The Lotos Eaters
By Alfred Tennyson
“Courage!” he said, and pointed toward the land,
“This mounting wave will roll us shoreward soon.”
In the afternoon they came unto a land
In which it seemed always afternoon.
All round the coast the languid air did swoon,
Breathing like one that hath a weary dream.
Full-faced above the valley stood the moon;
And like a downward smoke, the slender stream
Along the cliff to fall and pause and fall did seem.
A land of streams! some, like a downward smoke,
Slow-dropping veils of thinnest lawn, did go;
And some thro’ wavering lights and shadows broke,
Rolling a slumbrous sheet of foam below.
They saw the gleaming river seaward flow
From the inner land: far off, three mountain-tops,
Three silent pinnacles of aged snow,
Stood sunset-flush’d: and, dew’d with showery drops,
Up-clomb the shadowy pine above the woven copse.
The charmed sunset linger’d low adown
In the red West: thro’ mountain clefts the dale
Was seen far inland, and the yellow down
Border’d with palm, and many a winding vale
And meadow, set with slender galingale;
A land where all things always seem’d the same!
And round about the keel with faces pale,
Dark faces pale against that rosy flame,
The mild-eyed melancholy Lotos-eaters came.
Branches they bore of that enchanted stem,
Laden with flower and fruit, whereof they gave
To each, but whoso did receive of them,
And taste, to him the gushing of the wave
Far far away did seem to mourn and rave
On alien shores; and if his fellow spake,
His voice was thin, as voices from the grave;
And deep-asleep he seem’d, yet all awake,
And music in his ears his beating heart did make.
They sat them down upon the yellow sand,
Between the sun and moon upon the shore;
And sweet it was to dream of Fatherland,
Of child, and wife, and slave; but evermore
Most weary seem’d the sea, weary the oar,
Weary the wandering fields of barren foam.
Then some one said, “We will return no more”;
And all at once they sang, “Our island home
Is far beyond the wave; we will no longer roam.”
There is sweet music here that softer falls
Than petals from blown roses on the grass,
Or night-dews on still waters between walls
Of shadowy granite, in a gleaming pass;
Music that gentlier on the spirit lies,
Than tir’d eyelids upon tir’d eyes;
Music that brings sweet sleep down from the blissful skies.
Here are cool mosses deep,
And thro’ the moss the ivies creep,
And in the stream the long-leaved flowers weep,
And from the craggy ledge the poppy hangs in sleep.”
Why are we weigh’d upon with heaviness,
And utterly consumed with sharp distress,
While all things else have rest from weariness?
All things have rest: why should we toil alone,
We only toil, who are the first of things,
And make perpetual moan,
Still from one sorrow to another thrown:
Nor ever fold our wings,
And cease from wanderings,
Nor steep our brows in slumber’s holy balm;
Nor harken what the inner spirit sings,
“There is no joy but calm!”
Why should we only toil, the roof and crown of things?
Lo! in the middle of the wood,
The folded leaf is woo’d from out the bud
With winds upon the branch, and there
Grows green and broad, and takes no care,
Sun-steep’d at noon, and in the moon
Nightly dew-fed; and turning yellow
Falls, and floats adown the air.
Lo! sweeten’d with the summer light,
The full-juiced apple, waxing over-mellow,
Drops in a silent autumn night.
All its allotted length of days
The flower ripens in its place,
Ripens and fades, and falls, and hath no toil,
Fast-rooted in the fruitful soil.
Hateful is the dark-blue sky,
Vaulted o’er the dark-blue sea.
Death is the end of life; ah, why
Should life all labour be?
Let us alone. Time driveth onward fast,
And in a little while our lips are dumb.
Let us alone. What is it that will last?
All things are taken from us, and become
Portions and parcels of the dreadful past.
Let us alone. What pleasure can we have
To war with evil? Is there any peace
In ever climbing up the climbing wave?
All things have rest, and ripen toward the grave
In silence; ripen, fall and cease:
Give us long rest or death, dark death, or dreamful ease.
How sweet it were, hearing the downward stream,
With half-shut eyes ever to seem
Falling asleep in a half-dream!
To dream and dream, like yonder amber light,
Which will not leave the myrrh-bush on the height;
To hear each other’s whisper’d speech;
Eating the Lotos day by day,
To watch the crisping ripples on the beach,
And tender curving lines of creamy spray;
To lend our hearts and spirits wholly
To the influence of mild-minded melancholy;
To muse and brood and live again in memory,
With those old faces of our infancy
Heap’d over with a mound of grass,
Two handfuls of white dust, shut in an urn of brass!
Dear is the memory of our wedded lives,
And dear the last embraces of our wives
And their warm tears: but all hath suffer’d change:
For surely now our household hearths are cold,
Our sons inherit us: our looks are strange:
And we should come like ghosts to trouble joy.
