The poem deals with the theme suggested by Homer’s Odyssey. After the siege of Troy, Ulysses, the ablest and the Wisest of the Greek chieftains, passed through a long series of adventurous war for about a hundred years. Ulysses and his followers landed in a place apparently on the African coast.
Alford Lord Tennyson, the poet, gave the most idealistic description of the land of the Lotos-eaters and is intended to harmonize with the mental condition of the dreamy content. The poem begins with the Odysseus pointing a finger towards the land that was seemingly the mariners’ destination.
This gesture on the part of Odysseus functions not just like a direction for guidance but also infuses them with optimism regarding reaching their target, from which they have deviated being drawn toward the “land of streams,” which profoundly affected their intellect. The Mariners reached a land “in which it always seemed afternoon,”.
The lethargic air is seen to draw the individuals here in a state of trance. The Mariners were greeted by the “mild-eyed melancholy Lotos-eaters”. These Lotos-eaters offer the flower and fruit of the lotos to Odysseus’s mariners, who on its consumption loosens their intellectual capacity, and falls into a deep sleep.
Sitting upon the yellow sand of the island, they loosen their sense of perseverance, and at the same time fail to perceive their fellow mariners speaking to them; they just can hear now the music of their heartbeat. Instead of continuing their journey towards their home, they prefer to stay in this weary land.
The specific context of the poem suggests that the mariner’ sailors were under a spell after tasting the lotos fruit. The lotos fruit hypnotized them. They were in a drunk and unconscious state. The lotos fruit represents a kind of non-narcotic plant like an opium flower. The phrase “to eat lotos” is used metaphorically by numerous ancient writers to mean “to forget,” or “to be unmindful.” After eating the fruit, the sailors lost control over their minds, and they started to express their feelings unconsciously like a drunk person.
Far far away did seen to mourn and rave
On the alien shores; and if his fellow spake
His voice was thin, as voice from the grave;
And deep-asleep he seem’d, yet all awake
The lotos fruit had taken over their minds, and they spoke of never returning to their homelands. The ‘shores’ now seemed to be alien for the mariners; but in truth, it was them who were alienated or estranged from their homeland. The lotos rendered them sluggish. It made them prefer a life of languor. They are tired of a life of persistent wandering and resolved that “We will return no more.” They are so exhausted by their exploits that the very sea and oars seemed ‘weary’ to them, and the foam ‘barren’. They no longer revel in prospects of adventure, exploration and discovery. They were in a state of forgetfulness; thus they had forgotten their strength and ability.
The poem draws not only on Homer’s Odyssey, but also on the biblical Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis. The lotos fruit is also a biblical reference. It was referred to as the fruit of heaven that Adam and Eve had tasted and were expelled from heaven to earth. In the Bible, a “life of toil” is Adam’s punishment for partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge: after succumbing to the temptation of the fruit, Adam was condemned to labour by the sweat of his brow. Yet in this poem, fruit (the lotos) provides a release from the life of labour, suggesting an inversion of the biblical story.
The poem can be interpreted in different ways. Its implicit meaning indicates that the lotos fruit was bringing out the true thoughts of the sailors. It is a romantic note of escapism. Just like John Keats, in his poems, would like to escape from the pressure of reality similarly the sailors want to escape from the responsibilities of life as soon as they have taken the lotos fruit.
It justifies human nature. Human beings are not a machine, and they cannot work forever. Sooner or later they get exhausted from their harsh routine. Human by nature is lazy and escapist; thus after the sailor had tasted the fruit of lotos, their minds were reminded of the pleasures of life. They were exhausted from their long voyages and battles.
They wanted to seek relief from their warrior life. They were having flashbacks of their homeland and families. The bite of lotos was mesmerising. The sailors became captive of their laziness, and they refused to return to their home towns and wanted to live the rest of their lives upon the alien island
Then someone said, “We will return no more;”
And all at once they sang, “Our island home
Is far beyond the wave; we will no longer roam.”
The lotos and the island both reflect the worldly life and human attitude towards it. The island is the world and lotos is the pleasures of the world. Man’s finals destination is after-life, but humans become so fond of the worldly pleasures that they forget about their creator and life after death.
They surrender themselves to this illusionary world. Likewise, the sailors surrendered and wished to live upon the island forever, forgetting about their actual life with their families and friends. All the sailors sang at once that “we will no longer roam”, meaning that they will no longer work.