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-The Lotos-Eaters By Tennyson

Word Count: 1456I. Introduction
For many years, Tennyson has attracted readers by what Edmond Gosse called
“the beauty of the atmosphere which Tennyson contrives to cast around his
work, molding
it in the blue mystery of twilight, in the opaline haze of sunset.” He is one
of the greatest
representative figures of the Victorian Age. His writing incorporates many
poetic styles
and includes some of the finest idyllic poetry in the language. He is one of
the few poets to
have produced acknowledged masterpieces in so many different poetic genres; he
implemented perhaps the most distinguished and versatile of all the written
works in the
English language.
The first time I read The Lotus-Eaters1, I have to admit that I had a
hearty
dislike for it. Having read The Odyssey in Literature class last year, this
seemed like its
replica. It occurred to me that Tennyson was plagiarizing Homer. But when I
reread the
poem with greater depth, I noticed its poetic techniques, imagery, symbols,
etc. It was
really exceptional actually, although the meter didnt remain uniform. But
when you
thoroughly understand it, you see how it pertains and is true to life.

This being the first time I had ever come about a work by Tennyson. I
didnt know
anything about his life. The idea that manifested me was that when writing
this poem,
Tennyson was depressed and cynical. Sort of like Hamlet2 in the To be or not
to be
soliloquy. In one point in the poem, he says, Death is the end of the
world…life all labor
be? I think he meant that life is hard to live; there are so many obstacles,
so many wrong
turns, and you can never go back and change anything.
II. Analysis of Poem
A. Summary
The poem is about the journey of Odysseus to the Land of the Lotus
Eaters. Here they encounter a race of creatures known as the Lotophagi (lotus
eaters). They[Lotophagi] spend their days in a daze, literally. This was
the effect of the lotus flower. It was a primitive version of narcotics.
The Lotophagi offered the plant to Odysseus and his crew members. Some of
the clique ate it. And then, they too, experienced a state of euphoria. Under
these circumstances, they start speaking of staying over here[land of Lotos
Eaters], and only dream about home. They forget their wives and children;
only dream about them.

Subsequently, the entire crew ate the lotos plant. Tennyson describes
euphoria as Falling asleep in a half-dream. They hallucinate about their
wives and homes. It has been a considerable amount of time since they have
had left Ithaca3. They ponder about what has changed. At the end,
he[Odysseus] concluded We will not wander more, meaning that they will
just stay put.
B. Style
The first five stanzas are narrative. They are in the Spenserian stanza
form, which is associated with tales of adventure and action.
The opening word of Odysseus to his men is courage, an ironic command
because the rest of the poem shows their courage ebbing away. Arriving on the
shore of this beautiful and dreamy land, the mariners disembark amidst a
crowd of the inhabitants, who offer them the fruits of the lotos tree. As
soon as they taste the fruit the men feel weary. No longer eager to return
home to Ithaca, they are content to rest where they are.
The rest of the poem, from line 46, is the song (choric song) sung by the
mariners. In it they express the beauty of lotus-land and their own heavy and
melancholy sense of fatigue.
In the fourth stanza of the song, the repeated phrase “Let us alone”
captures their feelings. The lines of the song are irregular in length but
repetitious in phrasing, giving a lazy and stupor feeling, as if they are in
a state of torpor. The stanzas gradually become longer toward the end of the
poem, hinting their confusion and ominous feelings.
The last stanza has twenty-eight lines. In it the mariners suggest that
they will lie about like the gods on Olympus, who apathetically and
carelessly disrupt the lives of people on earth for their own idle amusement.
The argument they present is that since the gods can so easily spoil people’s
lives and thwart their efforts, why should they aspire to anything but rest
and relaxation? They conclude, “We will not wander more.”
C. Symbolism
I wonder about the symbolism of Odysseus’ enc ounter with the
Lotos-Eaters. After so many years of battle, after so much grief and trauma
that Odysseus and his men spent, they need to escape into a dreamlike world
in which they may begin their healing. Psychologically, the deeper the pain
one has experienced, the more often one is drawn to experiences of ecstasy in
order to counter it. On a a deeper level, the Lotophagi experience appears to
be an antecedent of the adventures that follow – with the Cyclops, Circe,
Calypso, and the Sirens4.

There are a lot of images in the poem. There is also a brief hint of
foreshadowing; In which[the island of the Lotos-Eaters] it always seemed
afternoon, meaning that when you are in a state of happiness, everything
seems the same. That only when you are drugged is that you get in this state
of being. His voice was thin…his beating heart did make. This describes
a primitive rendition of drug addicts.

D. Theme
One of the recurring themes in many poems is the conflict between
personal fulfillment and public responsibility. That is, often the character
in the poem is pulled one way by something he or she wants to do, and another
way by a sense of duty or obligation that must be performed. This is the
theme of The Lotos-Eaters also. Odysseus, the narrator and the captain of
the crew, is caught between achieving euphoria and getting the crew back
to Ithaca. In the end, however, we find out that his hubris has caused him to
stay on this island. And as he says, we will not wander more. That he has
given in to personal fulfillment.
Also, if you read The Odyssey, youll find that the entire story is based
on the our personal odysseys. It has things that we, as humans, face in
everyday life; desire, temptation, lust, etc. The island of the Lotos Eaters
has one of the things us teenagers face everyday; drugs. Just as the lotos
eaters tempt the crew, we get peer pressure from our friends and society. So
this poem is just one part of our jorney of life, as Tenyson describes it.


III. Poems Place in Authors Career
Although Tennyson dealt with romantic views of war and heroes, in
contrast to other writers of his day, he felt that poetry should reflect a
certain formality borrowed from Greek tragedy literature. In “The
Lotos-Eaters,” Tennyson was true to his heart. As such, the poem reflects
the ideals of the imperialism and his own personal goals-war causes heroes,
and heroes in death go to a glorious afterlife. This seems a little
farfetched, but his was Tennysons philosophy. Although he borrowed from
biblical and Greek-tragedy sources, his characters and nature are also
contemporary, and transcend all the realms together. The Lotos-Eaters was
written in 1833, when he published a volume of poems that included his famous
The Lady of Shalott. During his undergraduate days at Cambridge he often
did not bother to write down his compositions. We owe the first version of
“The Lotos-Eaters” to Arthur Hallam, who reproduced it from Tennysons
tidbits of information.


IV. The Poems Place in its Time
Tennyson turned to questions of death, religious faith, and immortality
in a series of short poems, of which The Lotus-Eaters was a part. Tennyson
had a way of achieving a covenant with his public. He gave them what they
wanted. For example, the poem Princess was won by the hearts of the millions
because it supported the womens rights, which was one of the issues just
igniting at that time. His consummately crafted
verse expressed the terms of the Victorian feeling for order and harmony.
Unlike Dickens, who was present in Tennesons time and a social critic,
Tennyson didnt seem to find an ill to society. Maybe that is why he was
given the title of Lord and not Dickens.
V. Bibliography
1.Lord Alfred Tennyson, Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 99, October 1999
2. The Norton Anthology of Poetry, The Lotos-Eaters, W.W. Norton & Company,
New York, 1997, p. 540.
3. World Wide Web-http://charon.sfsu.edu/TENNYSON/tennyson.html.