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Answer: 'The Journey of the Magi' is the monologue of a man who has made
his own choice.He has achieved faith in the incarnation, but is still a part of
the life that the Redeemer had come to sweep away. He is finding it difficult
to break loose from the past and feels oppressed by his death like-life.
The Journey of the Magi is an important event in the Bible. The Magi were the
three wise men of the East. Having seen a star shining unusually bright in the
sky, believed it to be the indication of the Birth of Christ. They followed it and
traveled to Bethlehem to see the newborn child.
"A cold coming we had of it, just the worst time of the year.
For a journey, and such a long journey:"
They faced great difficulties and suffered the hazards of the cold weather. The
ways were deep and unknown and the weather raw and biting. The days
were short, with the sun being farthest off, but because the Son of God had
arrived, the Magi undertook the arduous journey in the cold and frosty
winter. There were times when they regretted having taken up this journey,
especially when their camels suffered from sore-footedness and refused to
walk further. The camel-men deserted them to return to their wine and
They faced extreme cold with the night-fires getting extinguished and had no
shelters to protect them. The people of the towns and cities they travelled
through, remained hostile and charged high prices. At the end they decided
to travel all night,
'Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.'
They wondered at the wisdom of having left the comfort of their summer
palaces and attendant silk-robed girls with cool drinks.
But as the Magi neared their destination, they witnessed a change in the
vegetation and climate. Certain images present themselves charged with
symbolism. The vegetation and the running stream signify fertility. The mill
beating the darkness symbolises the extinction and renewal of life. In fact, the
poem is an indirect reference to Eliot's own conversion to the Roman Catholic
faith. The poet describes his own experience of conversion in terms of the
spiritual experience undergone by the Magi. Eliot's problem was to find
emotional correlatives to experiences. He in deep conflict, probably arising
from his turn towards Catholic Christianity, and seeing uncatholic attitudes
around him. Harmony and lack of it, concord and discord, life and death,
make the poet stand and muse alone as the Magus. In this mood as the
Magus, he integrates his emotions into a general mood of acceptance and
begins his journey once again.
The dawn has to come and it does. The water-mill is a vital, throbbing forces
that deny that this journey was a folly. New life will be generated.
Soon the dead ghosts of history come to life. The images are charged with
emotion and fine anticipatory symbolism of 'three trees on a low sky', a
portent of the Crucifixion of Christ at Calvary with the two sinners is
presented. Along with it, the evocative image of 'an old white horse'
symbolising the Second Coming of Christ, introduces one of the simplest and
most pregnant passages in all of his work. The time had come for a complete
heart-searching and they move on attracted by the omens.
'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.'
Here are allusions to the communion, to the paschal lamb whose blood was
smeared on the lintels of Israel, — to the betrayal of Judas — his blood money
and the six hands of Judas, Pilate and Caiphas — to the degradation suffered
by Christ before the crucifixion, to the soldiers casting lots at the foot of the
cross, and perhaps to the pilgrims at the open tomb in the garden.
There are signs of drunken materialism. There can be no information of the
saviour at this place. Slowly these elements of the material Universe begin to
die and the Magi reach their destination.
'And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon. Finding the place: it was
(you may say) satisfactory.'
Prophecy has brought the Magi to the end of their exploration, but the birth
of Christ, without and the birth of feelings of acceptance, within, puzzles and
bewilders them.
'Where we led all the way for Birth or Death?'
The arrival remains a 'satisfactory' experience only. The narrator has seen a
Birth and yet he does not fully understand it. He accepts the fact of the Birth
but is perplexed by its similarity to a Death, and to a death that he has seen
The nature of the poem implies certain reflective and contemplative harmony.
The shadow of reverie is present. These questions face them- were they led
there for Birth or for Death or perhaps for neither or to make a choice
between Birth and Death? AND, whose Birth and Death was it? THEIR'
Uncertainty leaves them mystified and uncomprehending of the full
splendour of the strange epiphany. So, he and his fellow travellers return to
their own kingdoms where,
'...no longer at ease, in the old dispensation, with an alien people clutching
their gods. These gods have now become alien'. The Magi linger, not yet free
to receive 'The dispensation of the grace of God.'
The speaker has reached the end of one world, but despite his acceptance of
the revelation as valid, he cannot gaze into a world beyond his own. The
reader is aware that, without contradiction, the birth of the new-priest-king
means the end of 'the old dispensation' — an entirely new world order — as
'this Birth was hard bitter agony for us, like Death, our death'.
The symbols evaporate to be replaced by the 'Christian mystery'. They find
that they get involved in a meaning beyond their actual experience. The
Magus is baffled by the contradictions of Birth and Death, and is left wanting
to die, and says 'I should be glad of another death'. It is a reminder that death
is the price of rebirth. It is also important to realise that death and rebirth are
related. Death is a symbolic mental reorientation for the attainment of nobler
values. Spiritual salvation is not easy. The way is best with torturous
difficulties. A number of Birth and Deaths are essential before Salvation.
Oppressed by a sense of death-in-life, the Magus is content to submit to
another death for his deliverance from the world of desires and 'silken girls'.
It is not that the Birth, which is also Death, has brought him hope of a new
life, but that it has revealed to him the hopelessness of the previous life. He is
resigned rather than joyous, absorbed in the negation of his former existence,
but not yet physically liberated from it. He puts behind him both, the life of
the senses and the affirmative symbol of the Child. He has reached the state
of desiring nothing, though his negation is partly ignorant, for he does not
understand in what way the Birth in a Death. He is not aware of the Sacrifice
of God, instead he becomes the sacrifice. This humble, negative stage in
mystical progress is a prerequisite to union.
All this is being experienced and spoken long after the journey.
'All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again.'
He is overcome emotionally, spiritually and mystically, and in this
overcharged state he says,
"I should be glad of another death"