative activity. He implies that the moment of composition is a heightened moment of psychic activity and introspection. It is a moment of excitement and concerted effect when the total mind strains to attain the desired height. It is a stimulated state of mind when an intense, purposive intellect brings feelings or emotions into new order. It can not be a relaxed, serene, tension-free state. Wordsworth’s reference to “tranquility” implies a kind of passive effortlessness. As Eliot says – it is not “ a passive attending upon the event”.

It is a moment or act of concentration- when al mental and emotional faculties are intently occupied in performing a creative fat. Thus Eliot refutes Wordsworth’s formula of creative process. I this way he manifesto his anti-romantic, modern, classical standpoint.

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