On the Twelfth Day of Christmas: Tweflth Night
A Blog Sabattical

Epiphany: The Journey of the Magi

MagiThe Journey of the Magi

"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of 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 wineskins.
But there was no information, and so
     we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding our place; it was (as 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 (published in 1930)

English poet T.S. Eliot became a Christian in 1927 and was baptized in the Anglican church.  I've always liked this poem which, though in many ways like a complaint, demonstrates that for those who encounter  Christ life is never the same.  It is the Death of the old life and old gods and the beginning of a new life -- even if it is one that is not easy at first.  One can surmise that Eliot, like the Magi speaking in the poem, having encountered Christ, has a profound sense of alienation from the world around him.  It's a natural feeling for one who belongs to another Kingdom.

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