"Journey of the Magi" is a poem by T.S. Eliot, first published in 1927 in a series of pamphlets related to Christmas. The poem was written shortly after Eliot's conversion to the Anglican faith. Accordingly, though the poem is an allegorical dramatic monologue that inhabits the voice of one the magi (the three wise men who visit the infant Jesus), it's also generally considered to be a deeply personal poem. Indeed, the magus in the poem shares Eliot's view that spiritual transformation is not a comfort, but an ongoing process—an arduous journey seemingly without end. The magus's view on the birth of Jesus—and the shift from the old ways to Christianity—is complex and ambivalent.
'A cold coming ...
... dead of winter.'
And the camels ...
... girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel ...
... had of it.
At the end ...
... was all folly.
Then at dawn ...
... in the meadow.
Then we came ...
... might say) satisfactory.
All this was ...
... Birth or Death?
There was a ...
... Death, our death.
We returned to ...
... of another death.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
Eliot's Reading — The poem read by its author.
Lancelot Andrewes's Sermon — The 1622 Christmas sermon of the British bishop Lancelot Andrewes, which Eliot adapted for the poem's opening.
A Documentary on the Poet — A BBC production about Eliot's life and work.
Eliot and Christianity — An article exploring Eliot's relationship with his religion.
More Poems and Eliot's Biography — A valuable resource on Eliot's life and work from the Poetry Foundation.
1'A cold coming we had of it,
2Just the worst time of the year
3For a journey, and such a long journey:
4The ways deep and the weather sharp,
5The very dead of winter.'
6And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
7Lying down in the melting snow.
8There were times we regretted
9The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
10And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
11Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
12and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
13And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
14And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
15And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
16A hard time we had of it.
17At the end we preferred to travel all night,
18Sleeping in snatches,
19With the voices singing in our ears, saying
20That this was all folly.
21Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
22Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
23With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
24And three trees on the low sky,
25And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
26Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
27Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
28And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
29But there was no information, and so we continued
30And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
31Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.
32All this was a long time ago, I remember,
33And I would do it again, but set down
34This set down
35This: were we led all that way for
36Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
37We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
38But had thought they were different; this Birth was
39Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
40We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
41But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
42With an alien people clutching their gods.
43I should be glad of another death.