Sunday, January 06, 2008

Journey of the Magi, by T. S. Eliot

It's Epiphany! I shall celebrate with a poem my mom always liked to read to us. She would point out that the great climactic event, the worship of the child Jesus as described in the Gospel, is here described in one understated line. Eliot makes us rather reflect on the suffering and sacrifice and doubt the Magi endure to reach the glorious moment when they can kneel and offer their gifts. And then having seen the Lord, they die to the world and long only to be with Him again. As for the notion of His birth being like death, someone said Jesus Christ was the only person who was born to die. For us death is a sad consequence of the Fall; for him it was his purpose in coming.

Journey of the Magi

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a 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

1 comment:

Paul Cat said...

This is a GREAT Poem. On of my favs. Also, glad you like my faux celebrity endorsements on Catholicism.