Journey of the Magi Essay Example

Journey of the Magi Essay

Poetry Analysis for the “Journey of the Magi’

T.S. Eliot was born on September 26, 1888 in a small town in Massachusetts. He was the youngest of seven children. Eliot was educated at Smith’s Academy in St. Louis and Milton Academy in Massachusetts. He later went to college at Harvard University where he became an editor for the Harvard Advocate which published many of his poems. This lead to his first publication, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” In 1925, he joined a publishing company which took over the publication of his magazine. After he graduated in 1910, he moved to Paris to study for the Sorbonne before finally returning to Harvard to continue graduate studies for philosophy. Later on, he traveled to Germany to study philosophy at Oxford. Years later, Eliot got writer’s block from marital problems and illnesses and he thought he would never be able to write poetry again. He overcame his fears with great success after he was commissioned to write “The Journey of the Magi.” This poem was published in 1927 which was also the year Eliot converted to the Anglican church and became a British citizen. At the same time he was commission to write this poem, he was hard at work composing material that would later appear in his “Ash Wednesday” poem. Eliot continued to write poetry, plays, and criticisms and eventually won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. In the “Journey of the Magi” Eliot describes the journey the wise men traveled by using symbolism, tone, structure, and figurative language to help the reader form a better picture in their head of what it is really like.

Symbolism is found all throughout this poem. Eliot greatly admired a bishop named Lancelot Andrewes who gave a Christmas sermon in 1622 about the journey of the wise men. This sermon is what gave Eliot the idea to write the “Journey of the Magi.” Eliot adapted part of the sermon into the first five lines of his poem. A critic named Michael Lake says that “Eliot wove together repeating themes and symbolism he had garnered from all of his learning and his life’s experiences into new configurations to illustrate, interpret, and challenge the moral world around him” (Lake 116). About half way through the poem, the Magi reach a temperate valley. Symbolism seems to indicate that the Magi have finally reached their ultimate destination by moving into a beautiful and fertile valley at the beginning of the day. Although this is not the case, the Magi have no other choice but to continue the journey. As they continue the quest, they see a white horse running through the meadow which gives the impression of ease and beauty (Meyer 119). Several critics think that Eliot uses this to symbolize the white horse that is referenced many times in the Bible’s book of Revelations. Later in the story the Magi come to a tavern with vine leaves growing around the entrance (27). Grapevine leaves are often used to symbolize Christ. Foreshadowing also ties in closely with symbolism in this poem. While the Magi are on the journey they see three trees which symbolizes the crosses on the hill of Golgotha and foreshadows the crucifixion of Christ. After baby Jesus is born, one of the wise men recognizes that this birth foreshadows not only the child’s death, but his own death aswell. “Each element of the poem’s symbolic terrain reinforces the perception that there is no exit from its hellish pain and inforced loneliness” (Lake 118). Eliot makes it very easy to point out all of the symbolism and foreshadowing in his poem.

The tone or mood shifts throughout the entire poem. Tone is a little bit harder to pick up on when your looking for changes in mood. The tone is important because it gives the reader a subconscious feeling of how the poem is going to and how they feel about it. Eliot uses mood to submerge the readers mind into the plot, characters, and scenes. If it weren’t for tone, the story would be very tasteless and hard to enjoy. In the first section of the poem the tone is rough and uncomfortable sounding. The Magi are very uneasy at the beginning of the journey. It talks about the fires going out, the villages being dirty, and lack of shelters for them to stay in which forced them to sleep on the snowy ground. One of the Magi even says, “A hard time we had of it” (16).

In the second section, the tone shifts; both the cadence and images are softer and more flowing. The lines start to become longer and looser as they continuously accumulate detail. The tone shifts for the last time in the final section. The speaker’s voice starts to become weary as he recalls seeing both the birth and the death of Jesus (Ruby 116). Line breaks interrupt the flow of thought in a way that they do not in the first two sections. The final word in several of the lines consist of a single syllable which creates a harsher and more abrupt attitude. The final word in three separate lines, including the last one, is “death.” Just like the Magi, the lines are also no longer at ease. It is no surprise that the speaker of a poem can set the tone of a story by the way they talk and by the way that they perceive what is going on. In other poems like “Gerontion” and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” Eliot also uses older men as the speakers. “I suggest, rather, that old men continually recur in Eliot’s early satiric works because old age illustrates so well the human inability to evolve from dysfunctional ways, just like the problems old dogs have learning new tricks” (Lake 117).

The structure of the poem is 3 stanzas set up in non-rhyming pairs. The first stanza is longer than the following two which serves the purpose to set up the journey and also show the reader what context it is taking place in. The second and third stanzas convey the realization of one of the wise mens’ new religion and new way of life. The last stanza reflects on the journey and the purpose that it had. Eliot uses parallel structure which helps to create the cadence or rhythm of the poem. The verbs cursing, grumbling, running, and wanting in lines 11 & 12 are examples of words used to create parallel structure. Something that is unique about this poem is that it is written in free verse which means that it does not use a regular meter or rhyme scheme. Instead of using a normal metric pattern, Eliot decided to establish the poem’s rhythm by using the quotation from Lancelot Andrewes. The poem’s overall structure is written in a way that makes it easy to read and follow.

Eliot does a fantastic job using figurative language in “Journey of the Magi.” The poem is literally full of figurative language and other types of language that can be analyzed on different levels. This is probably the easiest element to pick out of a story because the language catches your eye and makes you think about it. It is not uncommon to find great figurative language in many of Eliot’s other poems. Personification gives human qualities to some of the things the Magi encounter like “the cities hostile

and the towns unfriendly” (14). This gives the reader an idea of the towns they traveled through. Another type of figurative language used is metaphors. Eliot uses metaphors in the poem to make the reader think about the deeper meaning of what he is saying. The entire poem is a metaphor in itself because it is about a spiritual journey that we all must make. Alliteration is used in the first few lines to help the story’s rhythm. Examples of alliteration in the poem are “ways,” “weather,” and “winter.” This adds effect and emphasizes whats going on during the journey.

The “Journey of the Magi” is a great poem that should be read by everybody with a love for poetry. This award winning poem reflects the Christian beliefs that T.S. Eliot believed in and thought was important. Every element used in this poem helps give the reader a better and more clear understanding of what the journey was like. Although Eliot was not around when Jesus was born, he uses symbolism, tone, structure, and figurative language to tell a realistic and enjoyable story for the reader.

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