The Lotos-Eaters Introduction
In A Nutshell
"The Lotos-Eaters" is basically all about sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Okay, so maybe there's no rock and roll. Or sex. There are definitely drugs, though. Except they don't end up seeming like such a good idea...
Alright, let's back this up a little. There might not be a ton of partying in this poem, but it's still pretty exciting and beautiful. To start with, this is Alfred Lord Tennyson's retelling of the famous old story of the Lotos-eaters (or, as you'll often see it, "The Lotus eaters"), which shows up in Book 9 of Homer's Odyssey. The story (and this poem) are about some sailors who find themselves in a new and strange land, and who eat a plant that makes them want to stay there… like, forever. Tennyson takes that idea and runs with it, giving us a poem that tackles themes such as time, death, and eternity—you know, just the basics.
So who is this guy to tackle such weighty topics? Tennyson was definitely one of the poetic rockstars of the Victorian Era. (Yup, there definitely were rockstar poets back then.) In fact, during his lifetime he was one of the three most famous people in England, right up there with Queen Victoria herself.
That's jumping ahead a little, though. When Tennyson wrote the "The Lotos-Eaters," he was just starting out, only a little older than 20. It appeared in his 1832 collection Poems, when his long career as Poet Laureate and all-around celebrity was still in front of him. Another terrific poem from this period, which is closely related to the "Lotos-Eaters," is "Ulysses." If that's not enough, and you're curious about some of the great poems he wrote later, they're also definitely worth checking out. You might want to start with "The Lady of Shalott" or "The Charge of the Light Brigade." These poems have their differences, but you'll hear Tennyson's special poetic wizardry and his amazing skill with sound in all of them, just like you do in "The Lotos-Eaters."
Why Should I Care?
It's easy to see how this poem might seem like old news. After all, it's almost 200 years old, and it's based on a story (from Homer's Odyssey) that's been kicking around for more than 2000(!) years. Let's put that aside for a second, though, and see what's actually in this poem. You've got adventure, tropical beaches, beautiful scenery, and plants that make you see things. Hey, you could make a pretty great comedy with those ingredients—Harold and Kumar and the Lotos-Eaters, anyone?
Okay, that might be a disaster, but we still think this poem is absolutely worth your time. It tackles questions, like the nature of reality and the value of home and family, that still matter to us today. Even more importantly, it's just downright beautiful. Look around yourself for a second. Same old scenery? Same old people? Well, Alfred Lord Tennyson is a master of sound and rhythm, and he can make you feel completely immersed in a strange new world. If you want to take a quick vacation, without leaving the couch, this is definitely the way to go.
That stuff is great, but we think the best reason to check this out is that it can really transport you into Tennyson's imagination. Deep down inside, this is what we Shmoopers really love about poetry. A really great poem, like "The Lotos-Eaters," can remake the world, allowing you to see its weirdness, its wonder, and its possibility in ways you never thought were possible. We promise, it's well worth the trip.