Myth and the 'Now' Part Twenty: The Turning Point

The ‘Journey of the Magi’ was the first of a series of poems T. S. Eliot later grouped together as the 'Ariel Poems' and was published in 1927 shortly after Eliot’s baptism into the Church of England. Critics argue convincingly that this poem reflects Eliot's state of mind as it moved from an old faith in secular modernism to a new Christian faith, paralleling the journey of the ‘Wise men from the East’ towards Christ with Eliot's own spiritual journey.

Told from the point of view of one of the Wise Men, the poem recalls their journey to Bethlehem in search of the infant Christ. Eliot’s elderly speaker has reached the end of adulthood - the same, cynical and world-weary end of the narrators in Eliot’s earlier modernist poems. The physical journey towards Bethlehem parallels the spiritual inner journey; the physical journey culminates in the baby Christ, but the outcome of the inner journey is less certain:

There was a Birth, certainly

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different: the 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.