Journey of the Magi by T. S. Eliot: Summary and Critical Analysis

The poem Journey of the Magi is based on the theme of the Bible. It is full of religious feeling. The visit of the Three Wise Men of East to Palestine at the time of Christ's birth has been described in a very realistic way. The wise men started their journey in the extreme cold of the winter to reach the place of Christ's birth to offer presents to him.

T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)

In the course of their journey they got many hardships and suffering. In spite of this they continued their journey throughout the night. In the way they did not get shelter and food. The snowy way made their camel tired. The idea of beautiful girls who were not present to entertain them is also very imaginative and artistic. Again with the non co-operation of people in the way is also very heart-touching. The wise men did not get any help from the people of cities and town. They were hostile and unfriendly to them. This shows that those people lacked farsightedness about the importance of Christ's birth.

In the course of a journey, they saw a temperate valley with natural vegetation and beauty which lessened their tiredness. This is full of nature description and proves that Eliot was a nature poet also. The sounds of the stream and water-mill and smell of vegetation were very pleasant to the Magi and the readers. The white horse galloped in the meadow is also very symbolic and it points out the speed of the horse with his rider. The Magi reached a tavern where they did not get co-operation of those six men who were busy in gambling society. The Magi reached their destination and offered their present to Christ. This is a religious achievement of T.S. Eliot.

The poet wants to emphasize that the birth and death of Christ were different from the common people. His birth was hard and bitter agony of the human race, like death. He was crucified for the redemption of humanity from sins and bondages. The description of three trees on the low sky symbolizes the future Crucifixion of Christ because he was crucified near the three trees. The poet takes a sense of relief and appreciates the quality of Christ and his extraordinary death. The language of the poem is very measured. The poet has achieved grand success as an artist. The poem is very symbolic and full of religious touch.

"Journey of the Magi" is an allegory of the spiritual journey in which the flesh still craves for sensual enjoyment. The details of the journey of the three wise men from the east bound for Jerusalem to honor the newborn Jesus are the "objective correlatives" of the spiritual experiences of the journey from the kingdom of the world to the kingdom of heaven, which entails the death of the old physical self and the birth of a new spiritual one. It is a long hazardous journey in "the worst time of the year" in the "very dead of winter", when the body needs protection and seeks sensual pleasure.

The Magi are a composite symbol of the spiritual quest. While one of them reminisces the journey undertaken by them, he longingly recollects their indulgence in sensual pleasure. He says that while they were going to Emmaus, they felt drawn to the fleshly enjoyments, the lack of which tortured them and in such a moment of spiritual crisis, they regretted to have obeyed the call of the spirit.

However, the quester survives the long journey in the night and at dawn he is in a "temperate valley" where everything is pleasant. It is the dawn of spiritual exhilaration; the different aspects of nature signify the new images of life; the "running stream" symbolizes the rhythmic flow of life; the "water-mill beating the darkness" suggests the doubt being driven away; the galloping away of "the white horse" in the meadow symbolizes upward movement of the spirit. At this stage the quester becomes conscious of the betrayal of the man of belief at the hands of those who are without any belief. In this kingdom of spirit he visualizes the three crosses on Calvary, one of Christ and the other two of the two "male-factors". He also has the vision of Christ riding a white horse and of Judas betraying Christ for thirty pieces of silver, and the Roman dicing for the robes of Christ after the Crucifixion. These memories of the misdeeds of men without belief engage his mind for a while and he realized that the secret of his quest is not revealed to him as yet and so he continues his exploration. At the end of the day he finds himself in a place from where he looks back to the region, he has traversed and feels satisfied with the advance he has made.

The positive gain of the journey is the affirmation of the belief that for the spiritual rejuvenation the overcoming of the sensual aspect of life is essential. "Journey of the Magi" is inspired by the story in the Gospel according to St. Matthew. One of the Magi recounts the arduous journey they undertook to witness the Birth which was 'hard and bitter agony' for them. The journey is beset with the same kinds of temptations as are hinted at in "Ash Wednesday", and similar regrets for the summer palaces or slopes, the terraces, and the silken girls bringing sherbet. The New Birth does not bring unalloyed joy because the transition from the old to the new is accompanied by pain. It is a kind of experience referred to by Jung in his Psychological Types: 'The birth of the deliverer is equivalent to a great catastrophe since a new and powerful life issues forth just when no life or force or new development was anticipated'.

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Shrestha, Roma. "Journey of the Magi by T. S. Eliot: Summary and Critical Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 24 Nov. 2013,