Study Guide

The Lotos-Eaters Stanza 13

By Alfred Lord Tennyson

Stanza 13

Lines 145-146

The Lotos blooms below the barren peak:
The Lotos blows by every winding creek:

  • This is the start of the poem's last stanza, the final chunk of the sailors' song. It's also (at 29 lines) by far the longest stanza in the poem. 
  • The Lotos-eating sailors go out on a high note. They start the last stanza by singing for, to, and about the Lotos, which is, after all, the reason for this whole poem. Apparently the plant grows everywhere on this island, both up in the mountains and down by the creeks.
  • Oh, and check out the great alliteration in line 145 ("bloom below the barren"). The sounds here match the sailors' bouncy enthusiasm for the Lotos. (Check out "Sound Check" for more on the poem's sound.)

Lines 147-148

All day the wind breathes low with mellower tone:
Thro' every hollow cave and alley lone

  • The sailors just love to sing about the sights and sounds of their new home. They are (maybe literally) enchanted with this place, and they never get tired of telling us about the wind and the caves.
  • Notice how there's always a balance in this poem between a feeling of calm and relaxation (the wind is "low" and "mellower") and spooky loneliness (the caves are "hollow" and the alleys are "lone"—"alley" here just means a narrow passageway). Even though the sailors tell us everything is great, Tennyson's word choice lets us know that something about this "paradise" isn't quite right.

Lines 149-150

Round and round the spicy downs the yellow Lotos-dust is blown.
We have had enough of action, and of motion we,

  • Even as the sailors slump deeper into their Lotos coma, their song picks up speed. Can you hear the rushing sound, the frantic activity in line 149? As the pollen from the Lotos ("the yellow Lotos-dust") gets picked up by the wind, it starts to race around the island, covering everything, including the fragrant hills ("spicy downs"). 
  • Part of the fun of that line is the repeated vowel sounds (we call that assonance in the biz): "round" and "down." The "ow" sound echoes through the line, and flirts with the word "blown," which looks like it should rhyme with "downs" but doesn't.
  • We call that an eye rhyme, FYI. 
  • The sailors want us to know that, even if the Lotos pollen is rushing around, they're staying put. No more "action" or "motion" for them.

Lines 151-152

Roll'd to starboard, roll'd to larboard, when the surge was seething free,
Where the wallowing monster spouted his foam-fountains in the sea.

  • All of a sudden, we're back on the rolling ocean. The guys are remembering their dizzy, sea-sick days on the water, when they were rolled to "starboard" and "larboard" (that's just a nautical way of saying left and right) by the waves.
  • They also remember the sight of whales ("wallowing monster") blowing jets of water ("foam fountains") in the air. It sounds cool to us…

Lines 153-154

Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined

  • Now the sailors decide to make a promise and to keep it steadily ("with an equal mind"). They are never going to leave the land of the Lotos. They are going to live and lie back ("reclined") in their new home.
  • But wait, there's that word "hollow" again. That could just mean "low down," because they're in a valley. Most of our associations with that word aren't so positive though. We also connect it with emptiness, falseness, superficiality. Maybe Lotos-land ain't so great after all.

Line 155

On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind.

  • The sailors want to live like the Greek Gods. They want to sit up in the hills together like the gods sit on Mt. Olympus. The will be "careless" (not worried) about what happens to other people. They imagine they will have finally escaped from all the hard work of life.

