‘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 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 arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might 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.
– T. S. Eliot, ‘Journey of the Magi’, in Collected Poems, 1909–1962 (London: Faber and Faber, 1963), 109–10.
[Image: Robert Perry, ‘Three Trees at Sunset, Fontainebleau Forest’]
Great piece, Jason.
Wow, I’ve never heard a recording of T.S. Elliot reading one of his poems. Beautiful!
To me, T.S. Elliot’s verses are so much like a Mian Situ painting. They are gestural impressions that somehow surmise an explicit portrait. I just can’t think of a better way to depict the sacred within the mundane.
As a niece of L/Cpl. Bob Hook [1917-1942] who was wounded alongside, Geoff Bingham,
in 1942, (Bob, not me); I thank you for including Geoff’s poetry on your site. He had written a lovely poem about my uncle Bob, which preserves the memory of the young man who had lived, when so many were lamenting his death as the years rolled by, that they actually forgot to share all the little stories that make us human.
I look forward to foraging through your website.
Thanks for your comment, Anita. I’m glad that you found some of Geoff’s poems here. He had a wonderful way of gifting people that he met with poems, many of which are quite witty. He once wrote one for my dad, for example, after just meeting him for a few minutes. It was wonderful. Perhaps you would like to share the one about your uncle here?
Ha! My mother, too, had a way of gifting people she met with poems as well….could be why I only write Haiku.
Sure I’ll share the poem; it’s a tad long.
First light of dawn,
Grey clouds softly crying,
Harsh sounds of morn
Near the lake soft sighing;
Comrades so close,
Hearts of brave unknowing,
Sounds in the trees
And distant fires glowing.
Closely we crouched,
Australia’s wondering spawn,
Stared into the dawn,
Christ standing by
Knew all we had to know,
Our hearts were hot
Where oil fires pulsed to glow.
Merry and brave
We raced into the dawn,
Fortune’s moving pawn?
Lost to us lad
As we raced down the road,
Life drew you on;
Earth lightened one life’s load.
Merry and brave,
What more is there to say?
Glad laughing eyes
Have come with us to stay;
Comrade of ours
Who raced into that dawn,
Shall we forget
While new worlds lie unborn?
Laughing they go,
These men through Austral lands,
Spawn of the gods
Against life’s gleaming sands,
Soul of our soul
These men were born of thee,
Death is not vain
Nor faith a phantasy.
Your breath is still,
A nation still breathes on,
They live and laugh
Because your life is gone.
We only know,
Who knew your laughing smile
That each grey dawn
You stay with us awhile.
~ Geoff Bingham, date unknown
Photo of Bob at the AWM
Geoff seems to have been living at Box Hill, near Riverstone Sydney at the time as
this poem accompanied a letter he wrote.
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Wonderful to hear Eliot’s voice.
That’s really wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing it (and the link to the photo of your Uncle Bob) Anita. I enjoyed reading it immensely.