Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Twelfth Night: The Coming of the Magi


The Magi by W. B. Yeats

published 1914
 
 
 


Now as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor
.


commentary: January 6th is the feast of the Magi – the Kings or Wise Men who came to visit the Baby Jesus at some point after his birth.

Like many of Yeats' poems, this is about religion - but, again, like most of his work, it's really how people search for and are often disappointed by religion. Yeats himself was a Protestant, but also dabbled in mysticism and the occult as part of a life-long search for life's bigger meaning. In this poem, the Magi, a bit like Yeats himself, are unsatisfied by religion's offering - "Calvary's turbulence" - and are searching still, "pale and unsatisfied", for some kind of "uncontrollable mystery" on earth.

For more on Twelfth Night, see last year’s entry and the accompanying Guardian piece.

Yeats has featured before on the blog - his grave, his life and a poem.

The O Henry story The Gift of the Magi is here. 

With thanks to TKR for the photograph and BNS for advice.
 












10 comments:

  1. I'm glad you featured a Yeats poem, Moira. I've always liked the subtle nuances of his work. And yes, he wrote very well about that endless search. So very happy, too, that you linked to that terrific O.Henry story. It's such a classic, isn't it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeats was very human, he had his faults and that makes him more real. And I think the Gift of the Magi short story is one of the best ever....

      Delete
  2. Maybe I'll borrow my son's book of his poems, but very probably not.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Irish connection doesn't work for you then...?

      Delete
    2. Not on this occasion. I find a lot of poetry like a foreign language and don't have the inclination to translate/decipher/comprehend..

      Delete
  3. Love the Magi, Moira. I want them. They're very moving. I wasn't aware of the Yeats poem. Eliot is more familiar.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All the statues for this particular nativity set are lovely Sarah, I really envy the owners. Yes, I only discovered this poem this year, having long been familiar with the Eliot one.

      Delete
  4. Moira, it is several years since I read poetry though ever so occasionally I dip into my wife's collection of poems. It is such a refreshing change from the fiction one is used to reading.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know just what you mean - refreshing is just the word for the difference.

      Delete