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Subject: Literature In English
Topic: Summary Analysis of the poem” Journey Of The Magi”.
Learning Objectives: This lesson is aimed at helping learners in external examination classes with understanding of the poem “The Journey of the Magi”. So by the end of the lesson, they should be able to:
- Give background summary of the poet,
- Recite the poem,
- Give summary analysis of the poem,
- State the poetic devices used in the poem,
- Identify and explain the symbols used n the poem.
The Journey of the Magi
About the poet
Thomas Steams Eliot was born in St. Louis Missouri in 1888. He attended Harvard ,Merton College, Oxford, and the Sorbonne, setting in England in 1915 and becoming a British subject in 1927. He was once a school-master and later joined the foreign department of Lloyds Bank. In 1922, he founded a literary review called the “criterion”. Soon after this, he was made a director or Faber and Faber, the publishers. Talk like Shakespeare he has been a successful businessman as well as a poet. The word has chosen to honour him of late years. he was awarded the Order of merit in 1948 and has also received the Nobel prize for literature while most of the leading British and American universities have conferred honorary degrees on him.
Now The Poem
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,
5 The very dead of winter,
And the carmels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There where times we regretted
the summer palaces, on slopes, the terraces
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
10 And running away and wanting their liquor,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
15 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
20 That this was all folly.
then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley
Wet, below the snow line, smelly vegetation;
With a running stream and in water-Mill beating the darkness. And three trees on the low sky,
25 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 open door dicing for pieces of silver
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued.
30 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.
35 this: were we let all that way for
Birth or death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had birth and death.
But had thought they were different: this birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death,
40 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.
Before the analysis, it is interesting to know a bit about the term “Magi”.
The biblical Magi[a] (/ˈmeɪdʒaɪ/ or /ˈmædʒaɪ/;] singular: magus), also referred to as the (Three) Wise Men or (Three) Kings, also the Three Magi were distinguished foreigners in the Gospel of Matthew and Christian tradition. They are said to have visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They are regular figures in traditional accounts of the nativity celebrations of Christmas and are an important part of Christian tradition.
The Gospel of Matthew is the only one of the four canonical gospels to mention the Magi. Matthew 2:1-2 has it that they came “from the east” to worship the “king of the Jews”. The gospel never mentions the number of Magi. Still, most western Christian denominations have traditionally assumed them to have been three in number, based on the statement that they brought three gifts. In Eastern Christianity, especially the Syriac churches, the Magi often number twelve. Their identification as kings in later Christian writings is probably linked to Isaiah 60:1–6, which refers to “kings coming to the brightness of your dawn” bearing “gold and frankincense”. Further identification of the magi with kings may be due to Psalm 72:11, “May all kings fall down before him”.
The single biblical account in Matthew 2 simply presents an event at an unspecified point after Christ’s birth in which an unnumbered party of unnamed “wise men” (μάγοι, mágoi) visits him in a house (οἰκίαν, oikian), not a stable, with only “his mother” mentioned as present.
The New Revised Standard Version of Matthew 2:1–12 describes the visit of the Magi in this manner;
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another path.
Now The Analysis
The poem The journey of the Magi is a recreation of a bible story it is based on the biblical visit of The Three Wise men Magi from the East in search of the new born child Jesus Christ.
The poem therefore describes the experiences which the three wise men (the Magi) encountered in the victorious search for the new born king Jesus. The story is however retold by one of the Three Wise men who undertook the journey. The opening stage highlights on the initial heart shape which the Magi experienced due to the time departure which then set the mood of the poem.
“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”.
A journey taking place in a cold weather and “at the worst time of the year” is the one which certainly foretells danger. Added to their problems, the poet says that their route was deep and weather was sharp. This was a winter time also “the very dead of winter”. There was snow everywhere and as a result of this, the travellers Carmel proved stubborn and uncontrollable “lying down in melting snow”.
