Journey of the Magi
Tradition and Customs Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet. (8-10)
This passage is the first hint of where the Magi are coming from—both literally and figuratively, if you know what we mean. By this point in the poem we already know that everyone's trudging through the cold, which sounds kind of unpleasant on its own. But then we realize just how big of a contrast it is to where the Magi are from. The imagery here is overtly luxurious, with summer palaces (implying that there are other seasonal palaces—as if one palace weren't enough!) and lush gardens (the "terraces") and servant girls clad in expensive silks bringing tasty treats. In other words, the lives of the Magi are described as incredibly decadent.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women, (11-12)
When all this good timin' is taken away, we see the slightly seedier underbelly of this kind of lifestyle. Luxury comes with a price and that price is spoiled people. Faced with the hardships of the journey, the camel men begin to behave rather badly, and wish for the things that remind them of home. Except in this case, it's not lovely palaces and ice cream, it's "liquor and women"—two decidedly less refined things to crave. In fact, their behavior sounds a lot like the kind of behavior that Jesus's coming is supposed to fix—the cursing, the sloth, the lust. Hey, we just named three of the Deadly Sins. No coincidence there.
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins. (28)
The Bible passage to which this quote refers (Matthew 9:16, if you're interested) tells of Jesus's instructions to put new wine into new wine-skins. Often this is interpreted as a kind of parable for the new religion—that the "old wine-skins" ought to be tossed out, and room made for the "new wine" (Christianity). If you want to get specific, the empty wine-skin in this passage, then, can be interpreted as the Magis' customs and traditions and religions, empty and in need of replacing.