“Animula” is written in irregularly rhyming iambic pentameter, with only one stanza break that separates the last six lines of the piece from the rest—almost as a brief litany. The title may have been suggested by a prayer of Hadrian to his soul, but T. S. Eliot began with his own adaptation of a line in Dante’s Purgatario XVI, “There comes from his hand, like a wayfarerthe simple soul.” Dante’s “anima” is compared to a seeker of God who is deflected by daily trifles and follies.
Almost like the questing hero described by mythology scholar Joseph Campbell, the anima—or, here, the animula—moves in a world of wonders, now faring forward boldly, now retreating to some safe haven. It enjoys the Christmas tree, the natural world, and stags on a tray—it cannot tell fact from fantasy. The early venturesome innocence of the animula becomes daily more confused by the world of adult control, by perplexity between what “is” and what “seems.” Awake and in pain caused by a conflict between desire and control, it seeks escape in dreams, in hiding behind books in a secret spot.
It grows; becoming selfish and misshapen as it learns, it is torn between desire, “the importunity of the blood,” and the propriety of “may and may not.” It is caught by its shadows and an awareness of death, and its end is in fragments of papers, dust, silence, and last rites.
In the major part of the poem, Eliot has a...
(The entire section is 462 words.)