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The Lotos-Eaters

First published in 1833, but when republished in 1842 the alterations in the way of excision, alteration, and addition were very extensive. The text of 1842 is practically the final text. This charming poem is founded on 'Odyssey', ix., 82 'seq.'

"On the tenth day we set foot on the land of the lotos-eaters who eat a flowery food. So we stepped ashore and drew water... When we had tasted meat and drink I sent forth certain of my company to go and make search what manner of men they were who here live upon the earth by bread... Then straightway they went and mixed with the men of the lotos-eaters, and so it was that the lotos-eaters devised not death for our fellows but gave them of the lotos to taste. Now whosoever of them did eat the honey-sweet fruit of the lotos had no more wish to bring tidings nor to come back, but there he chose to abide with the lotos-eating men ever feeding on the lotos and forgetful of his homeward way. Therefore I led them back to the ships weeping and sore against their will ... lest haply any should eat of the lotos and be forgetful of returning."

(Lang and Butcher's translation.)

But in the details of his poem Tennyson has laid many other poets under contribution, notably Moschus, 'Idyll', v.; Bion, 'Idyll', v.; Spenser, 'Faerie Queen', II. vi. (description of the 'Idle Lake'), and Thomson's 'Castle of Indolence'.

"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; [1] 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 [2] From the inner land: far off, three mountain-tops, Three silent pinnacles of aged snow, [3] 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 Father-land, 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".

[Footnote 1: 1883. Above the valley burned the golden moon.]

[Footnote 2: 1883. River's seaward flow.]

[Footnote 3: 1833. Three thunder-cloven thrones of oldest snow.]



    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. [1]
    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? [2]
    All things have rest, and ripen toward the grave [3]
    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 [4] 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? [5]
    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 with [6] many wars
    And eyes grow dim with gazing on the pilot-stars.[7]


    But, propt on beds [8] of amaranth and moly,
    How sweet (while warm airs lull us, blowing lowly)
    With half-dropt eyelids 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 [9] 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: [9]
    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;
    Oh rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more. [10]

[Footnote 1: 'Cf.' Virgil, AEn., iv., 451:--

T�det c�li convexa tueri.

Paraphrased from Moschus, 'Idyll', v., 11-15.]

[Footnote 2: For climbing up the wave 'cf.' Virgil, 'AEn.', i., 381: "Conscendi navilus �quor," and 'cf.' generally Bion, 'Idyll', v., 11-15.]

[Footnote 3: From Moschus, 'Idyll', v.,'passim'.

[Footnote 4: 1833. The.]

[Footnote 5: The little isle, 'i. e.', Ithaca.]

[Footnote 6: 1863 By.]

[Footnote 7: Added in 1842.]

[Footnote 8: 1833. Or, propt on lavish beds.]

[Footnote 9: 1833 to 1850 inclusive. Hear.]

[Footnote 10: 1833 to 1850 inclusive. Flowery peak.]

[Footnote 11: In 1833 we have the following, which in 1842 was excised and the present text substituted:--

  We have had enough of motion,
  Weariness and wild alarm,
  Tossing on the tossing ocean,
  Where the tusked sea-horse walloweth
  In a stripe of grass-green calm,
  At noontide beneath the lee;
  And the monstrous narwhale swalloweth
  His foam-fountains in the sea.
  Long enough the wine-dark wave our weary bark did carry.
  This is lovelier and sweeter,
  Men of Ithaca, this is meeter,
  In the hollow rosy vale to tarry,
  Like a dreamy Lotos-eater, a delirious Lotos-eater!
  We will eat the Lotos, sweet
  As the yellow honeycomb,
  In the valley some, and some
  On the ancient heights divine;
  And no more roam,
  On the loud hoar foam,
  To the melancholy home
  At the limit of the brine,
  The little isle of Ithaca, beneath the day's decline.
  We'll lift no more the shattered oar,
  No more unfurl the straining sail;
  With the blissful Lotos-eaters pale
  We will abide in the golden vale
  Of the Lotos-land till the Lotos fail;
  We will not wander more.
  Hark! how sweet the horned ewes bleat
  On the solitary steeps,
  And the merry lizard leaps,
  And the foam-white waters pour;
  And the dark pine weeps,
  And the lithe vine creeps,
  And the heavy melon sleeps
  On the level of the shore:
  Oh! islanders of Ithaca, we will not wander more,
  Surely, surely slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore
  Than labour in the ocean, and rowing with the oar,
  Oh! islanders of Ithaca, we will return no more.

The fine picture in the text of the gods of Epicurus was no doubt immediately suggested by 'Lucretius', iii., 15 'seq.', while the 'Icaromenippus' of Lucian furnishes an excellent commentary on Tennyson's picture of those gods and what they see. 'Cf.' too the Song of the Parcae in Goethe's 'Iphigenie auf Tauris', iv., 5.]

Lord Alfred Tennyson