The great hero Odysseus has captivated readers throughout the ages. It is no surprise that the Victorian poet Tennyson not only read the Odyssey but wrote poetry about Odysseus as well. In the poems 'The Lotos Eaters' and 'Ulysses,' Tennyson remains true to the legends, but he infuses the characters with the ethos of his own day and his own experiences.
'The Lotos Eaters' recalls the Homeric legend that has Odysseus and his men passing through an island that grew magical fruit. Anyone who ate of the fruit would ?forget the way home? (Bk 1X, line 97). Odysseus sent three men to scout the land. They tasted the fruit and had to be dragged back to the ship protesting and crying, by Odysseus. No word is mentioned about why the sailors had to be dragged back to the ship, weeping. No word of what they wanted so badly to forget.
Tennyson, in 'The Lotos Eaters,' fills us in on why he thinks the sailors were bone-tired and why they wanted rest. ?All things have rest and ripen towards the grave/ in silence; ripen, fall, and cease: / Give us long rest or death, dark death, or dreamful ease.? It serves as a parenthetic explanation to Homer?s legend. However, the specific nature of and reason for their weariness is Tennyson?s own creation.
?Why should we toil alone, / we only toil, who are the first of all things? while the ?flower ripens in its place, / ripens and fades, and falls, and hath no toil, fast-rooted in the fruitful soil?? The speaker rages against the human condition that has humans seek endlessly for the path to their fruition. It isn?t encrypted into their soul as it is in the soul of the fruit which blossoms and ripens without effort. For the...
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...es of nature, and not his own soul. Both heroes are victorious through the powers of their intellect, but what they seek to overcome, and what they seek to understand, is vastly different. Though Homer wrote his epic over two thousand years ago, it still excites the modern reader; though Dante wrote his poetry nearly one thousand years ago, his language and sinful characterization are captivating; and though Tennyson wrote his poetry over one hundred years ago, its pain is fresh and was a precursor to the existential pain of the modern man.
Tennyson, Alfred. "Ulysses." The Norton Introduction to Literature. Eds. Jerome Beaty and J. Paul Hunter. 7th ed. New York: Norton, 1998. 1139-41.
Tennyson, Alfred, Lord. ?The Lotus Eaters.? The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000. 1208-1213.
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