Figures of Speech in T. S. Eliot’s THE JOURNEY OF THE MAGI

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T. S. Eliot’s The Journey of the Magi is replete with several figures of speech. Some of which are alliteration, rhetorical question, pun, pathetic fallacy, synecdoche, and allusion.

Now to the expressions in the category of each of the cited figure of speech.

Alliteration

Instances of alliteration in The Journey of the Magi include the following:

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  1. cold coming” (line 1)
  2. ways … weather” (line 4)
  3. camel cursing” (line 11)
  4. wanting … women” (line 12)
  5. sleeping … snatches” (line 18)
  6. that this” (line 20)
  7. dawn … down” (line 22)

Rhetorical Question

There is an instance of rhetorical question (in any case, an enjambment) in lines 35-36: “were we led all that way for Birth or Death?”

Pun

There is an instance of pun in line 33 of the poem where the poetic persona played upon the phrase “set down”. The first “set down” is a phrasal verb while the second “set down” modified with the determiner “this” is nominalised. Apart from the distinction in word class, “set down” is also used in different senses. While the first use of “set down” denotes putting something down, the other use of “set down” implies depression and disappointment.

Pathetic Fallacy

There are instances of pathetic fallacy in T.S. Eliot’s “The Journey of the Magi”. Here are some of them:

  1. cities hostile” (line 14)
  2. towns unfriendly” (line 14)

Synecdoche

There are several manifestations of synecdoche in the poem. Synecdoche as we all know involves substituting a part for a whole or a whole for a part. Here are the few instances of synecdoche in the poem, “The Journey of the Magi”:

  1. cities hostile” (line 14)
  2. towns unfriendly” (line 14)
  3. “six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver” (line 27)

Allusion

There is an instance of literary allusion in the opening lines of the poem. Allusion, according to Oxford Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms, is defined as “an indirect or passing reference to some event, person, place, or artistic work, the nature and relevance of which is not explained by the writer but relies on the reader’s familiarity with what is thus mentioned.” Within the context of the poem, there is a case of literary allusion. The opening lines of the poem allude to a Christian sermon given by the Bishop of Winchester, Lancelot Andrewes.

The sermon quoted in part in lines 1-5 of “The Journey of the Magi” is as follows:

‘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.’

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