Compare the first (“‘Courage! ‘ he said, and pointed towards the land”) and last line (“Oh rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more. “) and decide which attitude typified imperial England in 1833. Is the poem forward or backward looking? The first line of the poem “‘Courage! ‘ he said, and pointed towards the land,” is indeed typical of imperial England and looks forward in many respects. It looks forward as if going into battle. Soldiers of imperial England would have been proud to go into battle. Yet courage can also lead to pride which is a theme running through much of Tennyson’s work predicting the fall of the British Empire.
In contrast the last line of the poem “Oh rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more,” is contradictory to the statement of typical imperial England. In 1833 the British Empire was at its height with new discoveries everyday. Metaphorically though, this last line of the poem represents an end to exploration. This line is saying the growth of England is stunted and will not move forward. However, it could be conceived as forward looking but in a negative light because it could be seen as a prediction of the fall of the British Empire.
The whole poem is a metaphor for the British Empire. Throughout there are tired words and phrases such as “languid,” “weary dream” and “slumberous. ” These slow words demonstrate a state of paralysis, being stuck and not moving anywhere. This is once again a prediction of the British Empire; completely opposite to the state imperial England was in during 1833. The state of paralysis is key in this poem. It shows that the poem is neither forward or backward looking yet each day progresses forward. Towards the end of ‘The Lotus – Eaters’ the “Elysian Valleys” are mentioned.
This is a heaven for warriors and it is known that each day repeats itself. This is representative of what is happening on the Island for example “the dark blue sky,” and “the dark blue sea. ” Everything on the Island is the same and each day rolls in to each other and the same things happen. No one works and everyone eats the Lotus plant and everything looks the same. Therefore this poem does not look forwards or backwards but merely states that the same day repeats over and over again in typical England. Although opium is never directly mentioned throughout the poem there are many references made to it.
The Lotus plant is a type of drug and could be opium that the soldiers become addicted to. The third stanza of the poem highlights how the soldiers may be hallucinating; a result of being high on the lotus plant or opium. The last line of the first stanza of the Choric Song says “And from the craggy ledge the poppy hangs in sleep. ” The poppy shows that Tennyson is speaking directly to the people that take opium. Opium was common in 1833 and Tennyson may also have been sending out the message that we have to be careful as it can take over our lives and make us forget what really matters.
Following on from the point of infatuation; the poem is making a statement about falling victim to temptation. This conflicted with the traditional Victorian stance on moral values, while also providing a view on one’s place in the world after growing old. Odysseus’ men opt to live out the rest of their days on the island of the lotus-eaters early in the poem. Tennyson sets up the rest of the poem to be an explanation of the decision. The explanation consists of several logical points that not only deal with obvious matters but also touch on philosophical meditations on the nature of life as a human.
One important and noticeable issue in the poem is that we do not discover the fate of the Greeks. We do not know if Odysseus rescues them or if they ever leave the Island. We must then ask the question why is this? Tennyson’s poetry projects repressed cultural desires onto a historical but fictional landscape. ‘The Lotus-Eaters’ is critical of British work habits and imperial duty. Tennyson repeatedly emphasizes that the lotus eaters do no work and bear no responsibility; “Why should we only toil, the roof and crown of things?
‘The Lotus-Eaters’ is a romantic escape from a life of “enduring toil” that most industrial age Britons knew so well. Tennyson is voicing the opinion of the dissatisfied common Englishmen who wandered in what way they were contributing to the industrial growth and empire. It was easy for a great person such as Odysseus to justify toil but not for a common Englishman or Odysseus’ Greek soldiers. In the same way it could be said that the people of England were fed up and how much longer could this industrial state continue?
In conclusion the first line of the poem does typify imperial England as it represents the courage and dedication of the people to the state. However, the last line of the poem is in no way typical of imperial England stating the end of the era of exploration and new ideas. This did not seem to be where imperial England was heading at the time. Overall the poem neither looks forward or backwards. It is in a state of paralysis and therefore although time progresses nothing changes. The poem does look forward in a negative light though predicting the fall of the British Empire.