The Lotos-Eaters and the Whites of Today
“Our great deeds,” now “half-forgotten things.” Of weariness, and the fatal desire for rest and death . . .
submitted and selected by John I. Johnson
“On the tenth day we set foot on the land of the lotos-eaters who eat a flowering food. . . . I sent forth certain of my company . . . [who] mixed with the men of the lotos-eaters who . . . gave them of the lotos to taste. Now whoseover of them did eat the honey-sweet fruit of the lotos had no more wish to bring tidings nor to come back, but there he chose to abide . . . forgetful of his homeward way.” — Odysseus, the Odyssey (IX: 82-97)
from The Lotos-Eaters
by Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
IN THE AFTERNOON they came unto a land
In which it seemed always afternoon.
All round the coast the languid air did swoon,
Breathing like one that hath a weary dream.
Full-faced above the valley stood the moon;
And like a downward smoke, the slender stream
Along the cliff to fall and pause and fall did seem. . . .
A land where all things always seemed the same!
And round about the keel with faces pale,
Dark faces pale against that rosy flame,
The mild-eyed melancholy Lotos-eaters came.
Branches they bore of that enchanted stem,
Laden with flower and fruit, whereof they gave
To each, but whoso did receive of them . . .
His voice was thin, as voices from the grave;
And deep-asleep he seemed, yet all awake,
And music in his ears his beating heart did make.
They [the sailors] sat them down upon the yellow sand,
Between the sun and moon upon the shore . . .
Most weary seemed the sea, weary the oar,
Weary the wandering fields of barren foam.
Then some one said, “We will return no more”;
And all at once they sang, “Our island home [=Ithaca]
Is far beyond the wave; we will no longer roam.”
Why are we weighed upon with heaviness,
And utterly consumed with sharp distress,
While all things else have rest from weariness?
All things have rest: why should we toil alone,
We only toil, who are the first of things,
And make perpetual moan,
Still from one sorrow to another thrown . . .
Hateful is the dark-blue sky,
Vaulted o’er the dark-blue sea.
Death is the end of life; ah, why
Should life all labour be?
Let us alone. Time driveth onward fast,
And in a little while our lips are dumb.
Let us alone. What is it that will last?
All things are taken from us, and become
Portions and parcels of the dreadful past.
Let us alone. What pleasure can we have
To war with evil? Is there any peace
In ever climbing up the climbing wave?
All things have rest, and ripen toward the grave
In silence — ripen, fall and cease:
Give us long rest or death, dark death, or dreamful ease. . . .
Is there confusion in the little isle [=home, Ithaca]?
Let what is broken so remain.
The Gods are hard to reconcile;
‘Tis hard to settle order once again.
There is confusion worse than death,
Trouble on trouble, pain on pain,
Long labour unto aged breath,
Sore tasks to hearts worn out by many wars
And eyes grown dim with gazing on the pilot-stars. . . .
We have had enough of action, and of motion we,
Rolled to starboard, rolled to larboard, when the surge was seething free,
Where the wallowing monster spouted his foam-fountains in the sea.
Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined
On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind.
For they [the Gods] lie beside their nectar, and the bolts are hurled
Far below them in the valleys, and the clouds are lightly curled
Round their golden houses, girdled with the gleaming world;
Where they smile in secret, looking over wasted lands,
Blight and famine, plague and earthquake, roaring deeps and fiery sands,
Clanging fights, and flaming towns, and sinking ships, and praying hands.
But they smile, they find a music centered in a doleful song
Steaming up, a lamentation and an ancient tale of wrong,
Like a tale of little meaning though the words are strong;
Chanted from an ill-used race of men that cleave the soil,
Sow the seed, and reap the harvest with enduring toil,
Storing yearly little dues of wheat, and wine and oil;
Till they perish and they suffer — some, ’tis whispered — down in hell
Suffer endless anguish, others in Elysian valleys dwell,
Resting weary limbs at last on beds of asphodel.
Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore
Than labour in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar;
O, rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more.
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Publication history: Alfred, Lord Tennyson: Poems (London: E. Moxon, 1833). Revised heavily in Poems (1842). Also see Works (London: Macmillan, 1891).
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On the same theme: “To be, or not to be: that was the question faced by the Rhodesians, and they did not have the strength of character to choose to be and then to accept all of the implications of that choice. They did not want not to be, but they could not accept what the choice to be entailed, and so now they will perish. The country they and their forefathers worked and sacrificed for will fall into the hands of creatures such as [anti-White Jew Nicholas] Hoogstraten and [Negro dictator Robert] Mugabe, who chose to be, and who accepted all of the implications of that choice.” — William L. Pierce, “To Be or Not to Be,” American Dissident Voices, April 29, 2000