Sunday 18 December 2011

Journey of the Magi

I seem to be all behind hand with the Advent Bookfest. having missed day yesterday, but I have a poem for you today - TS Eliot's Journey of the Magi, and if you go to you can hear him reciting it on an old and rather crackly radio recording.

I love the way Eliot makes the journey of the Three Kings sound so real, and the way little things foreshadow what is to come, like the men at the inn door 'dicing for pieces of silver', referencing the 30 pieces of silver paid to Judas, and the Roman soldiers who gambled for Jesus' robe.

And if that makes it sound grim, it isn't. It's a poem about rebirth and redemption, and an affirmation of Eliot's own growing faith.

Journey of the Magi 

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a 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 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. 

From Collected Poems 1909-1926, TS Eliot, published by Faber and Faber, 1963.

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