An Unexpected Journey

Robert Fitzgerald's poem for Epiphany, which appeared in The New Yorker in January 1967, seems to place the biblical tale of the Magi in a realm Tolkein might have recognised. When Fitzgerald wrote his poem, The Fellowship of the Ring was in its 15th impression, and Rembrandt Films had just produced an animated adaptation of The Hobbit (whose liberties border on the Jacksonian). Middle-earth evoked as much fantastic longing in that turbulent time as it seems to do in ours. Fitzgerald's little poem suggests such longing, and its satisfaction, is never far from any one of us. 

Immortal brilliance of presage
In any dark day’s iron age
May come to lift the hair and bless
Even our tired earthliness
And sundown bring an age of gold,
Forged in faerie, far and old,
An elsewhere and an elfin light,
And kings rise eastward in the night.



Of all kings king

Today is Epiphany. Not being Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox or any other 'high' church goer (my tradition is the lowest of the low) I have never observed this particular feast, or indeed any other feast - and certainly not lent. But having grown up without them, I now find them intriguing occasions for reflection. Without having observance forced on me, I can enjoy them as novelties, fresh and strange, as a calendar that curiously overlaps my usual one without imposing on it. What I like best about them is the opportunity they afford poets to produce variations on a theme, improvisations on very familiar tunes.  Since my 12 Lays included only one woman poet, I thought I'd make up the deficiency with the eminently 'high' Christina Rossetti. Here's her poem "Epiphany."

‘Lord Babe, if Thou art He
We sought for patiently,
Where is Thy court?
Hither may prophecy and star resort;
Men heed not their report.' –
'Bow down and worship, righteous man:
This Infant of a span
Is He man sought for since the world began!' –
'Then, Lord, accept my gold, too base a thing
For Thee, of all kings King.' –

'Lord Babe, despite Thy youth
I hold Thee of a truth
Both Good and Great:
But wherefore dost
Thou keep so mean a state,
Low-lying desolate?' –
'Bow down and worship, righteous seer:
The Lord our God is here
Approachable, Who bids us all draw near.' –
'Wherefore to Thee I offer frankincense,
Thou Sole Omnipotence.' –

'But I have only brought
Myrrh; no wise afterthought
Instructed me
To gather pearls or gems, or choice to see
Coral or ivory.' –
'Not least thine offering proves thee wise:
For myrrh means sacrifice,
And He that lives, this Same is He that dies.' –
'Then here is myrrh: alas, yea woe is me
That myrrh befitteth Thee.' -

Myrrh, frankincense, and gold:
And lo from wintry fold
Good-will doth bring
A Lamb, the innocent likeness of this King
Whom stars and seraphs sing:
And lo the bird of love, a Dove,
Flutters and coos above:
And Dove and Lamb and Babe agree in love: –
Come all mankind, come all creation hither,
Come, worship Christ together.