Dr. Hareshwar Roy


Eliot has introduced numerous critical concepts. They have gained wide currency and have showed broad influence on criticism.  ‘Dissociation of sensibility’ is one of them. It has been hotly debated by critics. This concept has given a new direction and new tools of criticism. It has now become a very popular literary term which was first used by him in his essay “The Metaphysical Poets”. It refers to the way in which intellectual thought was separated from the experience of feeling in the seventeenth century poetry.

 Eliot coined this phrase in 1921 in his essay ‘The Metaphysical Poets’. He used this term to describe the disjunction of thought and feeling that he perceives in English literature from the seventeenth century onward. In this essay Eliot attempts to define the metaphysical poets. Eliot is of the view that the poets of the seventeenth century possessed a mechanism of sensibility which could devour any kind of experience. They are simple, artificial, difficult, or fantastic. Eliot argues that for Metaphysical poets a thought was an experience. It was integrated with emotional and bodily response. Since the time of John Milton thought has been divorced from feeling. As the former became more refined and subtle, the latter became cruder.


Eliot does not regard Tennyson and Browning as great poets. They have ideas, but they fail to transmit their ideas into emotions and sensations. Merely dry thoughts or logic do not make a great poet. In his essay of “The Metaphysical Poets”, T. S. Eliot explains how this fusion of thought and feeling takes place: “Tennyson and Browning are poets; and they think, but they do not feel their thought as immediately as the odour of a rose.” According to Eliot, the dissociation of sensibility is a linguistic and cultural malaise from which English literature and society have never recovered.  The theory of dissociation of sensibility provoked much discussion and has been challenged as a misleadingly simplification of literary history. Eliot uses John Donne’s poetry as the most prominent example of united sensibility and thought. He writes, “[a] thought to Donne was an experience; it modified his sensibility.” Eliot’s apparent appreciation of Donne’s ability to unify intellectual thought and the sensation of feeling demonstrates that he believes dissociation of sensibility to be a hindrance in the progression of poetry.


In his article “T. S. Eliot’s Theory of Dissociation,” Allen Austin describes dissociation of sensibility as a concept that “involves not only the integration of sensation and idea…but also a special kind of thought—a detached intellectuality combined with passion.” Austin asserts that Eliot defines this term in order to provide a rationale for the combination of wit and emotion. He blames that Eliot’s appreciation of thought united with emotion is also a method of defending his own poetry. It is because his writing reflects the metaphysical poets’ style of combining wit and feeling. Gates uses Eliot’s dissociation of sensibility in reference to the presence of race in literature. He writes: “For millions who originated outside Europe, however, this dissociation of sensibility has its origins in colonialism and human slavery.” Gates goes on to infer that, in this context, dissociation of sensibility reflects the way in which literature, in this sense analogous to thought, is dissociated from race and otherness.As a critic Eliot has his faults. Still, such faults do not detract Eliot’s greatness as a critic. His criticism has revolutionized the great writers of the past three centuries. 


Popular Posts

The Bangle Sellers by Sarojini Naidu: Multiple Choice Questions with Answers

Dr. Faustus as a spiritual Tragedy

National Education- Mahatma Gandhi by M.K. Gandhi: Multiple Choice Questions with Answers