Tuesday 6 January 2009

Twelfth Night

It is Twelfth Night or Epiphany tonight, so I shall be enjoying my family's traditional Twelfth Night dinner to mark the end (sob!) of all things Christmassy for another year. For me, 2009 begins in earnest tomorrow...

An extract from Journey of the Magi
T.S. Eliot (1885-1965)

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a 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 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 for
Birth 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.

Read the complete poem or listen to T.S. Eliot himself reading it to you here, courtesy of the wonderful Poetry Archive, a wide-ranging collection of recordings of major poets reading their own work.

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