"The Lotos-Eaters" introduces readers to an unbelievably beautiful setting in which Ulysses' weary mariners are enticed to remain in a state of relaxation and ecstasy. The poem flows between descriptions of the physical aspects of the landscape and the process of rationalization that the sailors go through in order to justify their desire to remain in the land of the lotos-eaters. The difficult nature of their decision is expressed as they wrestle with their duty to their families and country and the overriding feeling that they have worked long and hard and are thus entitled to rest. Eventually, they conclude that they must remain on the island as their families and their duties have altered so much in their absence that they would not recognize, nor would they make sense in such a modified environment. The struggle with returning home to a place which one knows has changed significantly since one left caught my interest as I read this poem, especially the lines in stanza VI:

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?
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 by many wars
And eyes grown dim with gazing on the pilot-stars.

Questions

1. If the lotos-eaters live in a place so beautiful that Ulysses' mariners are tempted to reject their former lives and stay, why does Tennyson refer to them as melancholy (l. 27)?

2. Are the sailors justified in their desire to leave their lives of "distress" and "weariness" behind and stay on the island?

3. How is the perception of death different or similar to the perception of death in "Ulysses?"


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Last modified 11 September 2003