“Courage!” he said, and pointed toward the land,
“This mounting wave will roll us shoreward soon.”
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 of streams! some, like a downward smoke,
Slow-dropping veils of thinnest lawn, did go;
And some thro’ wavering lights and shadows broke,
Rolling a slumbrous sheet of foam below.
They saw the gleaming river seaward flow
From the inner land: far off, three mountain-tops,
Three silent pinnacles of aged snow,
Stood sunset-flush’d: and, dew’d with showery drops,
Up-clomb the shadowy pine above the woven copse.
The charmed sunset linger’d low adown
In the red West: thro’ mountain clefts the dale
Was seen far inland, and the yellow down
Border’d with palm, and many a winding vale
And meadow, set with slender galingale;
A land where all things always seem’d 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,
And taste, to him the gushing of the wave
Far far away did seem to mourn and rave
On alien shores; and if his fellow spake,
His voice was thin, as voices from the grave;
And deep-asleep he seem’d, yet all awake,
And music in his ears his beating heart did make.
They sat them down upon the yellow sand,
Between the sun and moon upon the shore;
And sweet it was to dream of Fatherland,
Of child, and wife, and slave; but evermore
Most weary seem’d 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
Is far beyond the wave; we will no longer roam.”
Odysseus tells his mariners to have courage, assuring them that they will soon reach the shore of their home. In the afternoon, they reach a land “in which it seemed always afternoon” because of the languid and peaceful atmosphere. The mariners sight this “land of streams” with its gleaming river flowing to the sea, its three snow-capped mountaintops, and its shadowy pine growing in the vale.
The mariners are greeted by the “mild-eyed melancholy Lotos-eaters,” whose dark faces appear pale against the rosy sunset. These Lotos-eaters come bearing the flower and fruit of the lotos, which they offer to Odysseus’s mariners. Those who eat the lotos feel as if they have fallen into a deep sleep; they sit down upon the yellow sand of the island and can hardly perceive their fellow mariners speaking to them, hearing only the music of their heartbeat in their ears. Although it has been sweet to dream of their homes in Ithaca, the lotos makes them weary of wandering, preferring to linger here. One who has eaten of the lotos fruit proclaims that he will “return no more,” and all of the mariners begin to sing about this resolution to remain in the land of the Lotos-eaters.
The rest of the poem consists of the eight numbered stanzas of the mariners’ choric song, expressing their resolution to stay forever. First, they praise the sweet and soporific music of the land of the Lotos-eaters, comparing this music to petals, dew, granite, and tired eyelids. In the second stanza, they question why man is the only creature in nature who must toil. They argue that everything else in nature is able to rest and stay still, but man is tossed from one sorrow to another. Man’s inner spirit tells him that tranquility and calmness offer the only joy, and yet he is fated to toil and wander his whole life.
In the third stanza, the mariners declare that everything in nature is allotted a lifespan in which to bloom and fade. As examples of other living things that die, they cite the “folded leaf, which eventually turns yellow and drifts to the earth, as well as the “full-juiced apple,” which ultimately falls to the ground, and the flower, which ripens and fades. Next, in the fourth stanza, the mariners question the purpose of a life of labor, since nothing is cumulative and thus all our accomplishments lead nowhere. They question “what...will last,” proclaiming that everything in life is fleeting and therefore futile. The mariners also express their desire for “long rest or death,” either of which will free them from a life of endless labor.
The fifth stanza echoes the first stanza’s positive appeal to luxurious self-indulgence; the mariners declare how sweet it is to live a life of continuous dreaming. They paint a picture of what it might be like to do nothing all day except sleep, dream, eat lotos, and watch the waves on the beach. Such an existence would enable them peacefully to remember all those individuals they once knew who are now either buried (“heaped over with a mound of grass”) or cremated (“two handfuls of white dust, shut in an urn of brass!”).
In the sixth stanza, the mariners reason that their families have probably forgotten them anyway, and their homes fallen apart, so they might as well stay in the land of the Lotos-eaters and “let what is broken so remain.” Although they have fond memories of their wives and sons, surely by now, after ten years of fighting in Troy, their sons have inherited their property; it will merely cause unnecessary confusion and disturbances for them to return now. Their hearts are worn out from fighting wars and navigating the seas by means of the constellations, and thus they prefer the relaxing death-like existence of the Land of the Lotos to the confusion that a return home would create.