• Marian Glaser

The Lotos-Eaters by Alfred Lord Tennyson

By Alfred Lord Tennyson © 1832 (source)


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The mariners are put into an altered state when they eat the lotos. During this time, they are isolated from the world:[4]


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. (lines 28–36)


The mariners explain that they want to leave reality and their worldly cares:[4]


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? (lines 57–69)


The mariners demonstrate that they realise what actions they are committing and the potential results that will follow, but they believe that their destruction will bring about peace:[5]


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. (lines 88–98)


Although the mariners are isolated from the world, they are connected in that they act in unison. This relationship continues until the very end when the narrator describes their brotherhood as they abandon the world:[6]


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. (lines 154–173)


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© Marian Glaser 2018