Title: The Ariel Poems
Author: T. S. Eliot
Publication Dates: 1927 – 1954*
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Where to buy: The Ariel Poems*
Summary: Poems relating to Christmas.*
*The Ariel Poems were first published as individual poems inside a series of illustrated Christmas greeting cards. Please note, I read The Ariel Poems in a different book, The Complete Poems & Plays by T. S. Eliot, but I wished to dedicate a review to these wonderful poems. Lastly, I must stress that The Ariel Poems are not just for Christmas.
Journey of the Magi: ★★★★
At first, I had to re-read this poem a few times, it was full of implicit metaphors regarding the birth and death of Jesus Christ. Having prior knowledge of the events running up to the birth of Jesus, the poem was thinly understood, but what I didn’t expect was the underlying ominous references to the death of Jesus. It is a surprisingly dark Christmas poem.
A Song for Simeon: ★★★★★
Well, the tone does not change much from Journey of the Magi, but this one encompasses more hope. I think this is a poem that you would only understand if you understood the biblical references. However, allusions aside, the opening stanza is incredibly haunting:
My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.
(Lines 4 – 7)
For context, Simeon is dying and is visited by the Holy Spirit and informed that he will not die until he sees the Son of God. The poem is from Simeon’s perspective as he wishes to pass soon as his condition and the world around him is frightening, however, he sees “thy salvation” at the end of the poem, which provides a satisfactory resolution for the reader.
Fun fact: animula means little life in Latin. The poem itself concerns a journey of a soul, from birth to childhood to adulthood. That very journey is continuous in Eliot’s poem, without much pause.
Eliot’s poem encompasses the life of a child who, to begin with, is fascinated and enamoured with the world around them, in particular, their home environment. The most significant aspect of Eliot’s poem is how the poem begins with words which are synonymous with adventures, like moving, rising, advancing; however, as the child grows, the poem contains more negative words, such as perplexes, offends, pain.
Yet again, Eliot is expressing more angst: about leaving childhood behind and being consumed by “the drug of dreams” in adulthood. Is this perhaps a personal reflection on Eliot’s life as an adult in the early twentieth century?
Despite not understanding the allusions to Greek mythology in Eliot’s poem, the poem itself is rhythmically stunning. However, upon reading a few more times, it is clear that to fully grasp Eliot’s meaning, you have to do further research as this is one of the vaguest poems I have ever read.
The Cultivation of Christmas Trees ★★★★★
This is the final piece in the Ariel Poems and it is a lovely one to end on. As someone who (kind of) celebrates Christmas, this poem captures what is missing Christmas time in adulthood: wonder.
And the childish – which is not that of the child
For whom the candle is a star, and the gilded angel
Spreading its wings at the summit of the tree
Is not only a decoration, but an angel.
(Lines 5 – 8)
The title of Eliot’s poem conveys Eliot’s desire for us to reconnect with ourselves as we have forgotten our “spirit of wonder”. He asks us to look at the same old decorations, or in the bigger picture, everyday life, and find new life and meaning in it – I think this poem delivers an important message that everyone, regardless of faith, understands once more.
Why did I read it?
I am reading a much larger book, The Complete Poems & Plays by T. S. Eliot, and I felt that the Ariel Poems deserved their own review.
Does the author have other works?
T. S. Eliot published poetry, plays, and criticism. Some of which are The Waste Land, Four Quartets, and Prufrock.
I loved the unexpected dark tone and complexity of Eliot’s poetry collection, it surprised me in all honesty.
– Melissa Jennings