Set Down This

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, the day many Christians mark the manifestation of Christ to the world (U.S. Catholics celebrated Epiphany last Sunday; it has become a moveable feast in order to increase the number of people who are able to celebrate it within the context of the Mass). The Epiphany story many of us know involves the visit of the Magi to the Christ child: Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchoir with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrhh.

The concept of the Epiphany, and an epiphany, is really fascinating to me and I would love to share with you all the thoughts I have about it, and all the interesting things I've learned about the Epiphany/epiphanies. The thing is, I really need a nap. So I am going to mark the Epiphany in my very favorite way of all, which is to share T.S. Eliot's The Journey of the Magi with you.

The poem is an interpretation of the Magi's journey to visit the Christ child, and its effect on their lives once they returned home. It is a poem of conversion, and it begins with lines borrowed from a 17th century sermon by Lancelot Andrewes:

"'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'"

The poem goes on to describe the difficult journey, the changing landscape, the fortitude it required of the Magi who thought perhaps they were being foolish to keep on, and their anti-climactic arrival. As the poem moves toward its conclusion, it cuts right down to bone:

"All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death?"

Because I am trying to be a good girl when it comes to using copyrighted material, I have shared with you here a few excerpts and now I encourage, exhort, and beg you to go read the whole poem here. It's a powerful (tho' perhaps not exactly comforting) way to think about conversion, epiphany, and, for those of you who celebrate it, Epiphany.


DLD said...

Just thought you'd be delighted to know that the Epiphany party I went to tonight included a reading of this poem. Also, the end part of Auden's Christmas Oratorio. ("For the Time Being.")

Molly said...

Delighted, indeed! I am always delighted when poetry makes its way into a social event. I don't know the Auden poem -- will have to look at that. Thanks.

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