Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
It is difficult to pin down exactly what “Animula” is about. It may concern the life quest of a soul, with no impressive ending or glorious triumph. It may be a reminder that life implies death and death, life. Grover Smith declared it to be “Eliot’s most pessimistic poem,” but it may be a promise of help for the helpless human condition.
The world of this “Animula” is not one of rare excitement, adventure, and challenge. It is the world in which most people live, with moments of joy (a Christmas tree, pleasure in the wind) and much pain and frustration—fear mingled with desire. Eliot may, indeed, be suggesting that peace only comes after death and that the strongest prayers are made “at the hour of our birth.” Yet the promise of rebirth (if this is indeed his message) is a promise of something else, of another voyage through life that may be very unlike the one completed.
Taken in company with the other Ariel poems—“Journey of the Magi,” “A Song for Simeon,” and “Marina”—“Animula” fits into a pattern. The first two reflect on the meaning of Christ’s birth, and both end on a note of death in this birth. “Marina” is a triumphant affirmation of life rising out of death. “Animula” may be seen as the bridge from the biblical events to the assurance of a life fully realized in “Marina.”