Monday, December 28, 2009

T. S. Eliot wrote a poem about the journey of the Magi from the perspective of one the travelers. It describes the physical peril they faced but it clearly describes the testing and strengthening of their faith along the way. T.S. Eliot was on his own spiritual journey and had become a Christian. This was a man with a strong Buddhist and Hindu philosophical education.

Symbolism litters the poem and the imagery should remind us of Biblical references. The three trees that are mentioned represent Calvary and Jesus’ death on a cross. The white horse represents death. And with the tree, or cross of Calvary, death is sent galloping away. The vine leaves over the lintel represent the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts of as they escaped the angel of death. The vine represents Jesus, the true vine.

The 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 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.

I would love to hear what you think of the poem. What other symbolism you find and what it means to you.

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