Sunday, January 18, 2009

Catching up--Poem of the Month, December

Ever since I studied T.S. Elio'ts poem "The Journey of the Magi" in a literature class, I have loved it, although upon first reading it, it doesn’t make much sense.  I love the poem because it speaks of wisemen who give so much to travel to Jesus and celebrate His birth.  But along the way, they see the betrayal and violence of His death, and, not knowing, as we do, that He was born to give His life for us, they are left feeling ambivalent at the meaning of His birth. Years later, the persona speaking in the poem does not know if he was led all that way for birth or death. I like that T.S. Eliot does not separate Christ’s birth from His death because we celebrate His birth because of the glory of His life and the supreme gift of His death.

I also like that the wiseman speaking in the poem has been changed profoundly by the experience.  He returns to his place in a kingdom but is “no longer at ease here” because the people do not believe in the true God. The wiseman is not the same as he was before he journeyed to see Christ.  This, of course, is symbolic of how it should be for all of us. On our journey to come to know Christ, we should be changed, no longer at ease with aspects of our self before we began the journey. And, as it was for the wiseman, our journey itself and the death of our bad habits will both be difficult—“hard and bitter agony,” the wiseman says. 

T.S. Eliot, “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 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. 

1.  watching football, 2. homemade bread, 3. open windows and the smell of spring

1 comment:

Heather said...

Thank you for posting that. I really appreciated you insight.