Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Three Magi” contrasts a well-loved part of the Christmas story, particularly popular in dominantly Catholic Poland, with the cruelty and fear associated with an oppressive government. The worship and nobility of the Magi are set against the official coldness of the representatives of the dictatorial regime. The exotic, royal presence of the Magi also contrasts with the ordinariness of the men who come on the gloomy morning, emphasized by the man’s recognition that one of the visitors is an old schoolmate who has changed little from days gone by but who now treats him without warmth or recognition. What should be, in any normal situation, a joyful reunion is aloof and unfriendly, heightening the quiet brutality of a government that operates by such tactics and making an ordinary man seem less appealing or impressive than commonplace humanity. Although prosperous, the agents lack any trace of the regal qualities usually associated with the true Magi.

A further grim threat to be feared is implied by the aftermath of the Magi’s visit in the Bible. The foreign visitors unintentionally awaken Herod’s jealousy, causing him to send his soldiers to kill all the boy babies of Bethlehem so he will be sure he has slain the infant king the Magi were seeking. Mary and Joseph barely escape, but there is much suffering in the village of Bethlehem as those who remained mourn their murdered children. This suggests a dark future for the unfortunate detainee,...

(The entire section is 497 words.)