Tennyson's Poems

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.]