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The Journey of the Magi -- T S Eliot

Continuing the theme...
(Poem #291) The Journey of the Magi
'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For the journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins,
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
-- T S Eliot
A poem about Eliot's own journey from agnosticism to faith; he wrote it around
the time of his baptism and acceptance into the Anglican Church, in 1927.

thomas.

[Notes]

First Five Lines: The first five lines were "lifted from Lancelot Andrewes's
Nativity Sermon of 1622, and modified"; Eliot happened to be himself steeped in
Andrewes at the time . . . but basically he used them because he needed a second
voice to precipitate the poetic drama. They must be understood as being read by,
or to, the magus and thereby occasioning his own flow of memory.

Temperate valley: Dean points out that the early morning descent into a
"temperate valley" evokes three significant Christian events: "The nativity and
all the attendant ideas of the dawning of a new era . . . the empty tomb of
Easter . . . as well the image of the Second Coming and the return of Christ
from the East, dispelling darkness as the Sun of Righteousness". Wohlpart adds
that the Magi's dawn arrival is "symbolic of the new life attained from their
penance".

Satisfactory: R. D. Brown writes that "the obvious meaning [of the word
"satisfactory"] is 'expiatory,' payment for a debt or sin". Barbour, however,
sees a more complex connotation: "The parenthetical remark/gesture dramatizes a
certain drawing back at the end into something between understatement and
velleity. The key word is the ambiguous 'satisfactory,' emphasized by rhythm and
position, which for us, though not the magus, evokes the Thirty Nine Articles,
expiation, and the Atonement". In addition, E. F. Burgess sees the word
"satisfactory" as evidence that "every condition of prophecy was met, leaving
the alienated magus . . . stranded, suspended between the realization and the
consummation of God's plan".

    -- from http://itech.fgcu.edu/faculty/wohlpart/alra/eliot.htm ; more
material on-site.

'Three trees' is a reference to the the three crosses on Calvary, while 'Six
hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver' recalls both the Roman
soldiers gambling over Jesus' robes and the price of Judas' betrayal.

[Links]

The T. S. Eliot mailing list is a forum for a _lot_ of discussion and
commentary, much of it very well-informed. The archives are available at
[broken link] http://web.missouri.edu/~tselist/ ; there's also a neat concordance and search
engine.

Previous Eliot poems to have featured on the Minstrels include
La Figlia Che Piange - poem #9
Preludes I - poem #107 (with a bio)
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock - poem #193 .
Sweeney Among the Nightingales - poem #248
and Macavity the Mystery Cat - poem #258

And of course, you can read all our previous poems at
http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/

394 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

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Gyoung841 said...

got a question i hope you can help me with, what event does in jesus life
does t s elliot foreshaddow in journey of the magi

Mbarbarito said...

I just happened upon this site. Looking for information about the Magi.
Thanks for having this available. It is a favorite of mine. It took my breath
away the first time I read it. I find it heart-wrenching.

Melanie Barbarito
St. Louis, Missouri

Mary-Marguerite Kohn said...

I second the opinion of the writer who said it leaves her breathless. My jaw drops, and I just sit stunned by it every time I read it. Didn't know it referred to Eliot's baptism but of course, that would fit.
Gerard Manley Hopkins' "God's Grandeur" has the same effect on me.

Hilda Frye said...

I certainly agree with you about the twin magnificence of Eliot's poem and Hopkins' "God Grandeur." It's nice to know, from the seclusion of old age that there are people still alive who react from such depth to both Eliot and Hopkins. I'm lonely for such people as well as for the magnificance of literature that speaks to the soul. Hilda Frye

johneneale said...

Can you believe I'm 58 years old and I've never heard of this poem.
Today I was listening to BBC radio 4.
The programme included a meeting between Philip Pullman (his dark materials) and his scool teacher who was a major influence on his writing future.
He describes his first hearing of this poem and its effect on him.
Very dramatic.
Now I've read it!!!!!!!!!!!!!
If you can find the programme, it's worth a listen.

Hutt Jill (TQEH) said...

