Journey of the Magi
How we cite our quotes:
"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For the journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter." (1-5)
These opening lines, from Lancelot Andrewes's 1622 Nativity sermon, give us the setting of the first part of the poem, and it's pretty grim. Since the Magi are coming from the desert and are entirely unaccustomed to anything cold, the change of climate = physical misery. And this present suffering only gets worse later when it finally dawns on them that Jesus's birth will bring an end to their way of life.
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it. (12-16)
This passage is a long list of the things that caused physical suffering on the journey itself. The anaphora at the beginning gives the passage a kind of relentless feel, like "just when you think it couldn't get any worse, it did. And then it got even worse, thanks for asking." Not only is the help grumpy, but they can't even get warm, and everywhere they go, people are just the worst.
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly. (19-20)
At last, the mental discomfort begins to rear its ugly head. All the time that the Magi are journeying towards Bethlehem, they're experiencing considerable inconvenience, mainly in terms of bodily comfort. But now we're introduced to another thing altogether—doubt. The "voices singing in our ears" bit is a direct reference to the fact that before the journey even began, they had other voices singing at them—those of the angels sent down by God to tell them to go look for the baby Jesus. But these new voices are considerably more human, and it was probably pretty miserable to constantly have the sneaking suspicion that this wasn't going to end well.