Two Readings of Eliot's "Journey of the Magi"
All the King's Men: The Movie

Another Epiphany Poem, This One By George Mackay Brown


The red king
Came to a great water. He said,
Here the journey ends.
No keel or skipper on this shore.

The yellow king
Halted under a hill. He said,
Turn the camels round.
Beyond, ice summits only.

The black king
Knocked on a city gate. He said,
All roads stop here.
These are gravestones, no inn.

The three kings
Met under a dry star.
There, at midnight,
The star began its singing.

The three kings
Suffered salt, snow, skulls.
They suffered the silence
Before the first word.


Brown, or Mackay Brown, is one of the poets in the British Poetry Since 1945 from which I drew at least one poem for the 52 Poems series. The index of that book lists him under "M" for "Mackay Brown." I don't understand this British thing in which sometimes two unhyphenated names, which appear to be middle and last, are treated as a surname. (MB is Scottish, but you know what I mean.) This seems to be the case with Ralph Vaughan Williams and has always bothered me. Why is he not just "Williams"? Or if he's going to be indexed under "V", "Vaughan-Williams"? 

Anyway, I like this poem, which someone posted on Facebook a few days ago. And I like the two poems of M-B's in that anthology. But the brief bio there does not mention that he was a Catholic convert. According to his Wikipedia page (notice that it calls him just "Brown"):

In late 1960 Brown commenced teacher training at Moray House College of Education, but was unable to remain in Edinburgh because of ill-health. On his recovery in 1961 he found that he was not suited to this type of work and returned late in the year to his mother's house in Stromness, unemployed. It was at this time that he was received into the Roman Catholic Church, being baptised on 23 December and taking communion on the following day. This followed about twenty-five years of pondering his religious beliefs. This conversion was not marked by any change in his daily habits, including his drinking.


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I read a novel this year, Magnus, by Mackay Brown, and it was excellent. I know he was a poet, but this is the first of his poems that I recall having seen.

Happy Epiphany!

Thanks, and the same to you.

I sort of think I've heard of Magnus. On the basis of the two poems in the anthology I mentioned, I wouldn't go far out of my way to read more--they're sort of local-Orkney-islands-color descriptive pieces. But I can imagine poems in his style but with a more philosophical-theological turn being quite good, like this one.

Yes, I second Craig's recommendation of Magnus. Its a really stunning novel. I have also read a biography of him, and he was quite the boozer.

The last sentence of the Wikipedia bit that I quoted struck me as drily funny.

Just read this in a review of his biography:

He was held in such affection by the Orkney people that his funeral in St Magnus Cathedral was the first Catholic mass to have been held there since the Reformation. Furthermore, it fell on April 16, St Magnus's Day. As the minister said: "If you call that a coincidence, I wish you a very dull life."


I remember hearing about his funeral. A lot of people I know went over for it. It sounded fantastic

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