The Lotus Eaters

Literary critical analysis of form, structure, language and context

1832 and revised 1842

This allusion to Greek classical myth is presented initially in five Spenserian stanzas.  Here, as in The Lady of Shalott, there is a separation of the poet from man and society.

  • Analyse the Spenserian stanza form at the beginning of the poem.
  • Note where the hero is cut off from his fellows.
  • Note where social engagement is viewed ambivalently.
  • Identify the contrast of heroic action and the golden restful retreat.
  • Sailors are in a somnambulistic trance.  Note e.g. the slow line:

‘the slender stream

Along the cliff to fall and pause and fall did seem.’

and the inactivity which follows the vigorous trochaic opening ‘Courage’.  The land of streams is lifeless, it is ‘always afternoon’ and things ‘ripen towards the grave / In silence’.

The choric song, of the mariners, can be seen as an answer to Ulysses exhortations:

  • there are alternating descriptions of the isle and the mariners: why?
  • In the first stanza of the choric song, note the long vowels, the sibilance and the anaphora – what effect results?
  • In the fourth stanza of the choric song, why are there caesuras (line breaks) plosives and stops (p,b,t,d,k,g sounds)
  • Identify where the rhythm becomes less tense
  • Find examples of word repetition and consider the reasons for them.
  • Consider why there are different verse structures and line lengths to the stanzas.
  • Find where a note of responsibility is sounded but lost.

As a point of interest, in Homer, The Odyssey IX, Odysseus finally prevails upon the mariners (but only he survives their wanderings).

  • Find where the poem presents the antithesis between active & passive.
  • Consider how the poem might represent the doctrine of utilitarianism (where everything has a practical purpose) versus the value of the imagination.
  • Find where the poem describes indolent ease and the delight in the senses self absorption and yet paradoxically also communality.
  • Do you feel the last line is an appeal to readers? If not, what is it?  If so, why?
  • What is the conclusion in the poem to the conflict between social responsibility and ethical detachment?

—oOo—

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