Lines 156-157

For they lie beside their nectar, and the bolts are hurl'd
Far below them in the valleys, and the clouds are lightly curl'd

  • These lines are describing the lifestyle of the Greek Gods. They drink nectar (the legendary drink of the God), and every now and then throw a lightning bold down into the valleys below them for good measure.
  • This whole image is about height, about getting away from trouble and pain, with a birds-eye view of humanity. The sailors think they've won the jackpot. In their new home, life won't bother them anymore.
  • There's another good example of enjambment at the end of this line—we don't know what those clouds are "curl'd" around, and we won't find out until the next line. Off we go…

Lines 158-159

Round their golden houses, girdled with the gleaming world:
Where they smile in secret, looking over wasted lands,

  • Got it. So, the clouds of the last line are wrapping around the golden houses of the gods up on Mt. Olympus. The world lies around these beautiful houses like a shining belt ("girdled with the gleaming world").
  • Then, suddenly, things start to seem a little more sinister. These gods don't just have nice digs. They also "smile" while they look out over the destroyed ("wasted") lands of humanity. It's not just that they don't have to worry about human problems—they also cause them and then laugh at them. Yeah—it was kind of complicated between the Greeks and their gods. The word "frenemies" comes to mind.

Lines 160-161

Blight and famine, plague and earthquake, roaring deeps and fiery sands,
Clanging fights, and flaming towns, and sinking ships, and praying hands.

  • This is basically a list of all the horrible things that humans have to deal with—the catastrophes of all kinds that make them pray for mercy.
  • The sailors are really emphasizing the contrast between the human world and the world of the gods. This is of course symbolic of the difference between the outside world and Lotos-land.

Lines 162-163

But they smile, they find a music centred in a doleful song
Steaming up, a lamentation and an ancient tale of wrong,

  • The gods smile while they listen to the sad ("doleful") songs of the humans down below. The noises of grief ("lamentations") come rising up to the mountain like steam. This song of human misery is old and familiar, though the gods hear a kind of music in it.

Lines 164-165

Like a tale of little meaning tho' the words are strong;
Chanted from an ill-used race of men that cleave the soil,

  • When the gods hear the song, it's not really the specific complaints that interest them. They hear strong words, but it doesn't mean much to them. They hear a kind of pleasant drone from the abused, beat-up ("ill-used") folks down below. 
  • These people down below work in the fields, and have to plow the earth ("cleave the soil") to survive. This image of cutting into the ground makes even working for a living seem hard and violent. The takeaway message from the sailors is basically that it stinks to be human.

Lines 166-167

Sow the seed, and reap the harvest with enduring toil,
Storing yearly little dues of wheat, and wine and oil;

  • Human life goes on and on in a boring, painful routing. You plow, sow, harvest—on and on. Every year, you get a few crops to store up, but even that doesn't seem so great (at least to the sailors). What's important is that the "toil" never ends. 
  • "Toil" is a big word for the sailors—it pretty much sums up their attitude toward normal life, and they've had enough of it.
  • Eating Lotos and lying around is way more fun.

Lines 168-169

Till they perish and they suffer—some, 'tis whisper'd—down in hell
Suffer endless anguish, others in Elysian valleys dwell,

  • Finally, these poor worn out folks die. Some of them go down to hell, and there suffering goes right on. Bad times.
  • There is an alternative, though. Some people get to go to Elysium (a version of heaven in ancient Greek religion). In these "Elysian valleys," the afterlife was pretty sweet. We wonder: did they have Lotos?

Lines 170-171

Resting weary limbs at last on beds of asphodel.
Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore

  • Finally, after all that digging and plowing and sweating and dying, worn out humans could relax in an Elysian valley. They could lie down on the flowers of paradise (asphodel is a mythical flower that's was supposed to grow in Elysium).
  • This sounds kind of familiar doesn't it? Lying around? Resting on mythical plants? Seems like these sailors have found a shortcut to Elysium (which was reserved for great heroes). 
  • They're pretty pleased with themselves, and you can hear that happiness in the gentle alliteration of line 171. Those soft, murmuring S sounds ("Surely, surely, slumber") work like a lullaby, urging us to forget about the toil and trouble of the world.
  • It's nappy time in Lotos-land.

Lines 172-173

Than labour in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar;
O, rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more.

  • It's way better to rest and sleep on the shore than to be out fighting on the ocean. So, one last time, the sailors ("mariners") promise each other that they will never leave the beautiful enchanted land of the Lotos-eaters. Their feet are coming down, and the tents are going up.

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