Wise men and a 'cold coming'



Today is the Feast of the Epiphany. I've put away the Christmas decorations, made Christmas gift labels for next year from this year's Christmas cards and walked round the village in unusually deep snow.

Now, watching the snow falling again, I think of those mysterious wise men, 'magi' from the east who opened their treasure chests to give the infant Jesus the toddler-unfriendly gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Today's cold reminds me of the poem by T.S. Eliot about the visit of the magi in which one of the wise men reflects on the long hard journey he made with the others many years before and what exactly it was that they found - birth of death?

Here it is:

Journey of the Magi 
'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. 
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory, 
lying down in the melting snow. 
There were times we regretted 
the summer palaces on slopes, the terraces, 
and the silken girls bringing sherbet. 
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling 
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women, 
and the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters, 
and the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly 
and the villages dirty and charging high prices: 
a hard time we had of it. 
At the end we preferred to travel all night, 
sleeping in snatches, 
with the voices singing in our ears, saying 
that this was all folly. 
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, 
and an old white horse galloped away in the meadow. 
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel, 
six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver, 
and feet kicking the empty wine-skins. 
But there was no information, and so continued 
and arrived at evening, not a moment too soon 
finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory. 
All this was a long time ago, I remember, 
and I would do it again, but set down 
this set down 
This: were we led all that way for 
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly, 
we had evidence and no doubt. 
I had seen birth and death, 
but had thought they were different; 
this Birth was hard and bitter agony for us, 
like Death, our 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.' 
T.S. Eliot

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons 

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