Saturday, 19 November 2011

Frank Turner and TS Eliot

This video - Frank Turner's Journey of the Magi - is not my favourite Turner song, but it is my favourite Turner performance.  From the first line he's practically licking the microphone.  The lyrics are haunting, too, but if I were to complain it would be about the ending of each verse (and the entire last verse), which borders on trite.  He sets up the situation of three great mythical travelers - Moses, Odysseus and Balthazar - with care, but concludes with this: in the end / the journeys brought joys / that outweigh the pain.

There's nothing wrong with a bit of simple happiness. Still, the desperation of his psychological portrayal of the travelers is the best part - and I think I know why.  The title, Journey of the Magi, echoes an excellent T.S. Eliot poem of the same name, about the three kings who visited Jesus at his birth.  The third verse of Turner's song stresses the hopelessness of the journey, and so does Eliot's poem.

(As a sidenote, that poem really is excellent.  My three favourite things about it, not in order: the archaic wording of the first line, the incredibly detached description of the moment itself, and the 'old dispensation' in the final verse.)

The second verse of the song is about Odysseus after his long journey home, feeling estranged among surroundings that had lost their familiarity.  Like the third verse, it echoes a poem - this time it's Ulysses by Tennyson, which I think is excellent as well.  The final verse is composed of generic inspirational phrases - be what you believe! - but my issue isn't there.

It's the first verse, the one about Moses, that bothers me.  Like the second and third verses, it's about the despair that accompanies long struggle, but I can't seem to find any poem that it's based off.  And that's a problem: a poem about Moses' despair is a poem that I would dearly enjoy reading.  Am I missing an obvious reference here - is Turner just referring, ah, to Exodus - or what?


  1. Hey there, someone sent me a link to this, and I thought I'd let you know the answer, haha. Yeah it's just exodus really, no specific poem there. Good spot on the Browning thing. Hope you're well. ft

  2. Exodus, is it? Well, that puts my mind at rest. Thank you for commenting - I really appreciate you letting me know!

  3. Well, throughout his writing of songs, you'll find plenty of Eliot references by Frank Turner. From the song 'I knew prufrock before he got famous', Turner answers the hesitation and angst that Eliot puts forward in his poetry. The fear of failing, stumbling and falling... Turner answers this simply by saying that the joy of going somewhere, of trying to achieve things, is always better than avoiding the pain and humiliation... I guess it's katharsis.