On Eliot’s Journey of the Magi

On Eliot’s Journey of the Magi

Eliot'sT. S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi, a poem of 43 lines, was one of a collection of poems with Christmas subjects “suitably decorated in colours and dressed in the gayest wrappers,” published by Faber and Faber to celebrate the season.  However, if one bothers to read the poem there is nothing gay or celebratory about it. It reflects the dark musings of a pagan king who has seen the Christ child, knows that his birth will upend the world, but is hardly thrilled at the prospect.  Perhaps the magus would be better off dead.  First, the poem, and then a few comments on it. 

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Christianity and technology

Christianity and technology.

Beginning in 1943, a small group of Christian intellectuals began to think seriously about the post-war world.  The United States and Britain had talked about victory since the beginning of the War, but no one was certain, and many had grave doubts.  But by 1943 victory was in sight, even if its details were not. 

These Christian intellectuals included Jacques Maritain, W. H. Auden, C. S. Lewis, Simone Weil, and T. S. Eliot.  Auden and Eliot were poets, and Lewis, an Oxford don, is probably best known for his for his children’s fiction, Chronicles of Narnia.  I’ve posted about Lewis and Weil  elsewhere on this blog.  The relationship among these men and woman was rich, complex, and varied.  Some worked together, some alone.

The Problem

The problem they worried about is what sort of people the winners of this war of civilizations would become.  What values could substitute for that of winning the war?  Would the technological thinking that won the war destroy the values we fought for?  It might, they argued, and they only thing that could stop it was an education that fosters humanity, sensibility and pity.

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