Wednesday, 6 January 2016
Twelfth Night: The Coming of the Magi
The Magi by W. B. Yeats
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.