In response to a question from Hale, Eliot spends much of his letter of September 7-8, 1931, describing his childhood in St. Louis: he felt like an only child because his siblings were so much older, his father was too attached to his grandmother and she in turn wanted to remain in her old house, despite its being located in a slum. He also felt particularly isolated from other children of his age and social standing who did not live in the same neighborhood; he mentions his uneasy interactions with members of the opposite sex, espied only in the context of dancing classes, and recalls his envy of what appeared to him a natural community between all of the other children. Eliot attributes the contradictions in his character—both arrogant and shy, autonomous and in need of help—to this environment, and tells Hale that “Animula,” the Ariel poem of 1929, expresses these feelings (“the simple soul, / Irresolute and selfish” is a “Shadow of its shadows” that “Den[ies] the importunity of the blood”).
“Animula” reappears in the correspondence about two months later (November 24) when Eliot reports that he was not at all satisfied with the illustration of the poem (it was by Gertrude Hermes). More broadly he finds that an illustrator’s interpretation of a poem prevents readers from forming their own impressions; he would prefer designs instead. Thinking that he might yet finish “Sweeney Agonistes,” he is also open to having this dramatic poem illustrated since the pictures would function as theatrical sets—but only if they accord with his own vision.