At an inn, the travellers decided to pass the night, but sequel to the high prices, filth and hostile (unfriendly) attitude of those in and around, they decided “to travel all night”. Nevertheless, because the travelers were tired and needed some sleep, they slept “in snatches as they moved on. Then outdone the travelers came down to a temperate valley full of vegetation and life.
Here, they saw a tavern whose entrance was decorated with vine leaves. They saw three men dicing four pieces of silver, and kicking the empty wine-skins with their feet. the wise men could not get the desired information about the place where the child Jesus was born and they went their way. However, they were not discouraged they endured till they reached their destination, “…… and so we continued and arrived at evening, not a moment, too soon (finding the place), it was (you may say) satisfactory”. All these happened “a long time ago”, the narrator continues. He says he would undertake a similar journey again if given the opportunity. At this point, he begins to nurse regret over the hazardous journey. He questions: Was it Birth or Death that lured him and his colleagues to that unnecessary risk. He contends that he had seen both birth and death but that particular birth had been different, producing the effects of death. however the Magi were concerned that they had seen the “Messiah” whose sight uplifted their hope and Faith.
Finally, the narrator stated that at the end of their journey, the group returned home only to discover that things were no longer what they were at the beginning. Eventually, things have fallen apart and the centre cannot hold apparently because of the infiltration of foreign influences, yet he says that in the midst of all these, he would be “glad of another death” – he will do it again in spite of the harsh conditions of the road and weather.
Practise waec past questions and answers for literature
Poetic devices are a form of literary device used in poetry. Poems are created out of poetic devices composite of: structural, grammatical, rhythmic, metrical, verbal, and visual elements. They are essential tools that a poet uses to create rhythm, enhance a poem’s meaning, or intensify a mood or feeling.
Below are the poetic devices used in this poem;
Language/diction: the choice of words of the poet is quite simple except the syntax which is a bit complex. Readers are familiar with most of the words used in the poem but some of these words needs explanation from the dictionary and so students will be needing that in order to understand these words. Examples of such words used are galled, sherbet, refractory. The poem is written in the form of prose and verse! This narrative prosaic descriptive and musical. the first five lines and closed in inverted commas review The direct experience that influences the entire narrative process. One of the three wise men (Magi) in the Bible is here recalling a past experience.
Here, normal elements of nature seem to perform religious roles. The diction therefore convert all account as to a semi religious ritual.
Mood/tone: the state of mind in which the poet expresses his thoughts on this poem is that of agony disappointment despair disgust, though at the, their faith and hope are restored back, this is expressed in their statement when the Magi say, they would be happy to embark on the journey once again. In summary, one can simply conclude that the tone is that of disappointment and courage.
Alliteration: this is the repetition of the same consonant sound on the same line of poetry. In this case some of the examples can be cited here:
A. “Winding ways” (line 4)
B. “There …… times (line 8)
C. ” Then the… (line 11)
Others include! “Sleeping in snatches”, were we led”, “cold coming”, camel men cursing”.
Repetition: In the poem, the word “the is repeated in second and fourth lines. The word “journey” is repeated in the third line. Others include: “Time”, Birth”, “Death”, . There is no doubt that repetition lays emphasis and gives music to the poem.
Pun: This is another musical device used in the poem. For the sake of definition, pun is a play on words. In line 37 of the poem, there is a play on the word “Birth”. The “capitalized “birth” is the birth of Jesus Christ while the birth in lower case letters is the universal birth of all people world-wide.
Personification: this simply mean attributing life to lifeless objects or inanimate things which has abstract qualities. Elements that were personified in this poem are :
“ Night-fires going out”
The cities were hostile, the towns unriendly.
This expressions can be explained below:
Night-fire can not go out because they are not animals or humans which have lims to move about.
Secondly cities and towns are not living things and so have no emotions to to express act of hostility or unfriendliness.
Synecdoche: this is an act of taking part for a whole or a whole for a part. Examples as seen in this poem are:
“And feet kicking the empty wine skins”. Here, “feet” represents “people” that is the drunkards at the tavern.
