T. S. Eliot’s poem The Journey of the Magi, published in 1930, recalls Epiphany and people’s profound sense of alienation and powerlessness in an uncaring world. Here is a version for today.
A cold coming we had of it,
What with the ravages of global warming,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey
With the GPS malfunctioning.
The snow was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the 4x4s stalled, refractory,
Stuck in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer resorts on slopes, the terraces,
And the waiters bringing tequila.
Then the roadies cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the solar batteries failing, 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 the MDGs were all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a forgotten valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And stunted trees on the low sky,
And an old white Toyota rusting in the meadow.
Then we came to a telecentre without equipment,
Six hands at an open door stripping down computers,
And feet kicking the entrails of a server.
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 have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us,
A newborn child in a village of dire poverty
Facing empty promises of grain, and land,
And grim self-determination.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their neoliberal gods.
I should be glad of another death.