How sweet it were, hearing the downward stream, With half-shut eyes ever to seem Falling asleep in a half-dream!
The fifth stanza of the "Choric Song" shifts the mood again. As it opens, the sailors have stopped talking about death (at least directly). Now they're dreaming about their new sleepy life on the island of the Lotos-eaters. They imagine how sweet it's going to be to listen to the sound of the stream, and to "half-shut" their eyes in a "half-dream." Party on, fellas.
That "half" thing seems pretty key to us. It's not that the guys dream about being fully asleep. What they want is to be stuck forever in the sleepy world between being asleep and being awake. Actually, we can kind of see what they mean. We like that moment as we're drifting off, where everything seems peaceful and calm. We're not sure we'd want to be like that all the time, though.
To dream and dream, like yonder amber light, Which will not leave the myrrh-bush on the height;
Life in this new land will be an endless, sleepy dream. The sailors will be frozen in one place and time, like the sunset—which is still lighting up a bush on the mountains above them ("the height").
This idea of a frozen sunset echoes what we heard earlier about the endless afternoon (4). There's something different about this place. Time just doesn't seem to work the same way on the enchanted island of the Lotos-eaters.
To hear each other's whisper'd speech; Eating the Lotos day by day,
Okay, in case you hadn't gotten the message, the guys run it down for you one more time. Everybody ready? Good. Now: all the sailors want to do is lie around, talk softly, and eat Lotos. They're really hooked now. We can imagine Tennyson thinking of opium addicts when he wrote these lines. Actually, it's all a little sad, in the end.
To watch the crisping ripples on the beach, And tender curving lines of creamy spray;
At the same time as the sailors seem kind of sad and drug-addled, there's still a ton of beauty in their vision of the world. We think these lines are just gorgeous. They do a great job of calling up an image of waves on the beach, and how nice it can be to sit quietly and watch the water spray in the air. It kind of makes us want to lie down with them—No! Must… not… eat… Lotos.
To lend our hearts and spirits wholly To the influence of mild-minded melancholy;
The boys are throwing in the towel. They want to live the life of the Lotos-eaters. They're not going to fight it any more. They want to give their "hearts and spirits" to the "mild-minded melancholy" of the natives. (We get some killer alliteration there, by the way.)
To muse and brood and live again in memory, With those old faces of our infancy
One thing that this sleepy Lotos-eating life will let the sailors do is spend more time with their memories. Instead of running around on the ocean or trying to get home, they can just "muse and brood" on the past.
They can think back on the people they used to know, the faces they saw when they were infants. That "old faces of infancy" line is kind of great, isn't it? On the one hand, it sounds a little like an oxymoron, with the way it mixes old and young. At the same time, though, it's open to multiple interpretations. Maybe they are talking about old faces, like their parents or grandparents. Could also just be people they used to know. In any case, the sailors are happy to think about them in their Lotos-stupors.
Heap'd over with a mound of grass, Two handfuls of white dust, shut in an urn of brass!
Sadly, it sounds like these folks they used to see when they were infants are dead now. They are under the grass, and their bodies have been cremated. They're just a little bit of dust in a brass pot now.
This striking image of death picks up on the sailors' obsession with death and dying, and all the death language we heard in the last stanza.