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The mood is not unlike the effect of the lotus, being a state of languor. The landscape is lush and detailed, the sort of landscape that would be appealing on its own and that visitors would not want to leave for its own sake.
Such description begins as the ship apperoaches the land and Ulysses tells his men to have courage:
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. (lines 3-9)
Tennyson says this is "A land of streams!" (line 10) and describes those streams and their effects in some detail. After making the appeal of the land clear, Tennyson notes the coming of "The mild-eyed melancholy Lotos-eaters" (line 27). The meeting between the Lotos-eaters and the men fro the ship is described in some detail as well, and the transformation of the men from those seeking to return home to those who will say "We will return no more" (line 43) and "Our island home / Is far beyond the wave, we will no longer roam" (lines 44-45). In Homer, the situation is simply reported, while in Tennyson, the situation is made dramatic, leading to the Choric Song as the men express their new view of the world and their determination to remain in this paradisiacal land. Tennyson is interested in the wonders of this land and the almost mystical effect of the lotus. He is not telling the story from the point-of-view of Ulysses and does not say anything about what Ulysses did to counter the changes taking place in his men. In those terms, the story is unresolved, while what Tennyson does create is a poetic image of the transformation and the relationship created between the sailors and the land, significant in itself given the usual tendency to describe sailors and their relationship to the sea, as if the land were only a respite before sailing once more.
The poem "Ulysses" was written a decade after "The Lotos-Eaters" and addresses the attitudes and feelings of Ulysses after the events of the Odyssey. The subject of the poem is thought to be as much Tennyson's recently deceased friend Henry Hallam as Ulysses, though Tennyson finds in the later years of the Greek hero certain evocations of his friend and of his own melancholy at his friend's death. Ulysses in the poem is on his death-bed, as was Hallam before, and this allows Tennyson to create a dramatic situation in which the dying Ulysses speaks to many of his dead sailors. Ulysses by this time has lost faith in the gods, in himself, and even in the future of his kingdom, and this loss of faith is the central issue in the poem and may reflect Tennyson's own questioning of what he has accepted as true in his life.
The sense of loss is palpable in the opening lines:
It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me. (lines 1-5)
The glory of the past is gone, and the man lying in bed knows he is tied to the past and sees no place for himself or his legacy in the future. Tennyson here again uses iambic pentameter as his base and is more strict about keeping to the meter of the old epic, which creates a certain irony as the main character despairs at what his life ahs become and does none of the heroic deeds that were associated with that meter in Homer.
Jay L. Halio discusses "Ulysses" in terms of poetic intention and finds that the poem is an example of divided intention, on the one hand detailing the last moments of Ulysses's life through his own eyes, and on the other hand memorializing his friend. Haloio says that in this case, "the divided intention acts not to impede the poem, but to make it a more complex, a truer whole" (392). John E. Gurka emphasizes the importance of persona in this poem, with the poem seen through the eyes of Ulysses so that it is his voice that is heard, creating a form of dramatic monologue. Gurka identifies persona with the speaking voice, and he sees the voice of the speaker as something that shapes the poem and that can be compared to the persona in other poems as a way of delving more deeply into meaning (Gurka 205). Another critic finds the poem and its voice to be an expression of "the beginning of ambivalence about Victorian heroic ideals" (Shaw 611), which can certainly be justified by the regretful way Ulysses speaks of the heroic ideal he once represented, though at the same time, the poem ends with what seems an effort to elevate those ideals just the same:
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. (lines 69-71)
The heroic reputation of Ulysses creates the base for this analysis of heroism, aging, a loss of values, and the need to retain those values if possible. Tennyson makes use of the myth in order to address what interests him most, just as he used the fragmentary story in "The Lotos-Eaters" as only a starting point for his own vision of transformation as an exercise in pure poetry..
Grob, Alan. "Tennyson's 'The Lotos-Eaters': Two Versions of Art." Modern Philology, Vol. 62, No. 2 (November 1964), 118-129.
Gurka, John E. "The Voices of Ulysses and Prufrock." The English Journal, Vol. 55, No. 2 (February 1966), 205-207
Halio, Jay L. " 'Prothalamion,' 'Ulysses,' and Intention in Poetry." College English, Vol. 22, No. 6 (Mar., 1961), 390-394.
Lattimore, Richard (tr.). The Odyssey of Homer. New York: Harper Collins, 1967.
MacLaren, Malcolm. "Tennyson's Epicurean Lotos-Eaters."…[continue]
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