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Eliot's understanding of tradition is extremely important for his uniqueness.
He maintained great reverence for myth and the Western literary canon, and he packed his work full of allusions, quotations, footnotes, and scholarly exegeses. In “The Tradition and the Individual Talent,” an essay first published in 1919, Eliot praises the literary tradition and states that the best writers are those who write with a sense of continuity with those writers who came before, as if all of literature constituted a stream in which each new writer must enter and swim. Only the very best new work will subtly shift the stream’s current and thus improve the literary tradition. Eliot also argued that the literary past must be integrated into contemporary poetry. But the poet must guard against excessive academic knowledge and distill only the most essential bits of the past into a poem, thereby enlightening readers.