Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Journey of the Magi revisited

My favorite poet, and I say that word favorite loosely, because I haven't picked up his collection in a while, is T.S. Eliot. And my favorite poem by my favorite poet would have to be "The Journey of the Magi." 

Eliot creatively ponders their journey to see the toddler Jesus and then what it would have been like on the "ride" home. Perhaps it is because I share such a fascination with these characters that I'm drawn to this poem? Perhaps it is the "real" nature of the struggle of these Magi instead of the sentimental glamorization of the Xmas characters?  Now this poem is not as easy to understand as "The Night before Christmas," but this poem is filled with much more amazing and deep, and even dark (but honest and real) Christmas reflections. Here are just two which have stuck out to me over the years.

1.) The uneasiness the Magi would have had upon returning to their homelands. They had been in the presence of the true King, for which their hearts truly desired. Now they would have to return home and be counselors to lesser kings. They even longed for another death: Christ's and their own, for the two are linked together. There is a healthy dissatisfaction which comes from living in this fallen world. In fact, it should be the same with all of us if we've ever met the true King, in whose presence we will one day bask in glory!

2.) The Magi are aware that this new King will be one who will have to die. The good news comes just as much in his death as in his birth.

Anyhow, without further shaping your own experience, here's the best Christmas poem ever written (in my opinion of course!)

"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was 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.

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