12 December 2010

The Pale Unsatisfied Ones: The Magi


Now as at all times I can see in the mind's eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary's turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.
The Magi by William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) who was a part of The Irish Celtic Revival, goes beyond the traditional Biblical story in The Magi. Seeing both the mystery of Christ's birth and the turbulence of his death, these wise men are left unsatisfied and continue to search the sky for another star. More traditional images of The Magi can be found in the visual arts. The sixth century Basilica of Sant' Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy shows a mosaic of Balthazar, Melchior, and Casper bearing gifts for the Christ child. Italian painter Gentile da Fabriano (1370-1427) was a propionate of the International Gothic style and depicts the three wise men in elaborate Renaissance costumes of brocade, gold and precious stones. John Duncan (1866-1945) like Yeats was fascinated by Celtic culture. The Symbolist Scottish painter rendered the Magi's "stiff, painted clothes" with Celtic motifs.

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