T S Eliot's Journey of the Magi

T S Eliot's poem is seasonally chilly and unseasonally doubtful about the conventional joyous journey of the three wise men. Like Robert Browning before him and Carol Ann Duffy after him, this poem captures the voice of the speaker through tone, rhythm and register. Eliot's Magus seems an isolated, weary 'grumpy old man' preferring nowadays to contemplate the release of real, physical death, rather than the figurative or metaphorial death created by his conversion to Christianity.

The chilliness of the poem is transmitted through image, tone and a rhythm suggestive of reflection and a retrospect that reanimates the past as a time of challenge and difficulty; miles away from the celebratory acceptance of the more traditional tales of the nativity.

I am always fascinated by the connection of stone with death, with grief and with the stoical type of emotion that endures at all cost. Duffy's Demeter and Mrs Lazarus are both poems where the abject stoniness of circumstance and grief are reflected in the dead spirit of the individual. Dickens in A Christmas Carol does this too and of course King Lear's scream at the worldin Act V of Lear 'O you are men of stones.' Sorrow is so deeply felt that its expression can only find outlet in images of ancient , primeval coldness and fixity.

As I have said, the voice of this lonely Magus trawls back over the special time when he journeyed to find the newly born Messiah and encountered a series of difficulties challenging his resolution and thwarting his good spirits. He dreamt of home, of warmth and 'palaces' of slave girls and their 'sherbert'..an erotic memory we feel of something far more immediately gratifying than weeks spent on the back fo an ill tempered camel! The conversion of the 'palaces' in the early stages of the poem, to 'places' at the end brilliantly reveals to the reader the realities of such a monumental change.

Thus the poem is muted in its celebration of Christ's birth. Conversion brings estrangement from one's culture and country and even it seems from one's physical identity. Resigned perhaps to the change, the speaker in Eliot's poem sits in death's waiting room, awaiting the call that will finally liberate him from the chore that life has become.

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