“The Journey of the Magi” -T.S. Eliot

Eliot’s poem “The Journey of the Magi” offers a view contrary to the traditional conception of the magi’s journey to visit baby Jesus. Popularly, it was a fine uneventful journey, yet Eliot’s poem seeks out the negatives in it. The second line of the poem bemoans that it was “just the worst time of the year” (2). The journey was “such a long journey” where they had to contend with “the very dead of winter” (3 & 5). The narrator goes on to use polysyndeton when describing the hardships faced, enjamming “and” at the beginning of four straight lines (12-15). This gives the first stanza a very reluctant tone at best, and at worst it has a complaining tone. Concluding the first stanza, the magus reveals his thoughts were telling him “this was all a folly” (20).
The second stanza represents a transition, where they go from the cold of winter to a “temperate valley” (21). The third stanza however contributes the most meaning to the poem. It is here where the magus reveals that he perceived the birth of Jesus as both a birth and a death. The birth didn’t represent a literal death, but rather the end of an era– a figurative death within all the old magi. For upon their arrival back at their kingdoms they found they were “no longer at ease here” (41). The magus ends the poem asserting “I should be glad of another death” (43). This suggests that the magus is unable to adapt to the new world, much like T.S. Eliot– Eliot became strongly disillusioned by World War One, another world and life changing event.

The magus first confirms his attitude as reluctant declaring “and i would do it again” (33). This comes after he reveals he has reflected on these events as they occurred long ago. Interestingly, he is now wishing for death, and he certainly became disillusioned because of this journey. Yet he wouldn’t go back and change things. This is very significant, as Eliot is saying to the reader that disillusionment isn’t necessarily a bad thing– it’s the events in life that help shape who you are. If you could go back and change things, you’d change who you were. Eliot is also saying it is better to be enlightened and disillusioned (wishing for death) than to be ignorant and happy.

-B

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