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Journey of the Magi

T. S. Eliot


Journey of the Magi

T. S. Eliot


Poem introduction

I think this is the first time I've ever read any of my own poems over the radio for either an American or an English audience, though I've done so once or twice for overseas services...I shall now take one of my 'Ariel' poems. 'Ariel Poems' was the title of a series of poems which included many other poets as well as myself. These were all new poems which were published during four or five successive years as a kind of Christmas card. Nobody else seemed to want the title afterward so I kept it for myself, simply to designate four of my poems which appeared in this way. 'Journey of the Magi' is obviously a subject suitable for the Christmas season.

Journey of the Magi

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.


from Collected Poems 1909-1962 (Faber, 1974), by permission of the publisher, Faber & Faber Ltd. Recording by permission of the BBC.

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