The Dispensation of Change

Sunday, May 03, 2020

There are quite a few that say or write that poetry is especially helpful in times like the ones we are living.

After at least three months I have discovered little niches of change here and there that rival the big changes like airlines going bankrupt. I know that some orchestras (particularly the baroque ones) are shunning wind players because they happen to breathe. Who would have known this?

Having been educated by my mother to be a Roman Catholic and having been sent to a Catholic boarding school in Austin, Texas I have some inkling on what T.S. Eliot was writing about in his poem Journey of the Magi. This poem certainly fits our pandemic to a C and to a P. It is about the irrevocable impossibility to go back when the world has drastically changed.

In my Catholic school we were taught by Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. the significance of that important holiday that is the Epiphany which is celebrated on January 6. In Latin American countries it is celebrated (not so much since the advent of Santa Claus) by children putting out their shoes on January 5 and finding toys on the 6th brought by the Tres Reyes Magos.

The importance to Roman Catholics, Protestants and others who may believe is that prior to the birth of Christ only the Israelites with their covenant with God had the possibility of going to paradise. The actual condition of that covenant is that the males had to be circumcised. All other men on the planet were deemed unclean.

The three wise men were gentiles. They were uncircumcised. By visiting the baby Jesus at the manger this signalled a new covenant (New Testament) in which the gates of heaven would now be open to the unclean non Israelites.

In the poem below the three wise men return to a changed world. There is this line:

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

The Journey of the Magi

T. S. Eliot

“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 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 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.

Link to: The Dispensation of Change

Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at: