[…] to make manifest [the character of] Massinger’s indebtedness. One of the surest of tests is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion.
–Eliot, “Philip Massinger”
I don’t think the line is useful, either, Blake.
I don’t think the distinction between “talent” and “genius” – which I’m guessing you’re irritated by, and which I think is worth preserving – is parallel to that between “borrowing” and “stealing”. Talent can be faked, and genius not – that is, there’s a talent to faking skill, but there’s no faking a direct communication of urgent feeling and thought. To put my thought another way, talent is technical, so one can learn a talent – one can go, by dint of application, from clumsy to deft; genius can be honed or dulled, kindled or smothered, but to me the word connotes a ‘gift’ there before any formal enablement.
Maybe you’d be tempted to accept this formulation: talent impresses, where genius transforms.
But the “borrow”/”steal” distinction is quite a potent metaphor for artistic influence. When you borrow something, you expect to be expected to return it; even if you think you might end up keeping it, you feel under the ‘law’ of not-ownership. When you steal something, from the moment it comes into your hands, you understand that it’s yours, even if you sense that you might or will be forced to compensate someone else’s loss.
I think that’s a real difference, in terms of artists wresting technique, plot, theme, and so on from other hands: either one made those aspects hers or his, or one didn’t.