Study Guide

The Lotos-Eaters Death

By Alfred Lord Tennyson

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The flower ripens in its place,
Ripens and fades, and falls, and hath no toil, (81-82)

In these lines, death seems not only natural, but kind of relaxing. When a flower dies ("falls") it's not some kind of big tragedy. It's just the calm, regular order of things. It didn't have to work while it was alive, and dying is no trouble either. It just kind of happens. The guys speaking these words would really like to be like that flower—living, growing, and dying with no pain or effort at all.

Death is the end of life; ah, why
Should life all labour be? (86-87)

The basic idea here is that, if you're going to die anyway, why should you bust your hump while you're alive? What's the point of constant work, if we all end up in the same place? There's definitely a certain logic to this—we can see where they're coming from. On the other hand, when people are feeling healthy and happy, they mostly manage to forget this basic fact, or at least not focus on it. In the land of the Lotos-eaters, though, the perspective of the sailors is a little out of whack.

Give us long rest or death, dark death, or dreamful ease. (98)

Weirdly, sleep and death have turned into kind of the same thing for the sailors. Sure, being dead and being asleep are similar in some ways, but the difference is also pretty clear. In this case, though, the separation has kind of blurred. All these men care about it not having to work, and being able to lie around all day. Asleep or dead—it doesn't matter to them.

Heap'd over with a mound of grass,
Two handfuls of white dust, shut in an urn of brass! (112-113)

Now the sailors dream of living in the past, visiting with people in their memories who are long dead. That brings them to this beautiful, vivid image of the grave, where all that was happy and lively and bright is reduced to a mound of grass and a dust-filled urn. The idea is spooky and sad, but we think it also seems a little bit comforting and natural as well. That combination of sad and soothing runs all through this poem—it's one of things we love about it.

There is confusion worse than death,
Trouble on trouble, pain on pain, (128-129)

This line hits one of the big themes of the poem. For the Lotos-eating sailors, any kind of trouble or work or confusion or pain is worse than death. It would be better, they figure, to be dead than to have to do anything except lie around and dream. It sounds a little nuts to us, but then again we've never eaten Lotos.

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