Study Guide

The Lotos-Eaters Versions of Reality

By Alfred Lord Tennyson

Versions of Reality

Let us alone. What pleasure can we have
To war with evil? Is there any peace
In ever climbing up the climbing wave? (93-95)

Once they've eaten the Lotos, the sailors pretty much become allergic to work. They don't want to fight or sail or row or do any of the hard work that used to make up their lives. They are still the same men, but suddenly they are seeing reality in a new way—everything that seemed like a normal part of life suddenly seems like a serious bummer.

How sweet it were, hearing the downward stream,
With half-shut eyes ever to seem
Falling asleep in a half-dream! (99-101)

This is a really nice snapshot of what the poem's sleepy speakers want out of life now. They want to have the feeling of being half-asleep, but they want it to last forever. They want to spend the rest of their lives half-awake. Now that sounds a little screwy to us. It's great to drift off to sleep sometimes, but to spend your whole life like that sounds like it might be sort of a drag.

To lend our hearts and spirits wholly
To the influence of mild-minded melancholy; (108-109)

Mild-mannered melancholy is great description of the mood that this Lotos stuff seems to put you in. It doesn't make you drunk or crazy or super-happy. It just sort of mellows you out, and maybe makes you feel a little sad, too. It's the way Tennyson describes the native Lotos-eaters too (27), so it seems like a safe bet that this feeling they talk about it coming from eating the plant.

Where they smile in secret, looking over wasted lands, (159)

According to the sailors, the gods see a different kind of reality from what humans see—or at least they feel differently about it. We feel like we're surrounded by misery and pain and work. But the gods just smile. They have a different perspective on things. (To be fair, they are gods, after all.) Again, in this poem, it's not about what's true and what's not—it's about how you see things.

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