T.S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi” and a children’s book illustration

from lambiek.net

it is a little early for this, but this poem by T.S. Eliot, written in 1927, is one of my favorite poems. I think it is one of the poems in the English language, and it is one of the poems that comes back to me every cold and wintry morning when I cycle to university.

The picture above is an illustration by Eppo Doeve  from an amazing 1962 children’s book (or comic book, depending on your definition of comic book), called Kleine Isar, de Vierde Koning  (“Little Isar, the Fourth King”). It was written by the dutch poet Bertus Aafjes; unfortunately it has never been translated into english and is horribly out of print.
Anyway, without further ado, here’s the T.S. Eliot poem.  

Journey of the Magi  

‘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.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
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.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly. 

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins,
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening,
not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory 

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way forBirth or Death?
There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.