Journey of the Magi by T. S. Eliot – “the Birth that was like Death”

James Tissot, The Journey of the Magi, 1894

James Tissot, The Journey of the Magi, 1894

If you would like to read the words while listening to the poem read by T. S. Eliot, here is  Journey of the Magi (words & narration)  by T.S. Eliot

Eliot’s poem is used as a narrative illustrative text in a good short  Sermon by N. T. Wright. It is very interesting, mentioning things as varied as Christmas and Easter, being “born again” and Jimmy Carter, the virgin birth, Herod and “the powers that be,” and Richard Dawkins & Christopher Hitchens. Here is a short excerpt:

‘‘There was a birth, certainly, We had evidence and no doubt.’ So say the Magi in T. S. Eliot’s poem. Some have read that dogged statement as a kind of grudging semi-belief. The poem strikes me, on the contrary, as a realistic and explosive statement of the meaning of Christmas. It insists that with this birth something fresh has been introduced into this old world, something so radically new that it shakes that old world to its foundations, and leaves those who witness it and know it to be true aware of a deeply uncomfortable dual citizenship. They discover, in witnessing the birth of this child, that they themselves are summoned to die to themselves, to the old world they knew. ‘We returned,’ say the Magi, ‘to our places, these kingdoms’ (I always hear that with a kind of weary sneer: ‘these kingdoms – what are they? They’re not the real thing’),

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.

No longer at ease. Perhaps the charge of semi-belief comes from people who want Christmas to make us feel at ease, at home, whereas the one thing Christmas ought always to do is to make us feel uneasy, aware of the clash between the new world which is born this day and the old world in which that new birth is, and always will be, a scandal and an offence.

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2013

One thought on “Journey of the Magi by T. S. Eliot – “the Birth that was like Death”

  1. Reblogged this on Now & Then and commented:

    Rebogged from my popular culture blog since it is about Christmas.

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