It's early December now and for years the pianist played the piano at Christmas time with the family clustered around, violin and guitar and mandolin, singing the carols and hymns and bringing gifts. The carol, We Three Kings, has verses for our clustered individuals to easily sing and since only a few of the family sings well there is a comedic and awkward character to some of the singers , but it is fun!
The lyrics of the hymn are well known and the gifts the Magi bring to the Holy Child are really tokens rather than gifts, prefiguring those travelers belief in the nature of the person for whom they have come. Gold for the king, frankincense for the priest, myrrh for the sacrifice. Symbols that are their recognition of what is to come. The hymn leaves no room for doubt among Christians and it is a favorite subject as a pastiche of Matthew's account.
T.S.Eliot's poem, "Journey of the Magi" is deliberately incomplete and like all good poems leaves room for us. The one of the three who is the narrator of the poem was alone then, reflecting on his journey and his epiphany which seems to me, Eureka, I think . He notes , It wasn't easy and it wasn't sure and there was doubt." The epiphany for him was , and was not, a long time coming, The poem stirs the soul because it reflects a thoroughly human person who has to grapple with the same uncertainties that I and many others do..
The narrator of the poem has now the gift of distance and time to arrive at the paradox that out of death can come life Eliot's creation tells, and all of us need, distance and time to arrive at what we arrive at. Someone said to me, "I don't understand what you mean by that last sentence, " life out of death " It doesn't make any sense ."
I sid , " Read the poem again . I'm not going to tell you what I think it means. It's not my job . You are not a stupid man so you will have your own ideas and they are as good as mine, though you and I will never be as poetic as Eliot ! And we will never have to ride a thousand miles in the middle of winter on a camel to find out either . "