This poem was given to me by my brother handwritten in a Christmas card
the last Christmas before he died, 1976 aged 25

It has always been very powerful for me and I look forward to getting
the card out each Christmas and reading it anew always with new insight.

Ann Condon said...

Every year I reflect on the accounts of the Magi ane the meanings
that are attributed.
I agree that T.S.Eliot's poem regardless of one's particular
interpretation strikes some stark chord.

Rudolf Steiner, of course, has the most deeply esoteric
interpretation of the appearance of the Magi (Christmas, lecture
given in Berlin, 30th December, 1904, from The Festivals and their
Meaning.) This is not for everyone to be sure.

Another is The Pilgrim Kings, from The Christian Year, Evelyn
Francis Capel, 1967

This year I'm sending a collection of writing about the Magi to a
friend of the Woodstock generation who never forgot the account of
them in the Aquarian Gospel and the seven day silent meditation with
Jesus as he came to Persopolis after his sojourn in India.

Ann C.

J T Mathew said...

Bsides the Gospel narrative ( St. Matthew 2:1-12 ) on this historic visit of the Three Kings from Kerala, India or the Wise Men, the visit of the magoi, from the East, for me anyway the most powerful account of Epiphany in the liturgical year is this wonderful poem by T.S.Eliot. The western assumption of the names ( Balthasar, Melchoir and Gaspar) is just rubbish!! I read this poem for the first time as a teenager at school; still I recall the incredibly convincing expression on the face of my great guru, a Hindu professor of English at the University College, Trivandrum. His flexible, open, liberal and warm take on this Christian story made me a better Christian as he was certainly more Christian than most Christians I have ever known - for which I am profoundly grateful.

The Rev. Dr. John T. Mathew
Minister, St. Mark's United Church &
Department of Religious Studies, Hunitngton & Laurentian Universities, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada

Anonymous said...

A bit late but in reply to the first post - the lines "Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver" may foreshadow the betrayal of Jesus by Judas (in exchange for six silver pieces).

Anonymous said...

Nebeolis okwudili
such poems are rare to see that relate an event in such a cold style and interesting.Great.

รวมเรื่องเสียว said...

This year I'm sending a collection of writing about the Magi to a
friend

Anonymous said...

i find it diffficult to understand the term 'birth and death in this poem

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kanker payudara Herbal said...

Ambeien atau wasir merupakan penyakit yang terjadi karena adanya infeksi atau pembengkakan pada usus besar. Ambeien disebabkan karena kebiasaan minum air putih yang sedikit. Kurangnya minum air putih menyebabkan pembuangan air besar menjadi keras sehingga usus menjadi luka. Lambat laun usus tersebut kemudian akan menjadi bengkak karena sering mengalami luka.cara mengobati wasir ambeien tanpa harus operasi aman joss

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Tonjolan yang berupa benjolan ini sering kali disertai dengan keluarnya tetesan darah ketika seorang penderita ambeien sedang BAB. cara mengobati wasir ambeien tanpa harus operasi aman paling jos banget Darah yang menetes keluar bersama dengan feses disebabkan oleh bocornya pembuluh darah yang melebar dan apabila terkena gesekan saat feses keluar akan menjadi luka. Ambeien dapat disembuhkan dengan berbagai cara alami sebelum menempuh cara dengan pengobatan medis yang terkadang semakin memberatkan kondisi ambeien. Pengobatan utama yang paling efektif berawal dari menerapkan pola hidup yang sehat.

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Wasir yang membengkak disertai dengan pendarahan umumnya disebut wasir berdarah. Cara mengobati wasir berdarah secara alami adalah dengan menggunakan beberapa tanaman obat yang sudah lama dikenal khasiatnya. cara mengobati wasir ambeien tanpa harus operasi Beberapa tanaman obat yang dikenal mampu mengatasi wasir antara lain adalah tape singkong. Mengkonsumsi tape singkong yang sudah dilembekkan secara rutin sehari tiga kali dipercaya mampu mengatasi wasir. Ini disebabkan karena tape singkong mengandung ragi yang menyehatkan pencernaan. Wasir ringan maupun wasir berdarah umumnya bisa disembuhkan dengan tape singkong.

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