Extracts from The Journey of the Magi by T.S.Elliott

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 dead of winter.’……………………………

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,……………….

But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death?………………………………………………

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.

I have always felt drawn to this poem, as it can be seen as a journey of the Christian life – metaphysical is the word – though I’m not entirely sure what that means.
But the Christian life can be one of both challenges and joys, all the time leading us on to something greater and better even if not in this life.

I hope some of you may want to read the whole poem. It shows the magi not as rich princes with every luxury as they travelled this momentous journey, but human beings somehow impelled to go on to something more with all the challenges of an arduous expedition.

“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 dead of winter.’

T S Elliot used these memorable words from a sermon by Lancelot Andrewes Bishop of Winchester in 1619, a turbulent time in England’s history, which links the common feelings of travellers on their Christian journey through the centuries.

Compelled to travel by astrological signs, the magi venture across very hostile country. The writer speaks of camels lying in the melted snow, regretting the sunlit place they had left. On the way they encounter “the camel men cursing and grumbling and wanting their liquor. Finding dirt and high prices, a hard time we had of it. With voices singing in our ears this was all folly.”

But they do come to a better place: “at dawn we came down to a temperate valley.”

Yet they could find no information, about whatever they sought and it’s never quite clear what they are looking for.
But almost when they were ready to give up – they found the place: “it was (you might say) satisfactory.”
With this uncertain experience, something has changed within them. It could be called an Epiphany – a revelation They return home:

“no longer at ease with the old dispensations, with an alien people clutching their gods.”

After a long time, they are reflecting on this birth they had witnessed; and yet for them it was like a death overturning all that they had known of the old way of thinking, of living. And they are not sure about it.


Sometimes we are not sure about this journey with Christ we are taking. We know we are following God’s way, but sometimes as we see the ways of the world it seems hard. For some of us, illness, bereavement even aging and the pandemic, takes us through dark places; yet holding on to Emmanuel, God with us, still we know is the best way to the fullest life here and for eternity.

[Janet Lawrence]