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The Lotos Eaters - By Alfred Lord Tennyson

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Introduction to The Poem ‘The Lotos Eaters’

Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "The Lotos-eaters" is well-known Victorian poetry. The poet drew inspiration for this poem from Homer's Odyssey. The poem is based on a situation from the hero's adventures in perilous world. It illustrates their pains and their mental state as they stand on the precipice of death. Tennyson did, however, visit the Pyrenees mountains, and the picturesque splendour may have prompted him to revisit the Odysseus subject.

In this poem, he attempted to return to Odysseus' realm through his literary imagination. Let’s read the poem.

The Lotos Eaters - Poem

"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."

Choric Song


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 Poem - The Lotos Eaters

At the start of the epic, Odysseus commands his men to have "courage". They find a shorn to land on soon enough. They do so almost instantly, and it's surreal beauty enchants them. There are valleys, snowy mountains, and cliffs with streams running through them.

While the men are looking around, "Lotos-eaters” emerge and offer branches covered in lotos flowers and fruits to the men. Except for Odysseus, all of the men who eat these fruits succumb to the land's empty spell. They believe they no longer want to continue their journey homeward and would rather stay there instead, where they won't have to worry about returning to the "Fatherland."

The poem's second half is a "Choric Song" in which the guys enumerate all of the reasons they desire to stay on the island. They do not believe it is fair that they should be forced to work for the rest of their lives while no other being is obliged to do so. This is what their lives are made up of as humans, and they no longer want to be a part of it.

They admit that the life they most desire is one in which they can unwind till death. They want to live like a leaf, just existing and dying when the time comes. Instead, the guys claim that they are on their way to death through a life of agony. They would sooner die today than labour for the rest of their lives.

The men make a point of mentioning their wives and the homes they're leaving behind. However, they assume that by this time, their families would be better off without them. Life has moved on, and their reappearance would only exacerbate the situation. They are pleased to conduct their lives according to their beliefs about the Gods. They will lie in their fields of lotos, as the Gods do in their asphodel valleys, and watch humanity suffer. They will not intervene or assist in any way. The poem finishes with the guys reassuring one another that their wanderings had come to an end.

Structure of The Poem - The Lotos Eaters

The poem's first and second half are structured differently. The first half of the poem is broken into five nine-line stanzas. Spenserian stanzas are nine-line stanzas named after Spenser's usage of them in Faerie Queen. The rhyme scheme is continuous throughout, following the ABABBCBCC pattern. Moreover, with the exception of the last line of each stanza, each line follows the same metre pattern. The first eight lines are written in iambic pentameter, while the ninth is made up of six iambic feet, which is known as a "alexandrine."

The poem's structure in the second half is much more spontaneous. There is no rhyming scheme. Each portion has its own topic and rhyming system, just as each section has its own theme.

About Author - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Alfred Lord Tennyson was born in the English town of Somersby in the county of Lincolnshire in the year 1809. He was one of twelve children and had written his first epic poem with 6,000 lines before the age of twelve.

Tennyson left his home in 1827 to study at Trinity College, Cambridge. It was there that he and his brother, Charles, co-published ‘Poems by Two Brothers’, a collection of poems. Tennyson became acquainted with another student, Arthur Hallam, as a result of this book, which put him on the radar of other successful college authors. Hallam died after a brief but deep connection, leaving Tennyson sad and dedicating a number of poems to his memory.

Tennyson released two books of poetry between 1830 and 1832. The poet was dissatisfied since the poems did not receive rave reviews. His naturally shy disposition would keep him from publishing again for another nine years. Tennyson finally met with some success in 1842 after the publication of this book, ‘Poems’ in two volumes. When Tennyson published ‘In Memoriam’, one of the pieces dedicated to his college friend, Hallam, his reputation was solidified throughout Britain. That same year he married Emily Sellwood, with whom he would have two sons.

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FAQs on The Lotos Eaters - By Alfred Lord Tennyson

1. What was the background of the poem - The Lotos Eaters?

Tennyson and Arthur Hallam travelled to conflict-torn northern Spain in the summer of 1829. A couple of his works, including Oenone, The Lotos-Eaters, and Mariana in the South, were affected by the environment and experience.

Tennyson reworked these three poems, and some others, for his 1842 collection. He introduced a new stanza before the last verse of ‘The Lotos Eaters’. The new stanza shows how someone can feel entire even though they have suffered a significant loss. Some speculate that the verse speaks to Tennyson's sense of grief upon the death of Hallam in 1833.

2. When was The Lotos Eaters published?

The first edition of "The Lotus-Eaters" was published in December 1832 by Edward Moxon in London, but it was printed with the year 1833. The poem was published in Tennyson's collection Poems. Moxon published the final, heavily revised version of the poem in a Tennyson collection of the same name in 1842.