A Christmas Poem by T.S. Eliot

December 21, 2013

T_S_Eliot_1927_The_Journey_of_the_Magi_No_8_Ariel_Poems_Faber[1] The Journey of The Magi – T.S. Eliot

As part of our daily Christmas Reflections I thought we would do something different today. This poem was written in 1927, and is believed to reflect some of Eliot’s own journey from agnosticism to faith as well as the journey of the Magi. The Story of the Magi can be found in Matthew 2:1-12 (this Christmas I have thought about the Magi a lot and what drove them… interesting to reflect on). Some commentary, found in Wikipedia¬†nonetheless,¬† points out that in this poem, “The magus seems generally unimpressed by the infant, and yet he realizes that the Incarnation has changed everything. He asks,

“. . . were we led all that way for
Birth or Death?”

The birth of the Christ was the death of the world of magic, astrology, and paganism.(cf Colossians 2:20) The speaker, recalling his journey in old age, says that after that birth his world had died, and he had little left to do but wait for his own end.

* Enjoy the Matthew Reading and the poem below and let the Lord speak to you through them both. *


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.

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