T.S. Eliot and the Fulfillment of Christian Poetics

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Buy eBook. Buy Hardcover. Buy Softcover. FAQ Policy. Eliot sees in the Magi a metaphor for his own conversion — he too has made a long and tortuous journey and has finally made his decision to bow down before the Christian God. The poem examines the implications that the advent of Christ had for the other religions of the time, and it emphasizes this pivotal moment in human history.


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This is an apocryphal account of the journey made by the Three Wise Men which eventually led them to a humble stable in Bethlehem where the Christ Child lay. It is narrated to us by one of their number, perhaps over a glass of wine, after their return home.

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The story, and it is a beautifully told story, is told not in Biblical language, but in the language of everyday speech and with an amount of detail not found in the Gospel story of St. The speaker, one of the Magi, talks about the difficulties encountered by the Magi during the course of their journey to see the infant Christ.

The hardships of the journey are recounted in some detail. The details underline the absurdity of the journey in the first place but stress the strong impulses that made them undertake the journey in the middle of winter. Eventually, the Magi arrive at the place where the infant Christ is to be found. The description of the valley is akin to a movie still — the camera pans slowly over the landscape lingering on sharply etched details such as the running stream, the watermill, the three trees, and the old white horse. Then the camera moves on and picks out the gamblers and the empty wineskins.

The poem ends with its narrator reflecting on the journey some years later, saying that if he had the chance he would do it all again, but he remains unsure about the precise significance of the journey and what they found when they arrived.

T.S. Eliot Reads: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Was it the birth of a new world Christianity or the death of an old one i. Jesus himself, however, is absent from this poem. Another possible reason is that the focus here in this account is on the journey, the quest, and the hardship of the search. Eliot places himself here among and alongside the Persian astrologers as they seek out the face of the baby Christ.

No study of the poem would be complete without reference to the imagery used by the poet. Sadly, it seems, the Magi miss the significance of almost all the images mentioned in the poem!

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Even though the narrator is a priest or astrologer, someone trained to look for the significance in the things around him, to read and interpret signs as symbols or omens, he fails to pick up on what they foreshadow. Indeed, the purpose of the religious references is not to analyse religious experience into a series of logical or dogmatic statements, but to reflect a state of mind.


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The poem, therefore, has considerable realism. He just wants to die peacefully, with no heroics and no rhetoric. Throughout the poem, the coming of Christ is seen as a victory over the powers of darkness. Yet, characteristically, the advent of Christ is also seen as involving a painful transformation of attitude. View Product.

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