The Magi: in Art and Poetry

To mark the end of the Christmas season, I have returned to one of The Landing’s poetry collections for a suitable verse. You might recall that Read Me: A Poem for Every Day of the Year (chosen by Gaby Morgan) has appeared here before in poetry features.

The poem for 6 January is by poet and translator Christopher Pilling, who originally hailed from my hometown of Birmingham but who now lives in the Lake District. ‘The Meeting Place’ was originally published in Poems for Christmas (Peterloo Poets, 1982). It was inspired by a Rubens painting, The Adoration of the Magi so I have included it in the post. Rubens painted several versions of this painting, and this particular one now belongs to Kings College, Cambridge. If you want to discover more about the history of this representation of The Adoration of the Magi, then take a look at Patrick Comerford’s blog who has featured the painting today as the last in his Art for Christmas series.

The Meeting Place

(after Rubens: The Adoration of the Magi, 1634)

It was the arrival of the kings
that caught us unawares;
we’d look in on the woman in the barn,
curiosity you could call it,
something to do on a cold winter’s night;
we’d wished her well –
that was the best we could do, she was in pain,
and the next thing we knew
she was lying on the straw
-the little there was of it-
and there was a baby in her arms.

The Adoration of the Magi

The Magi

It was, as I say, the kings
that caught us unawares…
Women have babies every other day,
not that we are there –
let’s call it a common occurrence though,
giving birth. But kings
appearing in a stable with a
‘Is this the place?’ and kneeling,
each with his gift held out towards the child!
They didn’t even notice us.
Their robes trailed on the floor,
rich, lined robes that money couldn’t buy.
What must this child be
to bring kings from distant lands
with costly incense and gold?

And what were we to make of
was it angels falling through the air,
entwined and falling as if from the rafters
to where the gaze of the kings met the child’s
-assuming the child could see?
What would the mother do with the gifts?
What would become of the child?
And we’ll never admit there are angels
or that somewhere between
one man’s eye’s and another’s
is a holy place, a space where a king could be
at one with a naked child,
at one with an astonished soldier.
I love the almost gossipy way the event is being described, as though someone is just popping round from next door to see what’s going on. Being ‘caught unawares’ and almost not in on the action!

Once again, ‘A Happy New Year’ to all of my followers and thanks for reading!

Picture credit; Wikipedia, with thanks.

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