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.
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/