Full Summary and Analysis of T. S. Eliot’s “The Journey of the Magi”

This is a good full summary and analysis of T. S. Eliot’s “The Journey of the Magi.” It studies in-depth the content and details of the poem. The summary and analysis shall be done right from the biography to the analysis of the content of the poem and all other features of the poem.

Biography of the Poet. Who is T. S. Eliot? 

  • S. Eliot was an American prominent writer who migrated to Britain and settled there to continue his writing. He was born in 1888 at St. Louis, Missouri. He studied at Harvard, Morton College, Sorbone and Oxford University. He was a school teacher before he founded the literary body called “The Criterion.” He moved to Britain in 1915 and became a British citizen in 1927.

While in Britain, he drew close to Catholicism and Britain’s brand of Anglicanism, and this began to play a major role in his works. His literary works of art began to have religious and spiritual undertone, linking heavily to religious motifs. He grew to become one of the directors of Faber & Faber Publishing Company that published a lot of good literary works of art and prominent writers.

Full Summary and Analysis of T. S. Eliot’s “The Journey of the Magi”

The poem focuses on the somewhat metaphysical journey of the magi during winter to acknowledge the birth of an unnamed baby. Regular critics consider this work to be the journey of the magi to see the birth of Christ but the poem is deeper than the surface level by which it is often critiqued. The journey of the magi is metaphysical (it it beyond the surface level or beyond the ordinary).

The persona in the poem begins by writing about the harshness of the weather as the magi departs for the journey. It is cold and harsh, and even the villagers they meet on the way are not welcoming. The camels carrying them are “galled, sore-footed, refractory” and tired. The camel men leading them curse and swear before running away.

Notwithstanding these, these travellers don’t give up and continue on their journey. For a while the persona describes the nature influencing the journey of the magi as they are stressed by the difficulty of the period and how strenuous the journey is. The persona also writes about how the magi seek information but don’t get it from the people. They have to navigate their way themselves, unassisted, until they find the baby.

In the last stanza the persona connects the birth and death together. The birth is the death for in witnessing the birth they witnesses death. The idea of the persona is not simply about the maggi’s horror-filled experience in locating the baby but in the interconnectivity of birth and death. The birth is able to connect and yield death. By coming to terms with the birth, the acknowledge and appreciate death and would be glad to experience such again.

The metaphysical aspect of the journey is the maggi go through a self-discovery journey. They don’t give up regardless of all the setbacks and harsh conditions they come to encounter. They keep pushing, and at the end realize that it is not really just the birth that makes them fulfilled but that in birth, there is death, and their strenuous journey is in tandem with death. Thus, they’re glad they have experienced the birth and death, and would be glad of another death.

The poem is in 46 lines and 6 stanzas.

Themes in the Poem

  • Quest for Self-actualization: This is the predominant theme in the poem. The maggi is set on a journey to acknowledge an important birth but on the way they are confronted by challenges and on coming to acknowledge the birth they experience a different thing–the birth is death, and thus, it makes them realize themselves to become glad of coming to terms with this knowledge.
  • The Desire for Salvation: It is this desire that pushes them to embark on this journey. At the end, the salvation they get is way more than the physical. It is deeper and metaphysical.
  • The Birth of a Messiah/Saviour: This birth is symbolical of greatness. It is the news of the birth that pushes the magi, and at the end the birth and the search for its acknowledgement is what leads to their salvation.
  • Determination and Perseverance in the Midst of Setbacks: The magi do not allow the setbacks and challenges deter them as they continue on their quest to find out the birth and acknowledge. They know the importance of the acknowledgement of the birth for their redemption and self-actualization and are determined to achieve it.
  • Life/Birth and Death: Birth/life and death are connected, with no birth, there is no death, and with no death, there is no life. This is how the universe is wired. Thus, this is the reason some seeds would have to die before they germinate. By discovering and acknowledging the birth of the baby, the magi comes to term with death.

Poetic Devices/ Figures of Speech and Sound in the Poem

  • Personification: “Night-fires going out” and “ … cities were hostile.”
  • Simile: “… hard and bitter agony for us like death.”
  • Irony: It is ironical that at the end after a tortuous journey, the magi would want to attempt another one.
  • Alliteration: “… cold coming”- (line 1); “Sleeping in snatches” – (line 19) and “Camel … cursing” (line 11).
  • Symbolism: There is a good use of symbolism in the poem. Repeated use of “white horse” represents sanctity and purity. “The journey of the magi” itself represents quest for salvation or self-actualization.

Diction and Language Use in the Poem

The language as a vehicle used in deploying this poem is simple and quite easy to understand; however, the true meaning of the poem lies beyond the true meaning and use of words. The true meaning is deeper and more metaphysical.

Tone/Mood

The tone and mood of the poem is that of despair, expectations and fulfilment at the ending part.

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