(See footnotes--NA--on pgs. 1135)
Tennyson referred to the poem as a blank verse lyric short poem containing the utterance of a single speaker who expresses a state of mind/process of perception, thought, and feeling
Initial Questions: Why are the speaker's tears idle? And why doesn't the speaker know what they mean? Or does he by the end of the poem? (**This is a deceptively simple-looking poem**)
Stanza one: Thinking of those who are dead and the irrecoverable nature of the past
Stanza two: Thinking about the past brings the past back (in memory). (Think of Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey.")
Stanza three: Shift from speaker who is alive to a speaker who is dying? Or who anticipates his death?--but the sun rises as the world continues.
Stanza four: State after death
Opening five stanzas--natural or normal order is upset/dreaminess/sleepiness/sameness Narcotized state--Keats//Effects of being drugged--Coleridge, DeQuincey
Use of repetition, alliteration (o's and a's), Spenserian stanza--effect on reader
Stanza five: "We will return no more"//"we will no longer roam"
Choric Song--stanza lengths vary and meter is more discordant. See stanza 8
What does the poem say about work?
1. Desire for rest--addictive qualities of eating the lotos fruit. Work causes the need to forget--lack of consciousness
See stanzas 2, 5
2. The poem critiques industrial life--(Ex: see Barrett Browning poem: 1080-81)--predicated on routine, repetition, monotony, mindlessness. Video on Queen Victoria's Empire we watched. Workers are disconnected from what they produce--work for the sake of work. Conditions on the island replicate industrial life.
See stanzas 3, 4. Consider the first word of the poem and the last lines.
The poem creates a moral opposition between work and indolence. Consider "Ulysses." Consider Carlyle in P and P -- 1031-33. Is the Mariners's desire for rest and unconsciousness (death) a feasible response or option?
See stz 8 in the Choric Song.
Note that the poem is written using Spenserian stanzas: ababbcbcc; nine lines with the first eight in iambic pentameter and the last line an Alexandrine (iambic hexameter--six feet). This helps to replicate the dreamy, languid, musical mood of the poem, the effect of eating the lotos fruit.
Also, notice the effects of repetition and disjunction with meter and imagery. Alliteration also underscores/creates the poem's hypnotic effects.
The first 45 lines describe the arrival of the mariners and the description of the land of the lotos-eaters. Note the effects of the fruit beginning with line 28. Also, time and nature seem to be out of order.
The next eight stanzas are the Choric Song, which is sung by the mariners. This is where the ideas of work, toil, escape, rest, and death are most provocatively revealed. We considered two ways of reading "The Lotos-Eaters."
One is to consider the poem as an expression of addictive desire. In this sense, place it against "Ulysses"--a call for inaction. Eating the lotos fruit is a means of forgetting--lose consciousness and enjoy only the pleasure of immediate experience--physical sensation. (Look at language and images of the poem that reinforce this idea--use of subjunctive verb tenses, for example.) So, the poem becomes a moral opposition between action and indolence. However, the end of poem does suggest that the mariners are trying to convince themselves that retirement is preferable. What is the first word of the poem?
Another way of reading the poem is to consider it as an analysis of industrial life--the burden of consciousness, which reminds individuals of what work really is--repetition, routine, estrangement--the conditions produced by factory life and on the island of the lotos eaters. The images and language of the poem reveal this too. Consciousness is tied to work. You'll want to trace this idea through the poem and decide if this is an appropriate answer to industrial life. What is the point of work? Is work always negative? Can it be positive?
An allegorical reading (or the poem as offering a parable) suggests the following: Lady--Poet; Mirror--Poetic Imagination; Loom--Art.
What is the role of the poet? Should the poet's vision be private to protect individual values and spiritual idealism? Should art motivate political and social change? The poem reveals the effects of separating art from life and of connecting art to a social vision.
Consider the isolation of art (Sections 1 and 2)
Lancelot and the tradition of courtly love (Section 3)
Entrance of art (and the Poet) into public life (Section 4)
Consider the myths of Arachne, Penelope, and Narcissus. The first two myths (you can look them up) deal with weaving and the domestic duties tied to gender. They point to the restricted role of women but also women who pushed against these restrictions. The Narcissus myth deals with self-reflection--how the mirror, art and reality are conflated. Also, how self-love might be linked to identity in positive ways.
Poem's rhyme scheme: aaaabcccb. What effect does this have?