John Ciardi’s “A Magus” is composed of forty-seven lines forming four stanzas of unequal length. The title, which can mean a wise man, an astrologer, a magician, or a priest, apparently refers to the “missionary from the Mau Mau” mentioned in the first line. As the narrator relates in the opening stanza, this missionary has come to testify to “an amazing botany” apparently caused by “spores blowing from space.” This metamorphosis of plants into incredible hybrids provokes the cryptic observation, “The Jungle has come loose,/ is changing purpose.”
The latter part of the first stanza is in italics to indicate the missionary’s own words. The strange new qualities of transformed “Jungle” are apparently only part of a larger event, for the missionary declares, “Nor are the vegetations/ of the new continuum the only sign.” He then claims that “New eyes” now regard the world and note its change, spreading the propaganda to form “new verbs” from its seed. “Set watches on your gardens,” he ambiguously advises.
The second stanza opens with the narrator’s cautious reaction to this incredible communication: “I repeat it as he spoke it. I do not interpret/ what I do not understand.” Although claiming no comprehension of the message, he nevertheless intuits the nature of the messenger, for the religious overtones of his words—especially, “But he does come,/ signs do appear”—clearly link the...
(The entire section is 487 words.)