Tennyson’s The Lotos Eaters This poem is based on the story of Odysseus's mariners of Homer's Odyssey. In this poem, Tennyson powerfully evokes the mariners' yearning to settle into a life of peacefulness, rest, and even death.
Reasons for the poem • Tennyson, like his father, was a hard worker while those around him lived a life of leisure • His father was disinherited from his family and later died; Tennyson had to leave college and help his family • Angered with those around him living the life of leisure and escapism through alcohol and other means • OR – was he endorsing a life of relaxation? Many lower and middle class of England at the time were working in factories and preoccupied. Did they need to relax? • OR – was he just responding to The Odyssey? Was he arguing a life of moderation?
The poem also draws on the biblical Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis. • A "life of toil" is Adam's punishment for eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge: after succumbing to the temptation, Adam is condemned to labor by the sweat of his brow. • In this poem, fruit (the lotos) provides a release from the life of labor, suggesting an inversion of the biblical story.
Nearly every stanza presents a different argument to justify the mariners' decision to remain in the Lotos Land. • For example, in the second stanza the shipmates express the fact that man, who is the pinnacle of creation, is the only creature made to toil and labor all the days of his life.
The mariners may be deceiving themselves in succumbing to the hypnotic power of the flower. • Eating the lotos involves abandoning reality and living instead in a world of appearances, where everything "seems" to be but nothing actually is: "a land where all things always seemed the same" (line 24). • The word "seems" recurs throughout the poem, and can be found in all but one of the opening five stanzas, suggesting that the Lotos Land is not so much a "land of streams" as a "land of seems.” • In the final stanza, the poem describes the Lotos Land as a "hollow" land with "hollow" caves. Here we can infer that the vision of the sailors is somehow empty.
Odysseus will drag his men away from the Lotos Land. The sailors' case for lethargy is further undermined by their complaint that it is unpleasant "to war with evil" (line 94). • By choosing the Lotos Land, the mariners are abandoning the opportunity for meaning in life and the potential for heroic accomplishment. • Tennyson forces us to consider the appeal of a life without toil: although we share the longing for a carefree and relaxed existence, few people could truly be happy without any challenges to overcome, without the fire of aspiration and the struggle to make the world a better place.
Your task: poetry analysis • In your group, begin by reading each section of the poem individually. • Next, decide on the focus (and this can be more than one) of that section, looking at each stanza. Is it a complaint about labor or justifying a reason to stay? Or is it neutral? Annotate lines which support your argument. Write the focus in the margain. • Find any literary devices for this section. Underline and label. • Continue this way throughout your reading of the poem.