Study Guide

The Lotos-Eaters Stanza 11

By Alfred Lord Tennyson

Stanza 11

Lines 114-115

Dear is the memory of our wedded lives,
And dear the last embraces of our wives

  • Another stanza brings another little shift. It turns out that these sailors aren't totally spaced out. They still remember their lives at home, where they have wives waiting for them. They still have fond memories of the last time they hugged those wives, too, back when they were leaving on the ship.

Lines 116-117

And their warm tears: but all hath suffer'd change:
For surely now our household hearths are cold,

  • At the beginning of line 116, we get the last snippet of the thought the sailors started in the previous lines. They remember the "warm tears" that their wives cried when they were heading out. This poetic strategy of spreading a sentence out over multiple lines is called enjambment, and Tennyson is clearly a fan.
  • After a little pause (called a caesura) in the middle of line 116, the singing sailors shift their mood a little. Sure, they miss their wives, but they think that things have probably changed at home. They imagine that the fires have gone out at home ("our household hearths are cold"). That last bit is a metaphor for their families forgetting about them. That coldness is emotional as well as physical—basically they worry that their families don't love them anymore. Sniff.

Lines 118-119

Our sons inherit us: our looks are strange:
And we should come like ghosts to trouble joy.

  • They worry that their sons have taken over their inheritance, and wouldn't even recognize them if they came home. In fact, they think they'd seem like ghosts, more upsetting than comforting for their families, now that they've been gone so long.
  • Now this is probably something every soldier or sailor worries about when he's away (and these guys happen to be both soldiers and sailors). But it's pretty clear that these guys are also looking for reasons not to go home, which of course by now they're too lazy to do. Good try, though, guys.

Lines 120-121

Or else the island princes over-bold
Have eat our substance, and the minstrel sings

  • Here they keep up their justifications for not going home to their families. They think maybe the rulers back where they live have taken their land ("eat our substance"). So there wouldn't be any point in going back.
  • That last little bit ("the minstrel sings") is another good example of hard enjambment. We'll just have to wait until the next line to find out what the minstrel (that's a guy who would sing and dance to entertain a king) is singing about…

Lines 122-123

Before them of the ten years' war in Troy,
And our great deeds, as half-forgotten things.

  • Aha—it turns out that the minstrel is singing about long war in Troy. This is another allusion to The Odyssey, which is the source for this poem. In that story, the sailors were Greeks returning from fighting in the war in Troy, travelling on a wandering quest with Odysseus, when they came to the land of the Lotos-eaters.
  • So these Greeks have been away from their home island for a long time, and they imagine that, if folks think of the war at all, it's just as a half-memory, an old song the minstrel sings to pass the time.

Lines 124-125

Is there confusion in the little isle?
Let what is broken so remain.

  • Heck, maybe things have fallen apart in their home island (which was called Ithaca) while they are gone. Maybe there's "confusion" and struggle and strife. Meh—the sailors aren't going to worry about it. It's not their job. They're willing to let things stay broken.

Lines 126-127

The Gods are hard to reconcile:
'Tis hard to settle order once again.

  • In these lines, the guys tell us, again, that they wouldn't go back home even if they thought there were trouble. Wars between the gods (which the Greeks thought were responsible for human problems) are tough to fix. It's hard to calm things down once they've gotten mixed up. 
  • Basically, as we knew already, these fellows are feeling pretty lazy, and so they're making up excuses why they don't need to go home. Maybe they feel just a little bad about it, though. Let's keep reading to find out.

Lines 128-129

There is confusion worse than death,
Trouble on trouble, pain on pain,

  • Well, just like that, the sailors slip back into their depressed theme about how terrible life can be. They don't mind the thought of dying. What they really want to avoid is suffering. They are afraid of "confusion" and "trouble" and "pain"—so afraid, in fact, that they repeat the words, piling "trouble" on top of "trouble" in the line. Jeepers, these guys really don't want to get back on the water.

Lines 130-131

Long labour unto aged breath,
Sore task to hearts worn out by many wars

  • Their bottom line is: "We're old and tired." They don't want to have to work ("labour") or do a hard job ("sore task").
  • They've been worn out by "many wars." That's part of why chilling out and eating Lotos sounds so good to them. (We have to admit, it's sounds like a sweet retirement plan.)

Line 132

And eyes grown dim with gazing on the pilot-stars.

  • We get kind of a lovely image to finish out the stanza. This was a long time before GPS, so these guys would have navigated by using the stars. Certain stars would point you in the right direction if you followed them. Those were called the pilot-stars. These old sailors can't see so well from staring at those stars so long, though.

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