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Eliot utilizes several literary devices to convey his twist on the story of Christ's birth, and, as expected, most of them are religious symbols and allusions.
The first is expressed literally in the poem - the religious journey of the magi, or priest who is recounting his journey years beyond the time it occurred. This flashback technique allows for retrospection and insight gained in the time since the event. Of course the journey motif is one of a reflection on one's life. The magi is doing just that.
The imagery in the first section depicts the harshness of the journey, the cold, the animals' stubborness, and their guides desertion. The journey, in the second stanza, becomes more pleasant, citing a "temperate valley," and a tranquil stream, both symbols of peace and harmony.
While here, we are given the picture of men gambling at a tavern, which alludes to the gamblers Christ drove out of the temple in the Bible and infers the need of a savior. The darkness has turned to light; they are in Bethlehem and find the infant.
However, years later, the magi is reflecting on this miraculous event. Christ has already been crucified. He was essentially born to die, making the magi wonder " were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death?" This question is universal? All men are born; all men die.
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