“Six hands at open door dicing” (line 27).
Here, “six hands” represents the three men at the door of the tavern, “dicing” for pieces of silver.
Simile: simile is an imaginative comparison between two things or objects which are in general not alike but in a particular aspect are similar. Simile uses “like or as” as introducing words. Example of simile as used in the poem are:
“Hard and bitter agony for us, like death our death” (line 38-39).
Irony: irony is the opposite of what one mean to say. The irony used in the poem are:
“I should be glad for another death” (line 43).
It is ironical that despite the severe suffering of the Magi, the narrator would ever think of embarking on another similar journey again.
Allusion: this simply means a reference to a place, thing, object or event. The allusion in the poem is seen in the expression: “Three tress on the low sky”.
This is a typical biblical allusion. It refers to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in between a robber and a murderer. Recall, three persons were crucified! Jesus Christ with two criminals.
Litotes: This is an understatement for the purpose of emphasis. A good example of litotes in the poem is seen in line 30, where the poet says , “not a moment too soon” which indicates that the journey took a very long period.
Rhetorical question: this is question ask without expecting a reply or answer. The case of this poem rhetorical question is found in the expression, “This: where we led all that way for birth or death?”.
In Literature, Symbolism is the practice of representing things by symbols, or of investing things with a symbolic meaning or character. A symbol is an object, action, or idea that stands for something other than itself, often of a more abstract nature. Symbolism creates quality aspects that make literature like poetry and novels more meaningful.
when you talk of symbols in poetry, journey of the Magi is one of the poetries that centres most on symbols.
The Poet T.S Elliot employs brilliantly the effective use of symbols and imagery to vividly bring forth his message in the poem. These symbols as used in the poem are discussed below:
- The Three Trees: the three trees symbolise the blessed Trinity. God the Father, God the son, and God the holy ghost. Jesus Christ, who is born is the second person of the Trinity. The three trees were those which John the Baptist had warned the pharisees and sadducees who came to his baptism in Matthew 3:10.
- The white Horse: white horse symbolises purity. In spite of the immorality that was common in the entire landscape covered by the travellers, there was still a redeeming feature. The white horse is also a symbol of Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem which was fulfilled many years later.
- The Vine Leaves: The story of Labourers in the Vineyard is told in Matthew 20: 1-16. The story teaches generosity.
- The running stream: This is symbolic of Christ’s Baptism in River Jordan.
- Pieces of Silver: This symbolises the 30 pieces of silver which was the price at which Judas betrayed Jesus Christ.
- Wine-skins: We read in the Bible the story of the wine-skin in which no one puts new wine.
- The Dicing: This represents the casting of the lots for the garment of Jesus by the Jews after his crucifixion by them. This is seen in Like 23:24.
- The Journey Of the Magi: Even the poem title is centred on symbol of a soul in search of salvation.
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References / Lesson Summary Aids
Eliot, T(homas). S(tearns). “Journey of the Magi” (London: Faber & Gwyer, 1927).
Eliot, T(homas). S(tearns). Collected Poems: 1909–1935. (London: Faber & Faber; New York: Harcourt Brace, 1936); and Collected Poems: 1909–1962. (London: Faber & Faber; New York: Harcourt Brace, 1963).
Symbolism.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 01 Jan. 2012. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/symbolism Retrieved 9 June 2021.
Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Holman Bible Publishers . 2003. Retrieved 9 June 2021
Geza Vermes, The Nativity: History and Legend, London, Penguin, 2006, p.
“Magi” Encyclopædia Britannica. Online Edition.
s.v. magi. Oxford English Dictionary (Third ed.). April 1910.
Ibitola, A.O (Ed.). (2018). Essential Literature In English for senior secondary schools. Tonad Publishers limited.
G. C. (Ed). (2019). Literature in English Series for exam candidates.
J. O. (Ed.). (2019). Study Guide to Selected Poems, Prose, & Drama Texts for SSCE . Harmony-Pen Publications.