Lotos Eater as a Victorian Poem

Topics: CulturePoetry

Poets like Arnold of nineteenth century started to hold a very pessimistic view about the Victorian crisis, and in almost all his poems, he seems to express only a negative attitude toward his contemporary age. But we see a quite dissimilar attitude in the poems of his most renowned contemporary, Alfred Lord Tennyson. Unlike Arnold, he expressed a compromising attitude to his age and its intricate problems. He plums the depth of his consciousness which also gives voice to the national consciousness of Victorian poetry.

In ‘The Hero as Poet’, Carlyle defines the ideal poet’s sensibility not as “a twisted, poor, convex–concave mirror, reflecting all objects with its own convexities and concavities’ but ‘a perfectly level mirror” (Carlyle, p.96). Tennyson is both a poet penetrating introspection and a poet of the people. In order to escape from time and avoid responsibilities the poem gives two voices which is an introspective self-analysis reflecting the age and its fundamental problem of existence.

Unlike the romantics whose nature poems present a scene that raises an emotional problem, Tennyson use nature as psychological category. He reflects the Victorian period of his maturity in his feeling for order and his tendency towards moralising. He also reflects a concern common among Victorian writers in being troubled by the conflict between religious faith and expanding scientific knowledge. A common thread of grief, melancholy, and loss connects much of his poetry including “Mariana”, “The Lotos-Eaters”, “Tears, Idle Tears’, “In Memoriam”, possibly reflecting Tennyson’s own lifelong struggle with debilitating depression.

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Tennyson’s “The Lotos-Eater” holds a sort of view which is supposed to find a middle ground. Through going back to classical myths, he is trying at least to find a sort of solution to some extents. Arnold defines the aim of such a poetics as ‘a true allegory of the state of one’s own mind in a representative history’ (Arnold, p. 598).

The poem can be seen as a social commentary on Victorian. Tennyson taking resort to a slumber world free from all the hardship and toil of life dedicated to the degrading society. A poem that celebrated an ultimate place of lethargic rest and forgetfulness, whose voices abandoned responsibility for family and country, and abandoned forever striving to attain an unknown future, would have been a tantalizing way to start a conversation about the values of “progress” that Tennyson saw his contemporaries committing to. The Lotos Eaters is a striking poem which begins with a heroic line: “COURAGE! He said and pointed towards the land”. Although it has been sweet to dream of their homes in Ithaca, the lotos makes them weary of wandering, preferring to linger here. One who has eaten of the lotos fruit proclaims that he will ?return no more, and all of the mariners begin to sing about this resolution to remain in the land of the Lotos-eaters.

The mariners question why man is the only creature in nature who must toil. They argue that everything else in nature is able to rest and stay still, but man is tossed from one sorrow to another. Man‘s inner spirit tells him that tranquillity and calmness offer the only joy, and yet he is destined to toil and wander his whole life. The mariners ask if ‘death is the end of life’ ‘why ‘should life all labor be?’ questioning the purpose of a life of labor. The mariners also express their desire for ?long rest or death,” either of which will free them from a life of endless labor.

Although they have fond memories of their wives and sons, they prefer the relaxing death-like existence of the Land of the Lotos to the confusion that a return home would create. The life of dreamful ease, as depicted in “The Lotos-Eaters” has been the object of longing of many in the nineteenth century, when life was full of ‘sick hurry and ‘divide aims’, ‘languid doubt’ ,’heads overtaxed’, ‘palsied hear’ etc. In this mood of mental weariness, the modern man sinks into a state of mental inertia in which he tempted to cry out with the sailors of Ulysses- ‘ there is no joy but calm’.

The emotion of regret at the futility of life pervades the poem as a delicate perfume. The poem is looking at the human condition and its interest centres in the conflict between the sense of responsibility and desire to take pleasure. At the same time it empress dissatisfaction with the Victorian passion for the progress. In his review of Tennyson’s early poetry, John Stuart Mill praises Tennyson for the power of creating scenery in keeping with some state of human feeling, so fitted to it as to be the embodied symbol of it, and to summon up the state of feeling itself.

