A Long Journey

The “Magi from the East” probably took the same path Abraham traveled from Ur to Canaan. Led by the Star, Eliot makes it clear with these lines that the three travelers could not choose the time of their trip. Who would have intentionally set out in the dead of winter?

Eliot noted that he wrote this poem very quickly. ‘I had been thinking about it in church,’ he told his wife, Valerie, years later, ‘and when I got home I opened a half-bottle of Booth’s Gin, poured myself a drink, and began to write. By lunchtime, the poem, and the half-bottle of gin, were both finished.’

The Book of Matthew is the only one of the synoptic gospels to include the visit of the Magi. Scholars argue that it is possible because of the declaration of “kingship” that these three foreigners bring to the Infant.



Another interesting fact about the opening lines of “Journey” is that they are an almost direct quote from a sermon given in 1622 by a preacher named Lancelot Andrewes. Eliot puts the lines in quotations since they are not his original words:

“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.”

How could a Magus. traveling to worship the Christ Child, quote a line from a 15th-century preacher. It and the use of Biblical quotations the Magi could not possibly know add to the mysterious narration of the story.


REFLECTION: These few lines make it clear that Eliot did not find the road to salvation to be an easy one. How hard—or easy—was it for you to accept the gift of Jesus? Were you, unlike the Magi, prepared for the journey?


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Linda Cobourn

Linda Cobourn picked up a pencil when she was nine and hasn’t stopped writing since, but she never expected to write about adult autism and grief. When her husband died after a long illness, she began a remarkable journey of faith with her son, an adult with Asperger’s syndrome. The author of Tap Dancing in Church, Crazy: A Diary, and Scenes from a Quirky Life, she holds an MEd in Reading and an EdD in Literacy. Dr. Cobourn also writes for Aspirations, a newsletter for parents of autistic offspring. Her work in progress, tentatively titled Finding Dad: A Journey of Faith on the Autism Spectrum, chronicles her son’s unique grief journey. Dr Cobourn teaches English as a Second Language in Philadelphia and lives with her son and a fat cat named Butterscotch in Delaware County. She can be contacted on her blog, Quirky, and her Amazon author page.