Or else the island princes over-bold
Have eat our substance, and the minstrel sings
Before them of the ten years’ war in Troy,
And our great deeds, as half-forgotten things.
Is there confusion in the little isle?
Let what is broken so remain.
The Gods are hard to reconcile:
‘Tis hard to settle order once again.
There is confusion worse than death,
Trouble on trouble, pain on pain,
Long labour unto aged breath,
Sore task to hearts worn out by many wars
And eyes grown dim with gazing on the pilot-stars.
But, propt on beds of amaranth and moly,
How sweet (while warm airs lull us, blowing lowly)
With half-dropt eyelid still,
Beneath a heaven dark and holy,
To watch the long bright river drawing slowly
His waters from the purple hill—
To hear the dewy echoes calling
From cave to cave thro’ the thick-twined vine—
To watch the emerald-colour’d water falling
Thro’ many a wov’n acanthus-wreath divine!
Only to hear and see the far-off sparkling brine,
Only to hear were sweet, stretch’d out beneath the pine.
The Lotos blooms below the barren peak:
The Lotos blows by every winding creek:
All day the wind breathes low with mellower tone:
Thro’ every hollow cave and alley lone
Round and round the spicy downs the yellow Lotos-dust is blown.
We have had enough of action, and of motion we,
Roll’d to starboard, roll’d to larboard, when the surge was seething free,
Where the wallowing monster spouted his foam-fountains in the sea.
Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined
On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind.
For they lie beside their nectar, and the bolts are hurl’d
Far below them in the valleys, and the clouds are lightly curl’d
Round their golden houses, girdled with the gleaming world:
Where they smile in secret, looking over wasted lands,
Blight and famine, plague and earthquake, roaring deeps and fiery sands,
Clanging fights, and flaming towns, and sinking ships, and praying hands.
But they smile, they find a music centred in a doleful song
Steaming up, a lamentation and an ancient tale of wrong,
Like a tale of little meaning tho’ the words are strong;
Chanted from an ill-used race of men that cleave the soil,
Sow the seed, and reap the harvest with enduring toil,
Storing yearly little dues of wheat, and wine and oil;
Till they perish and they suffer—some, ‘tis whisper’d—down in hell
Suffer endless anguish, others in Elysian valleys dwell,
Resting weary limbs at last on beds of asphodel.
Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore
Than labour in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar;
O, rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more.
Summary of The Lotos Eaters
- Popularity of “The Lotos Eaters”: Written by Lord Alfred Tennyson, “The Lotos Eaters” first published in 1832 as part of Tennyson’s collection of poems titled Poems, Chiefly Lyrical. The critics and writers welcomed the poem, while it continued to grow in its popularity with each coming year. The poem presents themes of temptation and escapism with beautiful descriptions. Even today, “The Lotos Eaters” remains one of Tennyson’s most famous and widely read works.
- “The Lotos Eaters” As a Representative of Escapism: “The Lotos Eaters” is a representative of the Victorian era’s fascination with escapism and exoticism. The poem portrays the Greek myth of Odysseus and his crew, encountering a land where they confront the seduction of the lotus fruit and indulge in a life of leisure and apathy. The poem is full of lush descriptions supported by an idyllic landscape, having the intoxicating effects of the lotus flower. It acts as a metaphor for the lure of escapism and the dangers of indulging in it. Tennyson explores themes such as the conflict between duty and pleasure, the fleeting nature of human existence, and the longing for a carefree life. The poem’s ambiguous ending, where the crew is left to decide whether to continue their journey or stay in the land of the lotos eaters, reflects the Victorian era’s uncertainty and anxiety that comes with exoticism and escapism.
- Major Themes in “The Lotos Eaters”: “The Lotos Eaters” explores various themes common during Romantic literature. These themes include the allure of escapism, the conflict between life and death, and the tension between duty and desire. For example, the poem shows sailors being tempted when they forsake their duties and forget about their homeland after they are lost in the pleasures of the lotos plant. The poem also reflects on the tension between duty and desire as shown by the sailors. They are caught between their desire for rest and their sense of obligation to their home and families. However, Tennyson has wrapped all these themes in beautiful descriptions, showing the power and beauty of nature. Yet, the most recurring theme is the conflict between death and life, showing life ultimately brings suffering. The sailors give expression to their desires of “How sweet it were, hearing the downward stream, / With half-shut eyes ever to seem / Falling asleep in a half-dream!” (lines 43-45) to highlight how they long to escape mundane responsibilities and indulge in pleasures.
Analysis of Literary Devices Used in The Lotos Eaters
Alfred Tennyson uses various literary devices to achieve his end of enhancing his poetic output. Some of the major literary devices are as follows.
