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Journey of the Magi

Journey of the Magi

by T.S. Eliot

Tradition and Customs Theme

The "Journey of the Magi" is chock full of traditions being challenged left and right. There's this strange sense of impending doom about the birth of Jesus, and the dawning knowledge that the old way of life for these Magi is long gone. You'd think that a poem about the birth of Jesus would be all kinds of happy about ushering in a new era of religious exaltation, but mostly this poem is moping about a long-dead past. Hey, it's Eliot. His glass was almost always half-empty. If not shattered altogether.

Questions About Tradition and Customs

  1. Can you piece together what kinds of traditions and customs the Magi had before beginning their journey to Bethlehem? What were their lives like? What do they stand to lose at the birth of Jesus?
  2. How do you imagine those customs changed after the birth, life, and death of Jesus?
  3. How do you think the Magus's reaction to losing his culture is related to his position of power?
  4. What do you think this poem says about Eliot's relationship to religious tradition? How can you tell?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The replacement of the Magis' traditions and culture with those of Christianity is the perfect match for Eliot's conversion from spiritually loose Unitarianism to more conservative Anglicanism.

Upon returning to their palaces, the Magis' customs are suddenly strange, and in mortal danger.

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