This is one of my favourite Christmas poems, and one of the classic ones - The Journey of The Magi by TS Eliot.
The poem is from the point of view of the three magi or kings who trekked to Bethlehem to see the new king of the world be born. And here we see their journey - all the perils and pitfalls of it - 'a hard time we had of it' - which we all can identify with, rough terrain and unpleasant soujouring and especially the critics, 'With the voices singing in our ears, saying/That this was all folly.'
But it's the last verse which catches the whole thought of the poem, the realisation that this 'Birth' was more like a 'Death' - a death to the old ways of the kings who were 'no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,/With an alien people clutching their gods.' Something had changed. Something to be glad of. Something amazing.
Journey of the Magi - TS 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.
Than 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.