Animula – T.S. Eliot

Lucie Davis

‘Issues from the hand of God, the simple soul’
To a flat world of changing lights and noise,
To light, dark, dry, damp, chilly or warm;
Moving between the legs of tables and of chairs,
Rising or falling, grasping at kisses and toys,
Advancing boldly, sudden to take alarm,
Retreating to the corner of arm and knee,
Eager to be reassured, taking pleasure
In the fragrant brilliance of the Christmas tree,
Pleasure in the wind, the sunlight and the sea;
Studies the sunlit pattern on the floor
And running stays around a silver tag;
Confounds the actual and the fanciful,
Content with playing cards and kings and queens,
What the fairies do and what the servants say.
The heavy burden of the growing soul
Perplexes and offends more, day by day;
Week by week, offends and perplexes more
With the imperatives of ‘so it seems’
And may and may not, desire and control.
The pain of living and the drug of dreams
Curl up the small soul in the window seat
Behind the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Issues from the hand of time, the simple soul
Irresolute and selfish, misshapen, lame,
Unable to fare forward or retreat,
Fearing the warm reality, the offered good,
Denying the importunity of the blood,
Shadow of its own shadow, spectre of its own gloom,
Leaving disordered papers in a dusty room;
Living first in silence after the viaticum.

Pray for Guiterriez, avid of speed and power,
For Boudin, blown to pieces,
For this one, who made a great fortune,
And that one who went his own way.
Pray for Floret by the boarhound slain between the yew
Pray for us now and at the hour of our birth.


What is this poem roughly about?

The T S Eliot poem ‘Animula’ presents the progression of a soul from the period of childhood innocence and delight through the discovery of restraint and fear and finally the state of imprisonment of the soul so that the person dies without having grown spiritually or having lived a full life.

What does the title 'Animula' mean/refer to?

I think it is important to undertstand the title of a poem before reading it. That way you know what Eliot wants the reader to look out for etc. Therefore here is a brief definition: Animula is a Latin word and is a diminutive of a more common term ‘anima’, meaning soul or spirit.

A few key notes

It should be noted that Eliot puts the very first line of his poem in inverted commas. This should be a clue to the reader that this line, must be significant to the theme of the poem. Eliot’s key reference is to a line from Dante’s ‘Purgatorio’ (see link below) where one of the souls in purgatory explains the way a soul develops on earth and can go astray.
Using Dante’s line ‘Issues from the hand of God, the simple soul’ as a starting point, Eliot’s first section is filled with details of the soul of a child experiencing the fresh new world with simple joy and enthusiasm. It is a delightful child’s eye view of the world “moving between the legs of tables and chairs”.
There are no full stops in this section until line 15. With the use of commas and enjambment, it propels us forward and we get a real sense of the progression.

Finally, by the end of the poem Eliot concludes it with another inversion
“Pray for us now and at the hour of our birth.”
This familiar Catholic prayer addressing Mary, no longer seeks intercession at death, but at the outset of life when the slow death of the soul can commence.
T S Eliot reminds the reader that the person who refuses to live or is too afraid to take risks is denying his or her purpose. I personally agree with this message Eliot was trying to convey to the reader, I like the idea of pursuing life to the full...what do you all think?


Eliot depicts the journey of the soul throughout life in this poem, resulting in a dissatisfactory end. 'The burden of the growing soul' could be compared to the burden that is placed upon Yeats in 'A Prayer for My Daughter' as he wishes for his daughter to live a full life, but is conflicted as he is reluctant to let her 'find a friend' without placing herself in danger by being 'beautiful overmuch'. Both poems deal with the problems associated with a growing soul as well as a growing body and mind - Loulwa.

I think "Among School Children" could be relevant if the idea of discovering onself and obviously this comes with age which is what Yeats poem develops - Kitty

Well done everybody! Your comments remind me of this poem by contemporary poet Clare Pollard who is also on this syllabus: Ms Wilson