Tennyson’s The Lotos Eaters Poem Analysis
The Lotos Eaters is based upon an episode in Homer’s Odyssey, Book IX, where Odysseus (Ulysses) and his fellow mariners come to land at the island of the people who lived on the honey-sweet fruit named lotos. As soon as some of the mariners tasted of the lotos fruits, they were thrown into a state of lethargy and forgetfulness. Their desire for going back home was gone and Ulysses had to drag them back to the ships much against their will. Tennyson weaves this Homeric episode into a poem whose poetic excellence has always been recognised even by the hostile critics of Tennyson.
The mood of the poem is one of languid indolence and Tennyson conveys this mood through the creation of proper atmosphere. He paints the objects of nature as being in a state of dreamy ease, of languor and lethargy. The petals of full-blown roses fall gently on the ground: the dew-drops fall gently on a pool of water collected between tall mountain-sides. Ivies creep through the mosses lazily: long-leaved water-flowers spread out their long leaves on the water without making any stir. Poppies hang down from the hill projections as if in drowsy laziness. The expressions of weary disgust at human activity and movement put into the mouths of work-worn mariners add much to the atmosphere of dreamy case.
Not only the details of the description and of the song but also the sound and melody of verse create an atmosphere of dreamy languor. The predominance of the long vowels as in the lines.
“All around the coast the languid air did swoon
Breathing like one that hath a weary dream.”
“The lotos blooms below the barren peak:
The Lotos blows by every winding creek.”
etc. serves to create an atmosphere of languor. The slow, crawling rhythm of the iambic lines in the Choric Song produces the lethargic, drowsy effect. The smooth movement of such lines as,
“How sweet it were, hearing the downward stream,
With half-shut eyes ever to seem
Falling asleep in a half-dream”
lulls us. Again, “lulling smoothness of most of the verse is enhanced by the contrast of occasional lines in a different key.” (Young)
The poem well illustrates Tennyson’s attitude towards Nature. Tennyson treats nature always as a background for reflecting human moods and feelings. In the poem the dreamy ease and lethargic activities of the objects of nature all around the lotos-island exactly reflect the languorous and indolent mood of the companions of Ulysses who have tasted of the lotos fruits. The following lines may be cited as an illustration :
“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.”
Tennyson is noted for the accurate and minute description of nature. In the poem Tennyson describes accurately and minutely the silent operations of Nature the growth and decay of a leaf, an apple and a flower. In the lines,
“…..like yonder amber light,
Which will not leave the myrrh-bush on the height”
we have a very good instance of Tennyson’s accurate observation of Nature. The rays of the setting sun remain longest on the hill top and when they fall on the green myrrh-bush on the top of the hill, it takes on an amber tint. The poem amply illustrates Tennyson’s pictorial art. In his description of the natural objects he seizes upon appropriate details, dress them in expressive language and thus throw a glistening image before our eyes. The lines,
“To watch the crisping ripples on the beach
And tender curving lines of creamy spray”
present the very picture of the sea-waves rolling on the sea-shore, curling over into lines of soft cream-like foam. As we read the lines,
“Or night-dews on still waters between walls
Of shadowy granite, in a gleaming pass.”
the picture of night-dews falling on a pool of water collected between tall mountain sides, flashes across our mind’s eyes. The poem presents a plethora of such word-pictures. It is almost Keatsian in its sumptuous word-painting. “Tennyson in this poem shows himself a great artist in diction and music: a master of effects devised to make the sound correspond with the sense” (Young). The line, “Along the cliff to fall and pause and fall did seem” reproduces in its rhythm the fall and pause and fall of “the slender stream.”
In the lines,
“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.”
the very sound echoes the sense.
The philosophy of life expounded in this poem is one of aversion to activity and movement. The lotos eaters declare,
“There is no joy but calm!
Why should we only toil, the roof and crown of things?”
When death is the end of life, there is no meaning in passing life in endless rounds of toil. The lotos-eaters’ philosophy is in sharp contrast with Ulysses in Ulysses, which is
“To strive to seek, to find and not to yield.”