Study Guide

The Lotos-Eaters Time

By Alfred Lord Tennyson

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In the afternoon they came unto a land
In which it seemed always afternoon. (4-5)

This is the first real evidence we get that something weird is going on in the land of the Lotos-eaters. We think the idea of "endless afternoon" has two possible meanings. On the one hand, it sounds kind of nice, right? Who wouldn't want it to be sunny and warm and calm all the time, like on a pleasant afternoon? On the other hand, there's something a little sinister, even scary, about the idea of being frozen in time, unable to escape a particular moment. Those light and dark feelings keep struggling with each other throughout this poem.

The folded leaf is woo'd from out the bud
With winds upon the branch, and there
Grows green and broad, and takes no care, (71-73)

This is a beautiful little description of natural time. A plant doesn't grow according to some schedule. A leaf isn't worried about when it's going to come out. It follows the rhythm of nature and "takes no care." That's what the sailors want to do too. They want to be free from human time, to enjoy the gentle ebb and flow of the world. No more struggle, no more, work, just hanging out, like a leaf on a tree. It doesn't sound too bad actually, does it?

Let us alone. Time driveth onward fast,
And in a little while our lips are dumb. (88-89)

Now these poor sailors are starting to sound a little bit depressed. Basically, they want to know what the point of life and work is. If they are going to die anyway, if they can't stop the fast movement of time, then why even bother to try to do anything? Why not just lie around on a tropical beach? You know, sometimes on a tough Monday we can kind of see where they're coming from…

To dream and dream, like yonder amber light,
Which will not leave the myrrh-bush on the height; (102-103)

Here's another reference to that weird endless daylight we first heard about in line 5. The sailors don't seem at all bothered by the fact that the sun never goes down. In fact, they're pretty excited about getting lost in an endless dream. They're sick of time and all the pain that goes along with it.

Till they perish and they suffer—some, 'tis whisper'd—down in hell
Suffer endless anguish, others in Elysian valleys dwell,
Resting weary limbs at last on beds of asphodel. (168-170)

In these lines from the last stanza, the sailors give us two different versions of the afterlife. One of them is eternal suffering in hell, the other is eternal rest in paradise. These guys are kind of obsessed with death, and they think so much about the endless, eternal future that's coming after they die that they don't really feel like doing much with the rest of their lives. They'd rather just lie around in the flowers, and get a little taste of paradise before they die.

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