- Allusion: It is the use of a reference of historical, theological, geographical, literary, or cultural significance. For example, ‘the gushing of the wave / Far far away did seem to mourn and rave’ alludes to the Sirens from Greek mythology, whose enchanting songs lured sailors to their doom.’; ‘Between the sun and moon upon the shore’ alludes to the idea of being in a liminal space, between day and night, reality and illusion.’; ‘And from the craggy ledge the poppy hangs in sleep’ alludes to the mythological story of the poppy flower being associated with sleep and dreams; and ‘There is no joy but calm!’ alludes to the concept of tranquility and inner peace found in Eastern philosophies like Buddhism.
- Alliteration: It is the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of words in close proximity. For example, “And like a downward smoke, the slender stream” (line 22) shows the sound of /s/, line 29 shows the sound of /f/ “in flower and fruit” and line 45 has the sound of “w” to show the music and rhythm in the poem.
- Assonance: It is the repetition of the same vowel sound in stressed syllables of nearby words. Example: “Round the cool green marge of the coming tide” (Line 11) shows the repetition of the “o” sound creates a sense of calmness and tranquility.
- Anaphora: It means the repetition of a word or phrase in the beginning of some verses such as these;
The word “And” is repeated at the beginning of each line, creating a pattern of repetition and emphasizing the presence of sweet music; the phrase “Only to hear” is repeated at the beginning of several lines, emphasizing the desires and actions of the Lotos-eater.
- Enjambment: It is the continuation of a sentence or clause over a line break without a pause. For example, “We have had enough of action, and of motion we / Roll’d to starboard, roll’d to larboard” (Lines 30-31) shows the use of enjambment, creating a sense of continuous motion, mirroring the rolling of the ship.
- Imagery: It is the use of vivid descriptions to create a sensory experience for the reader. For example, “Far far away did seem to mourn and rave / On alien shores; and if his fellow spake” (Line 32-33) shows the image of the Lotos eaters enjoying.
- Irony: It is the use of words or situations to convey a meaning opposite to their literal or expected meaning. For example, The Choric Song presents an idyllic description of the lotos land, emphasizing the sweetness of the music, the coolness of the mosses, and the peacefulness of the environment. However, this description contrasts sharply with the underlying theme of the poem.
- Metaphor: It is a comparison between two things not using “like” or “as.” For example, in the second line of the poem, the captain points toward the land and says, “This mounting wave will roll us shoreward soon,” showing the metaphor of the wave. Similarly, in the eighteenth line, the shadowy pine is described as climbing “above the woven copse.” This metaphor compares the intertwining branches of the copse (a small group of trees or bushes) to a woven fabric.
- Personification: It is the attribution of human qualities to non-human entities. For example, the poem has mentioned the sun charmed in line 19, the wind vale in line 22, and silent autumn in line 79.
- Repetition: It is the recurrence of the same word or phrase. For example, the poem shows the repetition of far in line 32, and of weary in lies 41-42 and 170.
- Symbolism: It is the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities. For example, the poem shows the symbols of the moon, son, lotos, and sea to indicate the atmosphere of mystery and exoticism.
Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in The Lotos Eaters
Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is an analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.
- Diction: The diction in “The Lotos Eaters” by Alfred Tennyson reflects a tranquil and dream-like atmosphere. The poet uses words and phrases such as “weary dream,” “languid air,” “slumberous sheet of foam,” and “mild-minded melancholy” to evoke a sense of relaxation, lethargy, and contemplation.
- End Rhyme: End rhyme is the rhyming of words at the end of lines of poetry. In “The Lotos Eaters,” Tennyson uses end rhyme throughout the poem. For example, in the first stanza, “land” (line 1) rhymes with “strand” (line 3).
- Meter: Meter is the rhythmical pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in poetry. Tennyson uses a varied meter in “The Lotos Eaters,” including both iambic and trochaic feet.
- Rhyme Scheme: The rhyme scheme of a poem is the pattern of end rhymes. “The Lotos Eaters” does not follow a consistent rhyme scheme, but Tennyson employs end rhyme throughout the poem. For example, the first stanza has an ABABBDEFF rhyme scheme, while the rest have some other rhyming pattern.
- Poem: “The Lotos Eaters” is a narrative poem that tells the story of a group of sailors who become enchanted by the lotos flower and its effects.
- Stanza: “The Lotos Eaters” is composed of nine stanzas, including the first part, each with a different number of verses.
- Tone: The tone of “The Lotos Eaters” is dreamy, lethargic, and melancholic, reflecting the sailors’ state of mind as they succumb to the effects of the lotos flower. Tennyson conveys this tone through his use of languid, rolling imagery and slow, hypnotic rhythms.
Quotes to be Used
This quote is suitable to be used when encouraging someone who is exhausted and longing for rest or a break from their responsibilities. It serves as a reminder of the importance of self-care and the value of finding peace and tranquility in the midst of a demanding or chaotic life.
Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore
Than labor in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar;
O, rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more.