April 19, 2007

T.S. Eliot: “Journey of the Magi”

Posted in Poetry at 5:45 pm by The Lizard Queen

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.

–T.S. Eliot, 1927



  1. DavidD said,

    “silken girls bringing sherbet”? Wow, did my mental imagery suddenly take a 90 degree turn with that one.

    So was it worth the trip, Mr. Eliot? He says he would do it again, but there seem to be mixed feelings. Death makes way for birth, literally or metaphorically. When it’s controlled and orderly that’s true, not like all the victims this week. That was more like an avalanche intruding on the poetry of the trip.

    Something will happen after I die that I expect. Other things will happen that are utterly novel. Which will be fulfilling, something I would live again to see, or perhaps stop what I’m doing in the afterlife to see from a distance, and which are things I’d just as soon never know, things that will hurt my optimistic vision of the future, of heaven on Earth? Which will I give birth to? For what of my life am I Lord Shiva, the destroyer and restorer of worlds? Or regarding what do I at least cooperate with the real Lord Shiva? I think Shiva knows, even though it’s so mysterious to me. That’s reason to be glad.

  2. luaphacim said,

    One of my favorites. Thanks! 🙂

    (P.S. E-mail me if you want to see pix of me pretending to kiss the old, abandoned parking lot that is the site of T.S. Eliot’s childhood home in St. Louis.)

  3. gye nyame said,

    nicely done…. i’m loving the “month of good things”, thanks
    best wishes on finishing the term.

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