T S Eliot hits the nail on the head about a peak experience – and the ambiguity of the experience and the lived return – in Journey of the Magi: “It was (you may say) satisfactory,” the narrator reports, but admits that on his return the Magi are “No longer at ease here, in the old dispensation…”
Here are two readings of the poem:
There are others, of course, and other Epiphany poems, and maybe that is enough said – except to note Samuel Tongue’s exploration of another peak experience, Jacob Wrestling with the Angel in Genesis, which he explored in 2012 in the Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality. Tongue mentions the vividly, violently physical encounter in Michael Symmonds Roberts poem Choreography, and this drew me to think about another earthy set of images in Symmonds Roberts’ Flesh. Here his ecocritical stance emerges powerfully, and resonates with the peak experiences that have echoed through my thinking since October. He writes about
through the wood-bones of my bed,
which makes me stand up
in my dream and climb a hillside
flush with gorse and may.
His poem works from birth and on to environmental tragedy, as Eliot’s encompasses birth and yet wishes for “another death.” However, where Symmonds Roberts goes on to seas too hot for fish and Eliot’s Magi returned to our places I am still wondering about the end of Gawain: he returns home after his peak experience of brave adventure (which ends in being taught a lesson, and encompasses both shame and reconciliation) to tell his tale – and Arthur, trying to make this an act of solidarity (and the author a lesson for all aspiring knights) it seems to me ritualises it and maybe trivialises it. But Gawain, feeling his scar, says he will never be free of what happened to him, he will wear it always:
And I mot nedez hit were wyle I may last
Perhaps he is
No longer at ease here, in the old dispensation.