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Eliot's 'Journey of the Magi'

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Introduction

T.S. Eliot's 'Journey of the Magi' 'Journey of the Magi' was written by T.S. Eliot during one of the most crucial points of his adult life. It was during this period of his life that Eliot, a staunch atheist in his earlier years, was considering a possible spiritual rebirth as a Christian. It is mainly for this reason that 'Journey' is largely devoid of the squalid images of twentieth-century life that most people associate with Eliot's earlier poetry. The despair and brutal morbidity found in some of his earlier poems such as 'Preludes' and 'The Wasteland' is noticeably absent in 'Journey', which is instead infused with much subtler allusions to the various paradoxes of life, contrasting as he does, hope and despair; faith and disbelief; ease and hardship. Superficially, 'Journey of the Magi' is about exactly that: The journey of one of the three wise men to the cradle of Jesus. ...read more.

Middle

It was as much about journeying away from what Eliot and the Magi both knew as it was about them journeying towards something they wanted to embrace. There is no attempt to romanticise the situation or to carefully edit out the less pleasant aspects, there is only brutal honesty. The poem continues: 'There were times we regretted/The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces/And the silken girls bringing sherbet.' Here is an allusion to the Magi's earlier life, but also an allusion to Eliot's. Seeing as he was an atheist during his younger years, he had a great deal of close friends who were also atheists, who believed that religion was only something the uneducated masses subscribed to. Needless to say, they neither understood Eliot's new found interest in religion, nor condoned it, even accusing him of 'joining the side of the ignorant.' ...read more.

Conclusion

One of the major themes of 'Journey' is one of birth and death. 'But set down/ This set down/ This: were we led all that way for Birth or Death." 'Birth and death' refers not only to both the literal birth and (later) death of Christ, but also the spiritual birth and death of both the Magi and Eliot. 'This birth was hard and bitter agony for us' the Magi asserts, 'Like death, our death,' and goes on to explain why: '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.' But though the poem ends with this rather sombre proclamation, the echo of the earlier lines of 'All this was a long time ago, I remember/And I would do it again' confirms to us that neither the Magi, nor Eliot, regretted the decision that made them strangers in their own surroundings. ...read more.

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