Tennyson's "The Lotos-Eaters"

Alfred J. Drake

1 "Courage!" he said, and pointed toward the land,
2 "This mounting wave will roll us shoreward soon."
3 In the afternoon they came unto a land
4 In which it seemed always afternoon.
5 All round the coast the languid air did swoon,
6 Breathing like one that hath a weary dream.
7 Full-faced above the valley stood the moon;
8 And like a downward smoke, the slender stream
9 Along the cliff to fall and pause and fall did seem.
10 A land of streams! some, like a downward smoke,
11 Slow-dropping veils of thinnest lawn, did go;
12 And some thro' wavering lights and shadows broke,
13 Rolling a slumbrous sheet of foam below.
14 They saw the gleaming river seaward flow
15 From the inner land: far off, three mountain-tops,
16 Three silent pinnacles of aged snow,
17 Stood sunset-flush'd: and, dew'd with showery drops,
18 Up-clomb the shadowy pine above the woven copse.
19 The charmed sunset linger'd low adown
20 In the red West: thro' mountain clefts the dale
21 Was seen far inland, and the yellow down
22 Border'd with palm, and many a winding vale
23 And meadow, set with slender galingale;
24 A land where all things always seem'd the same!
25 And round about the keel with faces pale,
26 Dark faces pale against that rosy flame,
27 The mild-eyed melancholy Lotos-eaters came.
28 Branches they bore of that enchanted stem,
29 Laden with flower and fruit, whereof they gave
30 To each, but whoso did receive of them,
31 And taste, to him the gushing of the wave
32 Far far away did seem to mourn and rave
33 On alien shores; and if his fellow spake,
34 His voice was thin, as voices from the grave;
35 And deep-asleep he seem'd, yet all awake,
36 And music in his ears his beating heart did make.
37 They sat them down upon the yellow sand,
38 Between the sun and moon upon the shore;
39 And sweet it was to dream of Fatherland,
40 Of child, and wife, and slave; but evermore
41 Most weary seem'd the sea, weary the oar,
42 Weary the wandering fields of barren foam.
43 Then some one said, "We will return no more";
44 And all at once they sang, "Our island home
45 Is far beyond the wave; we will no longer roam."

CHORIC SONG

I

46 There is sweet music here that softer falls
47 Than petals from blown roses on the grass,
48 Or night-dews on still waters between walls
49 Of shadowy granite, in a gleaming pass;
50 Music that gentlier on the spirit lies,
51 Than tir'd eyelids upon tir'd eyes;
52 Music that brings sweet sleep down from the blissful skies.
53 Here are cool mosses deep,
54 And thro' the moss the ivies creep,
55 And in the stream the long-leaved flowers weep,
56 And from the craggy ledge the poppy hangs in sleep."

II

57 Why are we weigh'd upon with heaviness,
58 And utterly consumed with sharp distress,
59 While all things else have rest from weariness?
60 All things have rest: why should we toil alone,
61 We only toil, who are the first of things,
62 And make perpetual moan,
63 Still from one sorrow to another thrown:
64 Nor ever fold our wings,
65 And cease from wanderings,
66 Nor steep our brows in slumber's holy balm;
67 Nor harken what the inner spirit sings,
68 "There is no joy but calm!"
69 Why should we only toil, the roof and crown of things?

III

70 Lo! in the middle of the wood,
71 The folded leaf is woo'd from out the bud
72 With winds upon the branch, and there
73 Grows green and broad, and takes no care,
74 Sun-steep'd at noon, and in the moon
75 Nightly dew-fed; and turning yellow
76 Falls, and floats adown the air.
77 Lo! sweeten'd with the summer light,
78 The full-juiced apple, waxing over-mellow,
79 Drops in a silent autumn night.
80 All its allotted length of days
81 The flower ripens in its place,
82 Ripens and fades, and falls, and hath no toil,
83 Fast-rooted in the fruitful soil.

