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Journey of the Magi

Journey of the Magi


by T.S. Eliot

The Other Villages

Symbol Analysis

What we really mean here is "any place that's not the Magi's awesome palaces." The poem sets up a pretty stark contrast between the desert homeland of the kings and the villages closer to Bethlehem. The weird part? The villages are kind of awful, and Bethlehem isn't really much better. It's not like they arrive at the birthplace of Christ and suddenly everything is beautiful and mystical. It's actually quite the opposite. Which makes sense, if you think about it. For the Magi, who neither know very much about the newborn they're seeking nor how they really feel about him, these must seem like strange and forbidding places. We mean, where's the sherbet?

  • Lines 13-15: Over the course of their journey, the Magi pass through a number of towns of varying sizes (indicated by "cities" [big], "towns" [medium], and "villages" [small]), and they're all miserable in their own way. The cities are the worst, being openly hostile, the towns are just kind of generally unfriendly, and the villages are unkempt and too pricey (which is a little odd, really, considering that the Magi are kings). No Goldilocks' "too big, "too small," "just right!" here. These places are all bad.
  • Lines 21-23: The Magis' arrival at the valley of Jerusalem/Bethlehem seems nice enough, though the choice of "beating" as a verb gives a bizarre violence to these lines. 
  • Lines 26-28: The poem zooms in on one particular tavern outside of Bethlehem and, once again, it's not exactly the world's coziest joint. The Magi come upon a bunch of guys gambling and drinking, and not offering any information. Their reception seems chilly at best.
  • Line 31: Finally we arrive at the stable, and the only adjective we get is "satisfactory"? What a bummer. Where's the celebration? The awe?

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