The Lotos Eaters by Alfred Lord Tennyson: Summary

Ulysses asked his crew (while returning home from the Trojan War) to be courageous because the land was now in sight. He told his men that the next rising wave would carry them to the seashore in no time. All of them reached the land of the Lotos-Eaters in the afternoon.

Alfred L. Tennyson (1809-1892)

It was a land where it was always afternoon. A dull air surrounded the entire sea-belt, and moved like the breath of a above the dale. A shallow stream ran down the steep rock, creating a hazy atmosphere like the smoke spreading on earth. It stopped for a while and began to flow again in a visible way.

It was a land of streams, some of which flowed down the steep rocks like smoke, and some danced upon the land like a thin cover of green grass. And some other brooks ran though the flickering, faint lights and shadows, producing beneath them a slow moving wrapper of froth. Ulysses and his companions saw the shining river flowing toward the sea from the interior land. Far away three mountain-tops covered with snow of long duration were visible in the light of the setting sun. The dark pine tree wet with rain-drops shot up above the matted bushes.

The beauteous sunset tarried down on earth in the glowing West, the valley inside the country was clearly visible through the fissures or cracks of the mountain. The yellow-coloured open highland was encircled by palm trees, and several meandering smelling thin plant called "galingale." The land of the Lotos-Easters was such as remained unchanged through all the seasons. And the sad-looking and dark-skinned Lotos-Eaters, who appeared pale in the rosy red light of the setting sun, came near the ship of the manners.

The Lotos-Eaters had held branches of the magical lotos plant, - the branches covered with flower and fruit, which they offered to each one of the crew. But to one who got the flower and fruit and ate them up the sudden, profuse flow of the sea-waters appeared as if lamenting and crying loudly on some foreign shores. And if any companion of Ulysses spoke, his voice was as thin and spectral as that of a ghost. And while he was awake, he looked to be in deep slumber, and his throbbing heart produced a sort of music in his ears.

Ulysses and his companions sat down on the yellow sand on the seashore between the setting sun and the rising moon, and got lost in dreaming sweetly of their homeland, Ithaca, of their children, wives and servants. But as the time went on, it became all the more difficult for them to face the troubles of the sea, the oar, and the moving surface of the waters with foam floating upon them. The foam looked like 'fields' without crops, and hence the word 'barren’. Then someone suddenly said, "We will not be able to return our homes." Upon this, all others began singing together: 'our homes in Ithaca are far beyond the scudding drifts of the sea; and we will move about no more'.

This is the chant of the crew. They observe that the land of the Lotos-Eaters abounds in sweet music, which is smoother than the rose petals falling on the green grass. Or, compared with the dew-drops falling at night on the sleepy waters than lie between the walls of dark rock in a shining pass, the music of the land is still sweeter. This music falls sweeter on human spirit than the tired eyelids of a person upon his tried eyes. It is the kind of music that brings down delightful sleep from the happy heavens. Here are found cool and deep swamps, through which the ivy creepers grow in plenty. And in the stream, flowers having long leaves appear to be weeping, and the poppy plant hangs asleep by the edge of the rough rock.

Ulysses and his sailors felt heavily burdened with sorrow and distress, while all other things in Nature had peace of mind and cheerfulness. All other things enjoyed rest, why should, then they alone labour? They, who were the noblest and best creatures in the universe, were alone subjected to labour and suffering; they alone cried aloud in great misery, having been thrown from one sorrow to another. They were such people as had never folded their wings and stopped their travels abroad; nor did they drown themselves in the healing, healthy balm of sleep; nor were they able to hear the joyous song of the inner spirit. They were not likely to have real happiness but only forced calm. Why should they, the noblest of creations on earth, alone work hand without break?

They observe with a sense of delight that in the midst of the wood the leaf that is not yet open, is brought out by the wind on the branch, where it becomes green and big, without caring for anything else. At noon it is saturated with the sun-rays and in the night it is covered with dew-drops under the shining moon. At last, it grows pale and falls down and runs to and fro in the blowing air. Similarly, the juice-filled apple becomes so sweet in the summer season and so over-ripe that it falls down silently in an autumn night.

The flower also becomes ripe in its place within a number of days. It gets ripe and worn-out, and then falls down, but it has to undergo no toil, no torture, being firmly rooted in the fertile soil.

Having reached the land of the Lotos-Eaters, Ulysses and his mates lost all their aptitude for adventures. Now to them the dark blue sky stretching over the dark blue sea like an arch looked hateful and detestable. They thought of Death as an irrevocable and of life; then why should life be all labour? They would have rather rest and peace. The wheels of Time run very fast, and in no time men are driven to death. So, they would have rest and peace. To them, nothing is everlasting in this world. All things are taken away from men and become an integral part of the past. So, they would have rest and peace all alone. There is no real pleasure in waging a war against the evil forces. There is no stable peace of mind of traveling ceaselessly upon the breast of the ocean. All things in the universe have rest and peace, and silently ripe and pass to the grave; they become ripe, fall down, and disappear for good. So, they would have long rest or death, or a dreamy life of comforts before death.

For Ulysses and his friends it was very sweet to sit or recline there with their eyes half-shut in a state of sleepiness and hear the musical rush of the downward stream. They would be happy to go on dreaming, like the yellowish, golden light of the setting sun, which seems reluctant to leave the myrrh-bush on the height at some distance. Then they would hear the soft and subdued voice of one another, eat the lotos everyday, and watch the wavelets curling over the seashore and the lines of soft white foam that gently twirls on the surface of the sea. Living there, they would delicate.

It was a land where the lotus grew in plenty beneath the high rugged rock, where the lotus blew beside every narrow inlet of the sea. Here the low, cold air blew all day. Every empty cave and lonely lane and all the hills fragrant with flowers were covered with the pollen of the lotos. Ulysses and his men had already done a good deal of heroic work and moved about freely in adventure. They had been tossed this way or that in their ship over the sea, where the high waves were rising, and where the rolling massive whale was throwing out gets of water though its nostrils. So, they won't travel any longer, and would take an oath to live forever in the lotus-land thinking no more of mankind and its worries. The Gods live usually in perfect bliss taking their delicious drink, amrita, but they throw down lightning and thunderbolts on mankind below (as, the Greeks believed). They feel all happy in their golden houses curled with clouds and girdled by the starlit sky. They roll in mirth, laughing in their sleeves to see the suffering humanity below. They enjoy secretly to watch devastation and starvation, plague and earth quake, thundering seas and burning sands, raging wars and burning towns, drowning boots and supplicating people, in the human world. They laugh secretly to find music in the music in the miserable lot of mankind, in its sorrows and cries, which have been perpetrated on it down the ages.

For the Greek Gods the prayers of people have no meaning at all, - the prayers chanted for them by an ill-fated human race that tills the land, sows the seed, and reaps the crops, with patient suffering, that collects every year a small quantity of wheat, wine and oil, till it suffers inescapably and ultimately vanishes forever. Some persons, it is said, suffer unredeemably down in hell, while others went to heavenly valleys to live there on the soft beds of asphodel flowers, which might relieve greatly their worn-out bodies. If such was the fate of Man, the Ulysses crew would prefer sleep to hard work while living in the land of the Lotos-eaters; they would prefer the comforts of the seashore to the worries of the deep ocean, of the buffeting breezes and waves and oars. So, O brother sailors! Let us rest here forever, and we will not roam about any more.

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Shrestha, Roma. "The Lotos Eaters by Alfred Lord Tennyson: Summary." BachelorandMaster, 13 Sept. 2014,