IV

84 Hateful is the dark-blue sky,
85 Vaulted o'er the dark-blue sea.
86 Death is the end of life; ah, why
87 Should life all labour be?
88 Let us alone. Time driveth onward fast,
89 And in a little while our lips are dumb.
90 Let us alone. What is it that will last?
91 All things are taken from us, and become
92 Portions and parcels of the dreadful past.
93 Let us alone. What pleasure can we have
94 To war with evil? Is there any peace
95 In ever climbing up the climbing wave?
96 All things have rest, and ripen toward the grave
97 In silence; ripen, fall and cease:
98 Give us long rest or death, dark death, or dreamful ease.

V

99 How sweet it were, hearing the downward stream,
100 With half-shut eyes ever to seem
101 Falling asleep in a half-dream!
102 To dream and dream, like yonder amber light,
103 Which will not leave the myrrh-bush on the height;
104 To hear each other's whisper'd speech;
105 Eating the Lotos day by day,
106 To watch the crisping ripples on the beach,
107 And tender curving lines of creamy spray;
108 To lend our hearts and spirits wholly
109 To the influence of mild-minded melancholy;
110 To muse and brood and live again in memory,
111 With those old faces of our infancy
112 Heap'd over with a mound of grass,
113 Two handfuls of white dust, shut in an urn of brass!

VI

114 Dear is the memory of our wedded lives,
115 And dear the last embraces of our wives
116 And their warm tears: but all hath suffer'd change:
117 For surely now our household hearths are cold,
118 Our sons inherit us: our looks are strange:
119 And we should come like ghosts to trouble joy.
120 Or else the island princes over-bold
121 Have eat our substance, and the minstrel sings
122 Before them of the ten years' war in Troy,
123 And our great deeds, as half-forgotten things.
124 Is there confusion in the little isle?
125 Let what is broken so remain.
126 The Gods are hard to reconcile:
127 'Tis hard to settle order once again.
128 There is confusion worse than death,
129 Trouble on trouble, pain on pain,
130 Long labour unto aged breath,
131 Sore task to hearts worn out by many wars
132 And eyes grown dim with gazing on the pilot-stars.

VII

133 But, propt on beds of amaranth and moly,
134 How sweet (while warm airs lull us, blowing lowly)
135 With half-dropt eyelid still,
136 Beneath a heaven dark and holy,
137 To watch the long bright river drawing slowly
138 His waters from the purple hill --
139 To hear the dewy echoes calling
140 From cave to cave thro' the thick-twined vine --
141 To watch the emerald-colour'd water falling
142 Thro' many a wov'n acanthus-wreath divine!
143 Only to hear and see the far-off sparkling brine,
144 Only to hear were sweet, stretch'd out beneath the pine.

VIII

145 The Lotos blooms below the barren peak:
146 The Lotos blows by every winding creek:
147 All day the wind breathes low with mellower tone:
148 Thro' every hollow cave and alley lone
149 Round and round the spicy downs the yellow Lotos-dust is blown.
150 We have had enough of action, and of motion we,
151 Roll'd to starboard, roll'd to larboard, when the surge was seething free,
152 Where the wallowing monster spouted his foam-fountains in the sea.
153 Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
154 In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined
155 On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind.
156 For they lie beside their nectar, and the bolts are hurl'd
157 Far below them in the valleys, and the clouds are lightly curl'd
158 Round their golden houses, girdled with the gleaming world:
159 Where they smile in secret, looking over wasted lands,
160 Blight and famine, plague and earthquake, roaring deeps and fiery sands,
161 Clanging fights, and flaming towns, and sinking ships, and praying hands.
162 But they smile, they find a music centred in a doleful song
163 Steaming up, a lamentation and an ancient tale of wrong,
164 Like a tale of little meaning tho' the words are strong;
165 Chanted from an ill-used race of men that cleave the soil,
166 Sow the seed, and reap the harvest with enduring toil,
167 Storing yearly little dues of wheat, and wine and oil;
168 Till they perish and they suffer -- some, 'tis whisper'd -- down in hell
169 Suffer endless anguish, others in Elysian valleys dwell,
170 Resting weary limbs at last on beds of asphodel.
171 Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore
172 Than labour in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar;
173 O, rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more.