Sunday, January 8, 2012

Journey of the Magi

Earliest Image of the Journey of the Magi
Journey of the Magi

 by T.S. Eliot

'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 gong 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 lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have 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.





Here's another favorite, on the occasion of Three Kings Day, or Epiphany.  I discovered while googling around that the first five lines of the poem were borrowed by Eliot from Bishop Andrewes' Christmas Day Sermon of 1622.

Bishop Lancelot Andrewes in his Christmas Day Sermon of 1622 said this of the journey of the Wise Men:

T.S. Eliot as a young man
Lancelot Andrewes
"This was nothing pleasant, for through deserts, all the way waste and desolate. Nor secondly, easy neither; for over the rocks and crags of both Arabias, specially Petra, their journey lay. Yet if safe, but it was not, but exceeding dangerous, as lying through the midst of the black tents of Kedar, a nation of thieves and cut-throats; to pass over the hills of robbers, infamous then, and infamous to this day. No passing without great troop or convoy. Last we consider the time of their coming, the season of the year. It was no summer progress. A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and specially a long journey. The ways deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off, in solsitio brumali, the very dead of winter.”

- compelling words, surprisingly fresh for having been written almost four hundred years ago ~ and far more familiar to us by being quoted by T.S.Eliot at the beginning of his poem, The Journey of the Magi.

The image at top is taken from a fascinating website called History Hunters International, an archeological website exploring the layers of history and appearance of divine men through archaeological evidence.






1 comment:

Skënderbeu said...

Gosh, the details in that poem are astonishing -- what research, or imagination, or both. You believe he was there. It does end rather gloomily, but certainly powerfully. "The old dispensation" -- that's something. I especially like how a poem that seems almost entirely descriptive of a long-ago event takes a sudden turn at the end with an observation that comes straight into our modern consciousness.