Journey Of The Magi || Summary and Analysis

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      Introduction : The Magi refers to the three wise men of the East. They heard about the birth of Christ. They wanted to pay their respect to the new born Christ. During the Journey of the Magi, they had to face difficulties which are narrated by one of the Magi. The journey stands for spiritual quest and the birth into a new faith. The difficulties are symbolic of the hurdles that lie on the way of the progress of pilgrims. Perhaps, this poem has some reference to Eliot's conversion to the Roman Catholic faith. Though the journey has ended successfully, the Magi are not quite sure of its beneficial results. They have been cut off from the old dispensation but they are not able to get full benefits of what Christ stands for. According to Elizabeth Drew, the meaning of new birth is obscure, full of doubt, accompanied by pain, not joy and perplexing in extreme. The Magi are torn between two worlds - the one dead and the other yet to be born.

During the Journey of the Magi, they had to face difficulties which are narrated by one of the Magi.
Journey to Magi

Summary and Analysis

      Hazards of the journey : The account of the Journey of the Magi to the birth of Christ is based on a sermon preached before King James I by Lancelot Andrews on Christmas day in 1622. He said: "A cold-coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey and specially a long journey in the way deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off, in solstito brunali, the very dead of winter." The difficulties faced by the Magi were: firstly, the biting chill, secondly, the rough road, thirdly, the fatigue and tedium of the journey, fourthly, sick camels reluctant to move, fifthly, the nostalgic recollections of homely pleasures, the sixthly, the unfriendly cities and hostile salesmen on the way. But the firm determination and the inner urge of the Magi enabled them to continue their journey in-spite of all odds. Sometimes their minds were disturbed by the doubt that their journey might prove to be wild-goose-chase and all their love's labour may be lost. Even so, they continued the journey, night and day.

      The Journey's end : Ultimately they reach a temperate valley which has good vegetation. They hear the music of the running water and the sound of the water-mill. They also see the old white horse galloping in a meadow. The three trees refer to the place where Christ was crucified and three crosses were raised. The tavern with vine leaves over the lintel refers to the communion. The six hands dicing for pieces of silver refers to the betrayal of Christ by Judas and the soldiers dicing for robes. At last they entered the place where Jesus was born. But the poet has not expressed their joy at finding the infant Jesus. All that he says is: "It was (you may say) satisfactory".

      The second death : The old Magi reflects on the result of this arduous journey. He asks: "Were we laid all the way for a birth or a death?". They saw the birth of Christ. But it was a kind of death for them, because it meant a clean breach from their old life and old ideas. It was like the birth of a new life. In the Bible, it is mentioned that Jesus said "You must be born again." "This means that Christians must be confirmed as Christian through baptism. The wise men were not really prepared for the birth into Christianity. They were emotionally disturbed. They felt separated from their own men who still worship the God of the pre-Christian period. They had felt no joy by accepting the new faith. Therefore, they desired another death so that they may completely be converted to Christianity. The second death would make them completely free from the old dispensation and bring them into a new way of life and thought, taught by the Saviour.

      Gospel's story : The journey is based upon the Gospel of St. Matthew. The Magi were guided to the home of Jesus by a new star. In the beginning they sought the help of Herod - the King of Jews. He pretended to help them in order to identify the child. His intention was to kill him because he wanted no rival king. When the wise men worshipped Jesus, they were told not to report their discovery to King Herod.

      Eliot's handling of the story is symbolic. The old faith is dead. After the quest for a new faith, it has come to the successful end. Even in its success the wise men feel no joy or peace of mind. The wise men are uneasy and look forward to death which may confirm them in a new faith. Perhaps, death they wish for, will completely cut them off from the old ways of life and they will be reborn as complete and full-blooded Christians.

      Style of the poem : The poem shows clever use of symbols. The main symbols are traditional-running water, crosses, vine-leaves, pieces of silver. He has also enriched the story with his personal memory as mentioned in his critical essay entitled The Use of Poetry and Use of Criticism. During his journey to France, he came across six ruffians playing cards at night at a small French railway junction where there was a water-mill.

      Another peculiarity of the poem is that while in style and phrasing, it bordered on prose, it is free from earthiness of prose. Matthiessen remarks in this connection, "How prose may be transformed into poetry is illustrated by the camparison between the quotation from Andrews and what Eliot made of it: It was no summer progress. A cold coming they had of it this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and specially a long journey in, the ways deep, the weather sharp, the sun farthest off, in solstito brumali, the 'very dead of winter'."

"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 dread of winter."

      Conclusion : The poem has the greatest dignity and power. The process of conversion is portrayed in the images of the Magi's journey. Perhaps it embodies some of the personal feelings of Eliot, when he took his decision of conversion. It has a note of personal conviction.

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