Finally, the poem closes with the mariners‘ vow to spend the rest of their lives relaxing and reclining in the ?hollow Lotos land. They compare the life of seclusion, which they will enjoy in Lotos land, to the carefree existence of the Gods, who could not care less about the famines, plagues, earthquakes, and other calamities that afflict human beings on earth. These Gods simply smile upon men, who ‘sow the seed, and reap the harvest with enduring toil’. Until they either suffer in hell or dwell in the ?Elysian valleys of heaven. Since they have concluded that ?’slumber is more sweet than toil’, the mariners resolve to stop wandering the seas and instead, to settle in the land of the Lotos-eaters.

Faith in god were fading away from the Heart of the Sailors as they wished to become careless about the others like the Gods do which reflects in Victorian Crisis: In the hollow Lotos Land to live and lie reclined, On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind” The poem can be seen as a subversion of the story in the Book of Genesis. In the Bible, Adam is condemned to tedious toiling as he dares to consume the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. The lure of the fruit reigns supreme. Consequently, Adam is damned to droning hard-work. On the other hand, in “The Lotos Eaters”, the proverbial fruit, the lotos provides an outlet from a life of monotonous manual labour. Thus, it inverts and subverts the canonical myth. The lotos as opposed to the fruit of knowledge leaves the mariners in an indolent condition.

Aestheticism was another tool used by the dandy in his rebellious performances in London, manifesting the contradiction between the spiritual and the material, the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie, and art and nature. The movement began in reaction to prevailing utilitarian social philosophies and to what was perceived as the ugliness and Philistinism industrial age. In literature, the aesthetic movement’s guiding principal was ‘art for art‘s sake’.

“As a Doctrine, Art for Art’s Sake has a wider field of application than Art in its technical sense. It is obvious that paintings, statues and poems may be produced for many other ‘sakes’ than that of Art: artists are not wholly impervious to the Profit Motive. On the other hand, whatever we do without any practical purpose, for the sole satisfaction of our inmost sensibility, is done for Art’s sake.” (Guerard, 56-64)

Like “The Lady of Shalott”, though with a different import, “The Lotos-Eaters” may be taken as an allegory of art in its relation to life. The lotos eaters may be interpreted as a symbol of artists. The self-centred soul of many artist live in an irony tower of imagination, a veritable dreamland, the lotos land, completely cut off from the busy-going s of life around them. It is a life of escapism; it turns its back on the stern realities of life, looking upon the various evil of life, like Epicurean gods who live in golden palaces, careless of mankind. The philosophy of joy held by the lotos eaters namely, “There is joy but calm” is theirs too. The artist are spiritual lotos eaters; they draw food for their minds from the delicious, sensuous aspect of nature which makes them indolent, physically and morally. At the time of composition of the poem, Tennyson was in the mood of the dilettante; hence he stopped short with the picture of dreamful life of the lotos eaters and did not work it out to its logical conclusion that such a life is bound to crash in contact with reality, a thing which happened in “The Lady of Shalott”

“The Lotos Eaters”, seems more about the fact that poetry attempts to offer some consolation for the difficulties and essential painfulness of human life. Perhaps he was voicing dissatisfaction of common Englishmen during the Victorian era who wondered to what end they contributed their lives to industrial growth and empire. “The Lotos-Eaters” is more of a critique of British work habits and imperial duty than an Orientalist fantasy” (Nagler, p 236). Tennyson repeatedly emphasizes that the lotos eaters do no work and bear no responsibility. Figuratively at least, the land of the lotus-eaters is a romantic escape from a life of “enduring toil” that most industrial age Britons knew only too well. Tennyson’s roots his criticism in a mild diatribe against historical legacy.

Works Cited

  1. Keats, John. The Complete Poetical Works and Letters of John Keats. Cambridge edition. Cambridge :The Riverside Press, 1899. Print.
  2. Carlyle, Thomas. On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History. Rethinking Western Tradition. Eds. David R. Sorenseb and Brent K. Kinser. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013. Print.
  3. Arnold, Matthew. The Complete Poems. Ed. Kenneth Allott. New York: Barnes & Noble. 1965
  4. Gu?rard. Albert. “Art for Art’s Sake”. Books Abroad, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Summer, 1936), pp. 263-265. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma. 23-04-2019
  5. Nagler, John. A Critique of Empire and Toil in Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “The Lotus-Eaters”. Romans in Togas: Classicism and Empire in Victorian Literature and Art, Brown University, 2007

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Lotos Eater as a Victorian Poem. (2019, Nov 24). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/lotos-eater-as-a-victorian-poem-best-essay/

Lotos Eater as a Victorian Poem
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